Obviously, when I say in the first line down there that I mentioned something ‘last week’, this is no longer true, because this is a repost of an article I first wrote in, like, 2009. But the sentiment still rings true, so you know 😉 😀
I mentioned last week that I think ‘honesty’ is an important quality of a great writer. I need to respond to the comments (sorry!), but something struck me as I was reading them: by honesty, I don’t mean ‘pouring out your heart’, or ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’, or anything like that. I don’t mean pouring out the tragedies of your life, or trying to impress the reader.
In fact, I mean just the opposite. I mean ‘honesty’ in the sense my husband uses it when he talks about ‘honest architecture’ (ya, he’s an architect). It means architecture without pretension, architure that embraces what it is and doesn’t try to pretend to be something different, something more, or even something less. It’s understated when it needs to be, it’s loud if it has to be, but above all else, it’s… honest. It comes from a place of integrity, without the need to impress – unless its entire point is to impress. It’s something that holds true to its intent, embraces functionality as well as fancy-prettiness, and creates something that rings true.
I hope you can see how that applies to writing. It’s not about wearing your emotions on your sleeve, or pouring in the smush to tug at readers’ heartstrings. It’s about being honest about what you’re doing; it’s about knowing what you’re doing and why; it’s about being real.
It’s the exact opposite of my first short stories, which in an attempt to be ‘interesting’ were melodramatic and overwritten – because they weren’t coming from me, from myexperiences. They didn’t ring true, because they weren’t. I didn’t have the maturity or life experiences to write about the subjects I chose – and frankly, it showed.
This is what people mean when they tell you, ‘Write what you know’. It isn’t about writing only in the here-and-now, because that’s all you’ve experienced; it isn’t about never writing about a married character if you’re single, or only writing about your own gender, or never writing fantasy and science fiction (heaven forbid!!!); it’s about letting your experiences form the basis of what you write, of writing from your own pain, your own suffering, extrapolating from things you’ve actually felt and translating them into similar situations, even if the characters are inhuman or the setting isn’t Earth.
It’s what you know, stretched further, deeper, broader, applied to the whole range of human experience. It’s about knowing which bits of what you’ve experienced are part of the human condition, which bits resonate; it’s about making sure your work rings true.
With this definition of honesty, what do you think? Do we need it?