Many successful writers have contributed to advice books, advice blogs, advice twitter accounts, sharing their Expert advice on writing. And so many of them say: tell the truth. That’s it. Whether it’s fiction or otherwise, tell the truth.
And I say to myself okay, I can do that. I took classes on how to tell the truth, basically graduated with a degree in truth-telling, and there’s definitely some truth lurking around in my short stories. But when presented with the single word honesty, I freeze. I write the word on paper, type it on the computer: honesty. Nothing. I say okay, just write what’s on your mind. A game of word association. I say honesty, you say –
And then I feel this thing inside me, spreading like octopus ink, a thick, black cloud: fear. I can’t believe it. Fear freezes my fingertips right before they hit the keys. What exactly am I afraid of? Does this make me a weak writer? Whoa, okay, take a deep breath, press down those shoulders, and maybe try a little cryptic poetry to ease into the harsh, unforgiving realm of truth. But you and I both know cryptic poetry gets us nowhere. Would I be doing right by this prompt, if at the end of it, readers walked away still not really knowing the truth? Come on Jodes, I say. Pull it together, just write about honesty. What is honest?
So I write a lovely verse about the sun spilling across your shoulders, watching you walk away, yada yada yada. And though it is all quite true, I feel that it hardly scratches the surface because so many people would assume I’m directing these words at a boy and that would be false. While the truth may be difficult to hear, it shouldn’t be confusing. It’s not that I want people to know I’m missing her, it’s that I want people to know she is not a he. Yet there it is again, that fear, preventing me from letting readers know that I date girls. Why, I ask myself. This is definitely one of the more honest things about me these days. I’m short compared to most, my eyes are brown, and I date girls. These are all honest facts, but then, like little mosquitoes buzzing around, always trying to get more out of me, I hear one professor after another say: So what.
Why should they care?
Should I be discussing more important truths? How many other truths are there? How exactly should I present the truth? Should I write some brilliant, slam poem about the sheer concept of honesty? How many more goddamn Andrea Gibson YouTube videos can I watch? Can I do what she does? I mean, her pieces hardly even makes sense and yet, at the end of each video, I feel as if truth bombs exploded in my heart, and I sit there wondering which cosmic power has prevented us from dating. We’d be great together, to be honest.
When I finally dig out of the hole that is my mind, growing increasingly darker with each passing hour that something about honesty is not written down, I reach out to a few friends. I ask them: What is honesty? Several respond: It does not exist.
Well, what a giant cop-out that is. Come on, guys. The truth exists. The first subsection of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states Seek Truth and Report It, implying that the truth is definitely able to be found and upon finding it, share your findings. Other subsections include Minimize Harm and Act Responsibly. Ah. Here lies the trouble. So while there is indeed truth, am I able to report the truth responsibly with minimal harm? If I told the true story of how I broke my hand, who would that be harming? But why would anyone care about the hand story? So what?
Should this piece about honesty be all about me or should I report on common truths not often discussed, like how sweet it would be if the two dollar bill was still in circulation? But wait, that’s an opinion, right? And not a very serious subject matter, either. Why do I feel the need to write about serious subjects? Why can’t I just write about what I know? Why am I trying so hard to write something profound? Why didn’t I study politics in college? If everyone has the same opinion, does that make it a fact? Is that what religion is? Why didn’t I study religion in college? Whoa. Come on Jodes, I say. Pull it together, just write about honesty. What is honest?