Some Telling Truths about Truth Itself by Authors Who Were or Are Intent on Telling the Truth

This is a thorny issue, and dangerous under the best of circumstances. But it is an inescapable one, an ongoing lifelong challenge, for serious writers.  So many acceptable dodges, evasions, even escapes, are handily available, and it’s far easier to bow to the pressure of convention, knuckle under, than hold one’s own feet to the fire and thus invite an auto da fe, offering one’s self and work as the main event, and  providing even the spark and kindling for it in the process.

Just throwing the following out as a small plate of hot  tapas of truth as possibly inflammatory statements that may  spark or stimulate those writers in need of a fire in the belly, a recognition of risks in writing books in which a truth or truth inheres, a re-kindling of their resolve and commitment,  and a re-ignition of their imaginations to stick with this hot potato at the heart of all great books, something everyone would rather not handle and tries to always quickly hand off,  in all of its difficulties and hazards.

“The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known. If there were no speaking or writing, there would be no truth about anything. There would only be what is.”
Susan Sontag, The Benefactor

There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.”
Doris Lessing, Under My Skin

“An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There’s a punishment for it, and it’s usually crucifixion.”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“I am suspicious of all the things that the average person believes.”
H.L. Mencken

“No one tells the truth to people they don’t actually know, and if they do it is a horrible trait. Everyone wants something smaller, something neater than the truth.”

Ann Patchett, State of Wonder

Finally some rather direct direction to writers from Emily Dickinson, a poet I know well, and  one who is not, shall we  say, renowned for being explicit about anything ( i.e., calling a spade a spade?), but for her allusiveness  and deft use of ambiguity:

“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–

Success in Circuit lies.

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s supreme surprise

As Lightning to the Children’s eased

With explanation kind

The truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind–”

Not to mention the fact that nobody would  like you, so much as talk to you or ever read your books, eh Emily?

I would also add to the above that if you do in fact tell a needful truth as a writer, and do it artfully, some people will respect and laud you, shout your name from the roof tops, even thank you and some will hate you, really hate you, and try to hurt you and defile your work. So expect that and ignore it when it happens.  It means you are onto something, closing in on them (the liars), yes, it does. It means what you’ve written threatens them and they are frightened. Otherwise they’d ignore you and you’d be a placid ineffectual scribbler alone in a corner. And that’s the truth–tonight– according to Margaret Langstaff 🙂

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger.
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