Don’t lie to yourself

Fiction, according to Stephen King*, is the truth inside the lie. Fiction – even comedy – while not factual, tells the truth about the world as the author sees it.

So if you want to tell these lies well you have to be honest. Honest with your audience and honest with yourself.

You have to be honest about the raw emotional truth at the heart of what you’re writing. (And this goes double for comedy, which is often an exercise in managed cruelty.)

But you also have to be honest about the plain old words on the page, and whether they are doing what you want them to.

It’s all too easy when you’ve written something to know what you meant. After all, you wrote it. The problem is, what you meant might not be what you’ve actually written. That is why coming back to work after a gap is so useful when editing.

Coming back to your work after a break gives you distance – so you can groan at the terrible things you have written and edit them out, or enjoy a really good bit of writing with fresh eyes.  Or you can just write a blog post for the whole world to see/ignore  (probably ignore).

We also need to be honest when editing. All too often we know deep down which bits in a piece aren’t working. But we don’t want to admit it. We want to take the easy route: not fixing things and hoping they’re OK. But you have to be honest with yourself. If you feel like there is something wrong, there probably is.

And when a piece of writing doesn’t get used it does a lot of good to look for reasons why (although sometimes it will be because it didn’t happen to fit the need at the time).

Being honest doesn’t mean giving in to despair. Recognise the good bits of your writing too.  And remember that finding the bad bits is a good thing – if you find them you can fix them.

But you can’t fix them if you won’t admit they are there.


*Yes, Stephen King. Don’t be a snob. And do read “On Writing“.

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