I am a reader of memoirs. I love them as much as I adore good fiction. I love the way great memoirists unflinchingly bare themselves to us, showing the good and the bad, the admirable moments and the shameful ones.
I just finished reading an unusual memoir (Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas) which is already one of my favorites for many reasons, the primary one being the author’s honesty. In the book, he takes the reader along as he ventures outside his comfort zone, violates societal norms, faces his own limits, stares down his demons and accomplishes some major personal victories. He shares his thinking all along the way, oftentimes a bit immature or selfish or unenlightened, and brings us with him as his perspectives mature and blossom. He lets us in, even as he knows he might be saying things that alienate us. He tells the truth, awkward and unpleasant as it sometimes is, and I came to admire his story for what it was: a journey. He didn’t have to be perfect all along the way; the point was that he learned and he grew and in essence, he came of age right there in front of our eyes.
We would not have the privilege of reading such powerful works without authors who are unafraid of telling the truth.
In your blogging, in your Twittering and Facebooking, in your novel-writing and your memoir-writing and your non-fiction writing… what if you were able to let go of your need to show the world only your best side? Your shiny, polished and edited side? What if you were to tell the truth about your humanness — those moments of selfishness and greed, those flashes of insecurity, the envy that overtakes you at odd moments? What if you were able to portray the world as it really is?
Here’s an exercise: Go through your Twitter or Facebook posts from the last few weeks. For every one of them that presents a positive picture of your life, think of something else that was going on at that time — something hard, something unflattering, something you’d never share with the world — and write it up in “post” form. Now look at your real posts and these new, not-so-shiny ones. Does it present a more accurate picture of real life? Is it, in fact, even more interesting than the endless succession of my-life-is-awesome updates?
Now think about how to incorporate this knowledge into your writing — all your writing, whether it’s social media or blogging or books. Try to identify moments in which you are tempted to portray a whitewashed version of the world or your character or your self. Is there a more honest way to say it?
You open yourself up to judgment or unfair criticism, to be sure. You risk alienating people who simply can’t accept reality and humanness in all of its flawed messiness. But isn’t it worth it, to be able to tell the truth?
The deeper you dig down, the more you refuse to sugarcoat — the better you will resonate with your readers. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing escapist romance novels or serious parenting manuals or daily Facebook posts. Tell the truth, and people will listen.
What if we were unafraid to tell the truth about ourselves and the world? Click to Tweet.
Tell the truth and people will listen, says @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.
“You risk alienating readers, you open yourself to judgment–but truth is worth it.” Click to Tweet.
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