To write honestly means that you are willing to tell the truth about your feelings and perceptions, but that doesn't mean you have to say anything about your own life that you wish not to.  In the service of that honesty you may employ any technique, reach back into any memory, discuss any subject, call upon any emotion, and invent any fiction.  You are not obliged to write raw autobiography that reveals things you are not ready to have revealed.  Honesty means, in part, to be able to feel one's anger and grief and envy and frustration, to have the courage to look at your own life and thoughts so that you can tell the truth about how human beings think, feel and behave.  It does not mean exposing yourself in ways that you do not find appropriate.


Feeling your feelings is not as easy as it sounds.  It is common for people to deny a great deal of their emotional experience.  People tend to stifle their genuine feelings and deny those emotions that are not socially acceptable.  For example, in our culture, women have often been socialized to avoid displays of anger.  Anger is a “bad” emotion and an “unbecoming” one for women -- or so they are led to believe.  Many men in our culture have trouble with emotions in general, having been taught that any display of feeling (other than irritation and mild pleasure) is weak and unmanly.  But if one is not permitted to feel deeply, the chances of writing powerfully are very limited.  People who want to write sometimes have to struggle against a lifelong habit of shutting off their feelings.  To feel relief as well as sadness at a loved one's death, to feel rage and envy at a friend's success, to feel confused and ambivalent in situations where one is conventionally supposed to feel unadulterated pleasure or sorrow is often difficult -- and painful -- to acknowledge.


A question that writers often face is how to find the courage to speak about the unspeakable – to delve into that maelstrom of one's past, those excruciating memories.  I have already suggested that there is no need to deal with those memories and feelings – and it is probably counterproductive to do so until they are no longer so terrifying.  If that material is, on the other hand, boiling inside you with explosive energy, seething to be expressed, you may consider dealing with it fictionally, so that the events and situations no longer appear autobiographical.  If you wish to say things that are so intimate that you dare not commit them to paper, say them in the third person: make up a story about someone else.  Change the names.  The genders.  The locales.  The circumstances.  Have it take place in another country, or on another planet.  Make its autobiographical genesis unrecognizable.  Mask the truth the way fiction writers habitually do.  Real writers talk about their own lives, their own deepest fears and tears and passions, in the midst of telling their fictional tales.  If that seems too difficult or awkward, leave that material alone for now.


Steve Kowit

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