“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
– Anne Lamott
Goodness, here I sit on a Monday night with a Tuesday morning deadline to write a blog post. There are a number of other things I could be doing, like watching the latest episode of Downtown Abby and finding out, good god, if Edith’s boyfriend, the father of her unborn baby, miraculously returns, saving Edith’s reputation and bringing her the happiness we know she deserves. Seriously, I’ve tried to write this blog post a few times, even looking back into recent Wild Writing journals to see what I could get away with. Nothing. I’m feeling pressed to do something and I’m feeling empty of anything pithy, funny, smart or admirable. Sitting here trying to rouse the troop of my words, I get this quote sent to me from my friend Marci Hannewald and I realize the jig is up.
Forget about writing something funny. Something that bathes you in the best light. Forget about writing something important or sage and that will inspire people to want to work with you or know you. Just write about what’s true. “Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked.” Write about the challenge of wanting to tell true stories when you’re feeling wobbly, when you’re feeling a little unsure of yourself. Write about the vulnerability of putting yourself out, but not knowing how you will be received, and the self consciousness you often feel when blogging.
Start with a true story that feels safe – a story about aging perhaps, the way the skin on your forearm is thinning just like your Mother’s, how the blood vessels burst at the merest touch, leaving splotchy red patches along your arm. Write about how your Grandmother’s arm was covered in red splotches, and how your Mother bled all over her silk nightgown last weekend when her splotches burst.
Now try a story that feel less safe, that puts a little more skin in the game, like the night of the double martini and that email you sent a new friend, how you wrote in ALL CAPS AS THOUGH YOU WERE SCREAMING, but you weren’t, you were just trying to say something you thought might be true, trying to write into the “emotional center of things.” Write about the next morning, how you thought, “oh shit,” when you realized what you’d written – that you’d used the word “addict” to describe an aspect of yourself. Write the truth about that – whether you are or whether you aren’t – and how, if you have to ask…Write about how you wondered if you’d scared your new friend off, that you’d revealed too much of your dark heart.
Write about how before the trip to L.A. you saw all of those boozy nights laid out in front of you like stepping stones to hop across – each one getting you to the next night and the night after that. Write about trying to get to Sunday in one piece. How you promised yourself that you’d stick to one martini, but how the night with your old friend was glossy and perfect – how you sat on black barstools at a long, gorgeous bar in Brentwood, bathed in that perfect amber light, talking about writing and men and aging and how invincible you felt laughing the whole thing off. Write about what it means to put this in writing. Risk being misunderstood.
Write about a few nights later the way you alternated between envy and awe as you sat dazzled, watching a wild interpretation of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter – a show that left you speechless for its brilliance. The way the director had filmed crashing waves hitting the stage, how every time a wave crashed, the actors flew back or fell, even if they were sitting in train stations or walking – all those crashing waves, all that emotional upheaval. Write about how you sat wondering what it would feel like to create from such an imaginative place. How you realized that the way you saw things, your work, your relationships, the way you interacted with friends, your children, even the way you wrote, was just a fraction of what was possible for you. How easy it has been to fall into a routine of flat thinking and seeing – but how – in a way – you hadn’t been seeing anything, only what was right in front of you when there was a whole world galloping around you.
Write about going back to your Mother’s house that night and wondering what it would take to see everything in a bigger, more imaginative way. Write about the things you might need to back away from; Facebook, the phone, email, and the things you might need to move toward; nature, music, color, words. silence.
Write about possibility, how each morning you get another chance to meet the world again, to forgive yourself for routine thinking, for falling down and forgetting, for being mesmerized by the amber glow of a barstool, for sometimes feeling that life is like hopping from one stone to the next, trying to get to a Sunday in one piece. Write about that. Tell the truth as you understand it.
If you’d like to navigate these trenches with me, join me for Telling True Stories, my 5-week online writing course starting Monday, March 3, 2014. Find out more here.