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.