Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -
Success in Circuit lies
- Emily Dickinson
I am a big fan of Taylor Swift (although, as you will notice, I felt good ol’ Emily Dickinson had a better quote to start this post with). I am sometimes baffled by how she can possibly manage to fall in love, and have her heart broken, so often (perhaps she is a time traveller?) but nevertheless it’s pretty cool to see someone being so successful in part from taking stuff from her own life and channelling it into songs.
Writing – or creating – isn’t just about having your heart broken or having a miserable childhood or whatever it might be. It’s about taking that stuff and more – the things that matter to us, that concern us, that haunt us, that interest us – and transforming it all into something else. It’s not necessarily like a journal, which is purely for self-expression; it’s self-expression plus. Self-expression and. It’s that stuff and then mixing it with everything you know about writing and stories and coming up with something that works on the page for a potential reader.
And we can work through life things in strange ways, on the page. It’s not just a case of ‘take situation X and write it down’, but something much more complicated and messy. Writing can be a way of processing something that’s happened – even if it’s just that it’s a distraction – but it doesn’t mean that you’re writing an autobiography or a journal. What ends up on the page can look totally different. It can be some strange combination of what-ifs and if-onlys and wouldn’t-it-be-cools and ooh-and-alsos; it can be something translated and warped and stretched and modified so that it bears no resemblance to real-life events. But there’s something there, some kernel of the author at the time of writing.
We can’t always detect it as readers, though. And in some ways it’s better not to know. The question isn’t ‘what in your life made you write this?’ (although interviewers love asking it) but ‘does this story work – is there something honest in here, something I believe in, something true?’