Bravery has come to me because it was more difficult for me to keep silent than it was to face the consequences of being honest. My guess is that almost everyone is like this. We try to hide the truth about our flaws, our doubts, our anger, and we think that it won’t matter, that we’ll get along fine because everyone hides a little bit of who they are in social situations, right? That’s the way the world works. You don’t just spill out your most noxious thoughts onto other people and expect to make friends. So give a little, take a little.
Until you reach a point where you have given up all of yourself and what you have been given in return doesn’t matter to you because it wasn’t given to you, who you are, because no one around you knows who you are—because you’ve been so successful at hiding it too long.
That’s when people become brave. When being honest is the only way to survive, when you realize that having a stable life with no confrontations and no risks turns out to be the most dangerous life of all. Because it is killing you, metaphorically and perhaps literally as well. It turns out that for most humans, lying in the long-term is soul-sucking. It separates us from those around us who are trying to love us. It isolates us profoundly and humans do not do well when they have no social interactions, not even introverts like me. We need some kind of mirror of ourselves looking back at us or our souls are starved to death.
But this is a post about writing, and isn’t writing always lying?
No. Writing is not about facts. It’s a way to get at deeper truths without using facts. Every writer tells different truths. Every writer sees and experiences the world differently. But to tell a story is to offer yourself up to the world. And even when you are spat at or hated, at least you are seen. It turns out that is perhaps bravery, but it is also simply the way that all of us must live.
Whatever you are writing, give up the impulse to disguise reality, to protect certain people from certain truths you have learned from them, however ugly or beautiful or painful they are. Resist the need to write safely. There is no safety. Writing is a striptease of the soul. It is the worst and best of yourself, and if you only poke fun at others or you only criticize them, you are not doing your job. Your work will always ring a little hollow.
To write true, you must show your deepest weaknesses. You must admit that you know you have strengths, however socially awkward you feel that to be. You must see others truly and fairly, not merely as puppets in your play of the universe in which you are the hero. Writing is practice for living, I think. Be brave because to be anything else is to be less than yourself. Be brave and be true.