“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” (Anne Lamott)
I was reading a book by Ed Catmull the founder and president of Pixar Animation titled (AFFILIATE LINK), “Creativity, INC.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.” If you are a leader, operate a business, are planning to start a business, have employees, are a person in charge of anything or anyone, or if you do creative work – this book should be on your must read list. It is that good.
His words have encouraged me to write no matter who is reading.
I am always looking to see how writers divulge the difficult experiences in their lives.
While “Creativity, INC.” is not a personal memoir, it is the memoir of a company – how a company was born from the minds and lives of men. You can’t help, but find difficult decisions he has made as a leader which involve real-live people. These are people who have resigned, made mistakes, were disgruntled, spoke out of turn, were naysayers, were positive and encouraging, or harmful. He even mentions companies that made decisions which cost them business or place in the market as examples of what not to do.
This is Ed Catmull’s story of Pixar – how he has witnessed the birth of a company from his hard work.
This is his truth.
I celebrate that truth with him. He is telling his story anyways.
I am drawn to memoirs and stories like this. I believe everyone has a right to tell their stories
But I wonder: Why telling the unvarnished truth is only OK for him or writers like him?
I have always wondered how as a writer I can personally balance the difficult places in my own life as I tell stories. It is dirty work sharing my heart and my truth, remembering where I have wandered, and discussing the way people have wounded or encouraged my journey thus far.
It is a very delicate balance: navigating the truth in my story and the people who have touched my life with encouragement or discouragement.
This balance I have not always done well, but I am learning. I learn by looking for answers from the wisdom words of the writers who have gone before me.
I wonder if writers I respect like Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Gilbert, Madeleine L’Engle, or “The Glass Castle” author Jeannette Walls (AFFILIATE) have had to struggle with people they know: People who have been harmful, people they are related to or friends with or gone to church with or worked with, those who have touched their lives with both blessings and cursings?
Have they had to navigate people who react in emotional extremes throwing rage, blame, and shame at them when the stories they have lived out together end up on the writer’s page?
What happens when a songwriter’s EX hears that breakup song about him for the very first time?
That has to be hard.
Creating is hard work. Living within the spheres of creative people can feel dangerous.
- How do these writers balance the things that are too close to home?
- How do they navigate their own internal stories and the gift of storytelling with the difficult people in their lives?
- Are writers able to manage people who come into their creative spaces and imagine themselves between every word and line?
- Where does our creative responsibilities begin and end?
Can writers share their Truth about the difficult people, places, & heart spaces they have experienced in their lives?
OR do they have to withhold their truth until after everyone is dead?
I find these words from Madeleine L’Engle, about why she preferred writing fiction for children, helpful:
“The child will come to it with an open mind, whereas many adults come closed to an open book. This is one reason so many writers turn to fantasy (which children claim as their own) when they have something important or difficult to say.”
Perhaps I should begin to write fantasy novels?
Then I can bring the difficult people as characters into the fictional lives of my heroes and heroines and shrug my shoulders feigning innocence at the whole damn thing?
“No, Uncle Henry, that egotistical dragon obsessed with his treasure is certainly not a reference to Grandma Agnus!”
“No, that life sucking alien species ruthlessly taking the soul of every person they encounter is not a reference to my in laws.” (or is it… wink. wink.)
Anne Lamott talks about this balance of real people in a writer’s life in her book on the writing life, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” (AFFILIATE).
“Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point to you, while a chilling voice thundered, “We *told* you not to tell.” But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.”
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
She is so snarky and a part of me laughs at her audacity. But she is completely right –
You write you… anyways. The whole messy lot of it should end up on the page. Write no matter who is reading.
Even when the truth of MY experiences pains, frightens, or enrages those who have walked out pieces of my story with me along the way, I press in to writing well anyways.
“I own everything that has happened to me.” – the voices of our modern writing prophets demand this of ME.
I write. To hell with the consequences.
I write no matter who is reading.
Creating matters. For many of us it is like breathing.