why you need to write like a bad girl, part three: truth




Nina Sankovitch decided to read and review a book a day for an entire year — and blog about it.

In this interview, she observes: “The traits of great writing are genuineness, truth, fearlessness. Say it out loud: no fear.”

To tell the truth, your truth, as you understand it.

Or, if you’re a fiction writer: to tell the truth through lies.

‘Honesty’ is one of the traits that psychologist and creativity specialist Eric Maisel lists as being key parts of the successful artist’s personality (the others, in case you’re curious: intelligence, introspective stance, empathy, self-centeredness, self-direction, assertiveness, resiliency and nonconformity).

“Standing apart, holding your own counsel, attuned to both the beautiful and the moral, you are the one able and willing to point out the naked emperor, the stench coming from the closet, the starvation right around the corner, the colors of the far mountains as the eye really sees them.”

Art becomes witness. Your work is your testimony.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. The mantra of the Good Girl.

People only want so much truth. We spend our lives developing mechanisms by which to bleach and sanitize it. We deny, distort, minimize, shift blame, ignore, feign ignorance.

As Sue Monk Kidd put it, “The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”


So often what appears to be the truth is only a mask or image: the kind we all learn to create, some of us better than others.

When you write fiction, you give yourself over to a dream-state. If you’re any good, you’ll let the truths that you didn’t even know you knew — about other people, about yourself — rise from your psyche, expressed through symbol and fantasy.

And then go and show them to others.

“I don’t know if you realize,” a friend told me once, “just how exposed you are in that novel.” He was talking about my book LORD OF BONES, a dark urban fantasy about magic and demons that on first glance wouldn’t seem autobiographical at all. And it’s not. Except my friend is right; I am exposed in that novel, my dying marriage and consequent attraction to the distraction of chaos.

But I realized, as I wrote it, that the story was coming from a deep place. I emerged from periods of dream-state feeling raw, vulnerable. Which is also when I knew, after two drafts and lots of struggle, that the book was getting good.

There is a thrill to taking yourself on the edge like that.

I have learned to be a thrillseeker.

But why does it feel dangerous, more so for women than men, so dangerous that one woman’s truth might “split open the world” (Muriel Reksayer)? Why are women rarely so fearless that someone like Arianna Huffington wrote a book to exhort them to become so?

Men as a rule don’t suffer from Good Girl Syndrome (as one of my blog readers called it). And a Good Girl wants to be — needs to be — is desperate to be — liked.

She lives and dies by the approval of others.

If you can’t say anything nice…

The truth tends not to be nice.

The constant need for approval chokes off the good girl’s inner, intuitive voice, her truth-telling voice. In order to be nice and get along and not risk conflict she has to deny it over and over again, until self-doubt becomes her natural, reflexive state.

Creative paralysis sets in. How can you tell the truth when you no longer know what it is?

When you can no longer separate your true, inner voice from the voices around you?

By relying on the esteem of others, good girls sacrifice an essential truth about themselves. It keeps them tamed and compliant and smiling, unwilling or unable to penetrate the superficial. It puts them at the mercy of someone else’s agenda; sweeps them along in directions not their own.

Bad girls, on the other hand, don’t give a damn.

They prize their inner voice. They listen hard. They know it is their most important guide through the wild, uncharted territory of an unconventional life. Then again, a bad girl’s life wasn’t particularly safe or sweet to begin with. She doesn’t have those illusions to lose.

“When a woman is cut away from her basic source, she is sanitized.”*

A bad girl knows that it’s better to stay dirty.

*Clarissa Pinkola Estes.


Dec 10, 2009

12 comments · Add Yours

I am so SO appreciative of these bad girl posts. For the longest time I had stopped writing because of some backlash I got a while ago while I was blogging. After I read your first “write like a bad girl” post I immediately picked up my pen and sat down to write.
Thank you so much.


Hi Justine :)
Thank you for sharing the wisdom here today. I really enjoyed this post.
Happy Holidays,


Wanting to be liked is paralyzing, even for menfolk. Most of the benefit I get out of life is from being “sweet.” It makes creativity a scary unknown place to go.


I’ve covered this a few times. “Write What Hurts You” has always been something I advocate. In this interview over at Pop Matters – I talked about it. You hit a serious nail on the head with this post – the minute that what you feel like writing seems to you as if it will bother someone else, and you change it? You’ve copped out.



Kevin — I agree totally, and maybe I should have stressed that in my post — I do believe that as a rule women rely on approval (including approval of men) more than men do, for a number of reasons — esp. since this culture celebrates the lone independent rogue/rebel/cowboy whatever, the non-conformist (Cool Hand Luke, One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest both instantly come to mind) — you don’t really see a female equivalent of that. (Maybe Juno, which might also be why Juno was such a hit…)


I think there’s something else in the mix, specifically for men – not just ‘Nice Guy’ as an attenuated version of ‘Good Girl’. Your previous Bad Girl posts struck a deeper chord with me than that alone would have allowed, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Yes, being a Bad Boy has a specific cool of its own that being a Bad Girl does not (or, at any rate, not so much). Writing like a Bad Boy doesn’t grate so harshly against local expectations, except…

…that the canonical Bad Boy comes with expectations all of his own. And if a fellow should transgress those too, my experience is that he won’t half know it! The censor here is whispering not, “Be nice,” but something more like, “Shut up and stalk away.” It may in one sense actually be harder to defy, since it can co-opt the whole stance of rebellion.

Not, “Telling this truth isn’t done,” only, but, “I’m too sexy for this truth!” also.

That isn’t all that’s going on here, not by a long chalk – but it’s as near as I can come to nailing it down, just at present.


I don’t think anybody could give me a better compliment than that. Thank you so much for saying, and I am SO GLAD you are writing again.

And don’t you dare stop. We need you & what you have to say.

Learning how to deal with backlash is I think something we all have to figure out, because as soon as you start attracting any kind of attention, you’re going to attract criticism, envy, snide remarks, etc.: people who want to shoot you down or “put you in your place” for one reason or another….One of the things I took away from my year in Australia when I was a teenager was the phrase “tall poppy syndrome” — referring to an achiever who becomes taller than the people around her/him and is then “cut down” by disparaging remarks.

So I say: fuck the backlash.

Or better yet, take it as a kind of compliment.

Because if there isn’t any backlash at some point, you’re probably doing something *wrong*. Or not doing anything at all. :)


happy holidays to you!


That’s a really good point & really interesting to think about. The emphasis falls once again on being silent…My dad is of the old-school world war 2 working class “suck it up” variety, and that’s what he passed on to me as a kid (and which I’ve since — sorry Dad — had to make a great effort to unlearn, because all it seems to do, ultimately, is damage to the self in a myriad of ways).

If you ever want to do a guest post on this subject for my blog, I’d be delighted…


I think it’s really interesting how we all circle some of the same things in our own different ways…which just underscores the importance of them…

“write what hurts you” — beautifully put.

(Unicorns hurt me. They really really hurt me.)

:: now heads over to pop matters to check out the interview ::


Thanks Justine! I loved this post, and I’m now a committed reader of your blog.

I’m also going out to buy some of your books!


Thanks Tracy! I was checking out your blog & the women on the covers of your books and they definitely look bad-ass. :)


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