Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Act of Writing As an Exercise in Honesty

'Somehow, when we start writing, all the lies we told ourselves, all the deceptions and mistaken beliefs that we held up as a shield, are challenged. We can do it in prose or poetry, in fiction or non-fiction, in a piece meant for public consumption or in a private diary. It doesn’t matter how and where it is presented. What matters is that we approach the act of writing as an exercise in honesty, keeping ourselves open to find the truth.'
--from Nancy Christie's blog, The Writer's Place. You might also want to check out the Youngstown-based writer's website.


At 12:17 PM, Blogger Kass said...

Your posts are always so timely. I'm right in the midst of writing a post about addiction. I'm being honest, but of course with a spin. I thought "writers were liars." This is something I will have to come back to after I collect my thoughts and read your links.

At 1:31 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Remember that timeliness is often as much a function of how ready the receiver is for the message as anything else. And in this case, I'd have to point to Nancy for her yeoman's contribution to this nice reminder of what we should already know.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Diane Vogel Ferri said...

That quote is a keeper, John. I have a writing group, but I call it more of a writer's support group. Our new name is "Writers Without Readers" until one of us has a book published! :)

At 3:31 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Glad you liked it also. It really hit me when I first read it. And your group's name--which I assume is tongue-in-cheek, right?--gave me a chuckle. While I can't speak for the other writers in your group, since I don't know who they are, you're certainly not without readers. Your blog is widely read and admired, and ditto for your chapbook. So consider yourself published, Diane!

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Elisabeth said...

Thanks for this reference, John. the words resonate for me too, so much so I've visited Nancy's blog.

I'm working on a thesis that deals with the degree to which the desire for revenge can spark writing, generally of the non-fiction variety, but I don't think it stops there.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Now there's a thesis I'd read. Thanks for stopping by, Elisabeth, and especially for commenting (your first time, I believe?) all the way from Australia. After nearly seven years of putting material out into the world in this way and being touched by the impossible variety of smart, discerning and soulful people from all kinds of places who join in the discussion, perhaps I should be more blase about another interesting new voice joining the discussion from distant places on the globe. But I'm not; not even a little. I hope you'll continue to find material here that resonates for you (as your comment so resonates with me) and that you'll continue to add your thoughts whenever the spirit moves you. Thanks again.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

The ancient skaldic bards
who reached into their word-hordes
for king and countrymen
those harpist founders of our literature
of all those countries north of the Mediterranean
were required to speak the truth
when they sang the news gathered
in their wanderings
sang before the kings and gentry and villeins alike
who wandered the land and told and gathered
the news, who also sang the epics
of heroes and monsters and saints
these ancient worded singer-bards
knew self and soul and heart full well
and always sang the truth
even when they sang those myths called lies
which tell more truth than facts alone can tell
the lineage of bards alive today in poets and singers
the ancestors of song
the revenant spirits stuck to harpstrings
in museum and hill-hall alike
their voices still echoing in the barrows and tombs
of kings no-one remembers, mere wicker men
lost to chalk in the hills
their ringing voices still truthtelling
and never stilled

At 7:59 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Takes a bard to know a bard.

At 11:22 PM, Anonymous stan said...

Where else would I find an exchange like the above?


At 11:42 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You're surely right about how much value my wonderful readers add through their comments. Thanks for noticing.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I have two feelings about writer's groups vs. writer's support groups.

i've been in writers' groups where the emphasis was the writing, no holds were barred. People learned to take nothing personally, it was only about what's on the page. But discussion could be fierce, honest, and blunt. It could also be sublime. A few years of this made me a much better writer. I make no bones about it: I needed extremely harsh, honest, and accurate critique to improve as a writer. I didn't take it personally, and I have since internalized much of what I learned from that group, so now that I'm off on my own, the lessons were learned and incorporated into my revision process.

That being said, I freely admit that many (perhaps most?) writers are not ready for such an astringent, focused group. It depends a lot on the personalities involved. There were people who came to that group thinking that it WAS a support group—they never lasted very long, because they wanted to be encouraged as writers rather than critiqued to become better writers. I don't think all of them even knew that that is what they wanted; but you could see it in their attitude and behavior. (Or I could, anyway.)

Support groups are support groups. If they are artists' support groups, sometimes they do serve a good purpose. Encouragement is valuable.

And I do believe that it has everything to do with where you are in your growth as a writer: what stage of life you're in, your history with people and with writing, your attitudes and underlying assumptions (which most people don't even voice to themselves), and so on.

Probably both types of writers' groups are absolutely necessary: perhaps not at the same time, not for the same writers, and perhaps not at the same period in their growth as writers.

I think it's really important, therefore, for a writer (artist) to be self-aware enough to know what they want, AND what they need. Those are not always the same things. So I think that self-awareness is a kind of self-honesty that is critical, to get anywhere. Because too many support groups that I've seen do not encourage the artist to face her demons, or daimons, confront problems and issues, and become better writers; too many of these promote lovingkindness at the risk of stasis. I'm sorry to dispel one of the cherished myths here, and: growth is often difficult, hard, apparently painful, and often involves apparent suffering. Support groups all too often provide a comfortable means of AVOIDING growth.

Sometimes we only grow up when life forces us to.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You definitely got lucky on your choice of groups. Your experience probably isn't the norm, based on stories I've heard. Generally you have to try many groups before finding one that fits all or most of your parameters.


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