June 8, 2012

Why is Honesty so Difficult as a Writer?

Sometimes, I find writing so difficult, I’d rather stick my tongue in a fan. Or become an accountant. But writing isn’t a choice. It’s a disease without a cure. It’s a stalker you can’t escape. It’s a shadow that

Credit: Strings Magazine

disappears at high noon. It’s the worst four words in the English language: I am a writer.

Why did I ever say those words? Can I take them back? Writing! It festers like a brown spider bite. It takes over all my free time–I work. I write. I sleep. I eat–while I write.

Truth, that’s not what’s most difficult about this life. If my pen exploded with the perfect words, beautiful phrases, well-developed paragraphs, nail-biting chapters, scintillating characters, I would quit my day job and write till my hard drive burst and then buy a new one. What’s difficult is not success, but failure–or fear of it. If I write and no one reads it, am I even writing? Is that paragraph as bad as it sounds?

But that’s not my greatest difficulty. I have to side with Ernest Hemingway: It’s telling the truth.

“The writer’s job is to tell the truth,” Ernest Hemingway once said.

Truth is a pesky bugger who hides under every adjective and adverb, a chameleon who morphs through realities until you can’t even find it–so hidden has it become. The cold, indifferent antagonist I intended suddenly reads like an empathetic misunderstood misanthrope.

When he [Hemingway] was having difficulty writing… “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

How do I deal with truth? Oh that I were Hemingwayesque! I’d like to shake Truth, force it to do as I think, not as a say, but I’ve tried that to no avail. Cutting helps–first the fat of the story, the flowery prose that I throw in because I’m not sure–really sure–what I’m saying. Then the embellishments go–verbal costume jewelry–replaced (hopefully, if I’m creative) with a useful simile or metaphor that says a whole paragraph in a phrase. Something like:

  • His desire is Cooperstown. His talent is Pawtucket.
  • I’m looking California, and feeling Minnesota
  • Sleaze is like a cockroach; it burrows and hides but never disappears

I didn’t invent any of those. I borrowed them. I find metaphors and similes difficult. My greatest challenge in the quest for truth is originality. I peel layers of fat and meat and bone and think I’ve got it, and find out someone else said it much better. Sometimes, really by accident, I do happen to say exactly what I mean. I am stunned by my skill. Did I write that? HOW did I write that? I have no idea. As with Hemingway, writing the truth is a “basic struggle for absolute accuracy in making words correspond to experience.” A struggle I often lose.

Truth appears out of nowhere, sprints across my brain. I flail to grasp it–maybe snag a few choice words–and then it’s gone, leaving me several pithy phrases short of spectacular. If this is fun, I’d rather take a long walk in tight shoes.

No wonder it takes me years to write a book.

Anyone have some spare truth serum I can borrow?

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and three ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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