The act of writing is fascinating. With words we can strip experiences down to their bare bones truth. Or, we can dress up our reality to be almost unrecognizable. The truth quotient? Sometimes even the writer cannot accurately measure it.
In our stories, we are selective with details. What do we choose to leave out? What doesn’t make the cut? What do we emphasize? How does this impact our truth?
Where do we spin things away from what really happened? No matter what the intentions, we do it. To highlight something essential. To add drama. To protect privacy. When we are not brave.
Sometimes we write around what we should not share. We leave hints that likely, only we, ourselves could figure out. Other times, we nudge things a little closer to actually being exposed. But, because we are so very precise in what we do and don’t say, we are still playing it safe.
There are stories that unravel almost exactly as they occurred. Simply changing a defining detail, leaving out a name, not identifying a gender and we keep our subject hidden. If we so choose. Sometimes, there is no reason to be secretive.
Some stories keep rising to the surface, asking to be told. Some emotions can only be soothed when we tell their story. How can we reconcile this with what is permitted? The truths with free passes are often quite quiet. The truths that must not be shared wail and whine.
When we write daily, it is not about not enough choices, it is about too many. Immediately, many are eliminated because they are not to be shared. Or they are not ready. Or we misunderstand them. We don’t yet know the words.
I have particular truths that are desperate to be released. They are the stories that haunt me. I would like to literally fasten them to the page and set them free. No, that is not true. I would like to walk away and set myself free.
I long to write them with the truth quotient turned up high.
But I don’t yet dare.
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.
It’s a difficult reflection to respond to. I think I know what you mean, because you are a human being who interacts with other human beings, all ages. But because you also teach, those parts of your life, and mine too as a teacher, remain sacred, touching us. And yet where can you find a way to release them that’s helpful for you and them? If the story is changed to protect, is that then the truth? I’ll be thinking about this for a long time, Carrie.
I agree with Linda. My teaching stories are sacred. My story is sacred. How do we share these stories to help, and yet protect our stories. You have certainly given me something to think about on this Sunday. How do we share the truest stories and protect that sacred space? Your piece is beautifully written.
Thank you Kendra. I am still thinking of all of this – no answers, mostly questions.
Thank you Linda. I appreciate that you took the time to be so thoughtful.
“they are not to be shared. Or they are not ready. Or we misunderstand them. We don’t yet know the words.”
I get you. The bare bones truths we witness and tell in our hearts may change when we write them down. Does writing filter our truths? Is the truth clearer after writing or does it soften the reality? If we are protecting, who are we protecting? Does our audience shift our truths? If it was just us talking, would the story be different? Writing changes things. It can clarify. But, we need to keep a vigilant eye on it and act accordingly. You set a high bar. Thank you.
Julieanne, I so appreciate all of your questions here.
I believe that you can write with all honesty and in minute detail when you write only about yourself. Then the amount of truth depends on how brave you are, how much you dare to reveal. When writing about others, especially children, it is not so easy, sometimes it is even impossible, to share it all. I’d say, write the stories that haunt you, write them to their core, write them raw, but don’t share them. Not yet. You’ll find a way to tell the truth, to share the stories, without having a conflict with your conscious.
Terje, you are wise and generous. Thank you.
Writing is an act of learning, an act of understanding, an act of putting a frame around experiences. Your post serves both functions: providing a wonderful writing piece AND showing the power of writing in our lives. A perfect slice.
High compliment. Many thanks.
Wow, I am sharing this post. I was struck with one of those cool “A-ha” moments as I read it. The idea of the power and awareness of the truth quotient in our writing is fascinating to contemplate. I think that would be so empowering for our young writers to play around with. I always believed that writing not only reflects our thinking, but shapes our thinking as well. This terrific post helped me think about that in a fresh way. Thanks, Carrie!
I so agree – it does shape our thinking. That I suppose is the clarity. But have we moved from the truth when we find that clarity or are we right in the middle of it?
And, what we notice, what we perceive, what we take in, and then what we write is all reflective of who we are. It’s a powerful exercise to read with the lens of what a character notices and try to guess what’s not included. It’s something I’m working on as a fiction writer. I love some of your lines in this post, Carrie. One of my favorites has to do with the barrage of choice we have from our days of living as writers. There really are SO many choices. It’s interesting to think about the choices we make!
It is. Thank you for sharing your ideas, impressions and your story. What’s not included is often the thing that keeps us reading don’t you think?
This is why I keep writer’s notebooks and a private blog. There are private truths and then there are those that one can share – these are the truths we learn about ourselves in our professional lives, the truths we learn through our interactions with our students and colleagues. The truths we must not share – these are our private ones, I believe, and they involve our spouses and our children, I believe, whose stories (although connected with ours) are not ours to tell.
And yet, when our world is changed by the story of another, it is also our story. It is all so complicated. I like what you say about the truths we learn about ourselves.
Very provocative piece! This makes me think about those slices I want to write, but don’t because of who might read them. What would they think?
And that is the question . . .
So much here… I love the insight about too many stories rather than too few. I am beginning to struggle each day with what to write and at first I thought it was because I was running out of ideas, but actually I have so many ideas. It’s more that I am not yet able to write some of those ideas–and some of them I will never be able to write because it’s someone else’s story too and can’t be shared. But that frustrates me, because those are the exact stories I want to try to write and the stories that I think have the most potential to move readers. I think a lot about Natalie Goldberg’s advice to write about the things that make you uncomfortable. I am so torn between what Tara says about our spouse’s and children’s stories being theirs not ours to share and my feeling that anything should be mine to write about. Anyway, much to ponder here.
The things that make us uncomfortable are the most rich. The post I most struggled with whether to publish or not was this one: https://thereisabookforthat.com/2014/02/08/the-part-that-is-true/ And the responses were incredible. It’s like some people needed to read that post as much as I needed to publish it. For that reason, I think that we do need to write those hard truths. In careful and protective ways, but write them all the same.
Yes! That’s really it: readers need to read these posts, we need these truths, we need to know that we are not alone in these experiences, and we need to learn from the ways others understand and live their truths. There is a constant tension and a balancing to what needs to be written and what can be published.
I had never heard of the term “truth quotient” and learned that it is a play about a billionaire who goes overboard with robots. Which is a good metaphor maybe for what a writer can do.
Anne Lamott says we always write first aggrandizing ourselves, trying to make things more significant than they are. She claims that writing is rewriting. For her, revision is going back and taking out everything that is not the truth.
And I am convinced of a brave thought you are expressing here: that there are stories that must be told. Sooner or later, I will be truthful enough — brave enough to get them out. And pare them down to the real story after all the self-aggrandizing.
This is definitely a different kind of writing you are talking about than a daily blog post to a general audience, linked to FB and read by my professional peers.
I had never heard of it either – I was just matching words that seemed to make sense for my purposes! “Writing is rewriting” A lot to think about in that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and responses here. I am learning so much from all of these comments.
I often think about what Tim O’Brien says about truth: “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” Honesty in writing is challenging when we know there will be a public audience. That limits us, of course. And our world-view determines the “said” and the “not said.” Your first line really does a nice job setting the tone for the piece. I feel as though we’re on a similar wavelength today w/ our respective posts.
Thanks for this Glenda. I am finding the responses and reactions so interesting. Public audience . . . So true – it makes us pause.
What a powerful piece. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and honesty…which feels almost ironic to write in light of the topic of this post!
🙂 I know what you mean . . . Thanks!
Ah, the truth quotient. Do you speak of truth in the not fabricated sense or truth in the true to the essence sense. That’s a pretty heavy thought for a Sunday! You have given me pause.
🙂 I wrote it Saturday morning – didn’t seem that heavy then!
I think I understand what you are saying here. Sometimes I feel better getting my thoughts down onto paper, even if no one reads them. Maybe I’m not ready to share them or maybe there are other reasons for not sharing them. Just setting them free helps me process my thinking or feelings and that can be very therapeutic. So, write them and get them out. Maybe someday you will want to share them, maybe not. It doesn’t really matter if it helps.
Many of us reach a point where we question how much or even if certain truths should be told. When it’s a challenging truth is there ever a good time? Yet even moment delayed in telling it is a bad one, no? There’s a reason the phrase “And the truth shall set you free!” exists. Sooner or later it’s going to be told. And once it’s out it almost never seems as overwhelming as we’ve made it seem in our head,.If you haven’t already done so tell it. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts. I believe strongly in the truth. Unfortunately, sometimes, it isn’t as powerful as we would like it to be.