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“not a liar, my dear – a writer”

July 4, 2014

– “you’re not overbearing [when it comes to urging me to write.] just relax a bit.”

– “well. you’re a good liar at least.”

– “not a liar, my dear – a writer.”

– “i do believe they are one in the same.”

– “there’s a slight difference.”


this is what happens when two writers talk about writing. or argue about writing. the fact of it is… the idea of truth telling (and lie telling) have long been linked with being a writer. people (james frey, greg mortenson) have been slammed for saying that they are telling the truth, and then twisting that truth, or outright lying. other people have been eviscerated for telling the truth when they said they weren’t, for cloaking the truth in a veil of “fiction.” someone who was once my friend called me “disgusting” for writing a poem in which they gleaned that one thing was the truth, and i believed that something else was. as one of my friends told me once: “people hate when your writing holds a mirror up to them.”

i think it all comes down to how you go about your writing. writing can be an avenue for revenge. i’ve seen it, i’ve done it, i’ve read it, i’ve winced at it. and some people think that feels good, and some people will stop at nothing to publicly air their dirty laundry, and what they’re writing can be truthful, or truthy, or on the cusp of lies, or out and out lies. writing is sensationalistic; writing makes an impact, and so sometimes whatever you read, whatever makes that first impression on you – that’s what sticks, even if it’s not true.

but what if the lie makes the story better? that’s a question i deal with when i work with my own non-fiction. one of my friends said “oh gosh, this story is good, but what would make it better is if someone died at the end.” another friend said “you can fudge these details – how will anyone know?” and i could, i suppose, but part of that feels wrong. am i too prim and prissy? is this what people are doing? can i do it?

i’ve lied in my poetry. i’ve twisted things around until they weren’t recognizable anymore. it’s caused fall-outs, but it’s also made me feel good about what i’ve written, because sometimes the meat of the poem exists more in the imagination than it does in truth, and if i don’t make anyone identifiable, i am fine with manipulating a scene. then again… sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

one of my colleagues recently told me that i am the inspiration behind a character for their new manuscript, which is flattering, i guess, but also quite terrifying. this is someone who i’ve had fights and problems with; this is someone who i’m afraid will take me and use me as a marionette – what if everything that we could never figure out face to face will be hashed out on the page?; what if all of my flaws are blown up and magnified and jump out at the readers?; what if it’s painful to read?

i mean… do we have an onus placed on us to tell the truth? are we bound by some homeric morals? or can we find the story somewhere else?

how often do we have to take others’ feelings into account before we lose the story altogether?


more to come.

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