There is a novel by German screen writer, Sascha Arango called The Truth and Other Lies. It’s basically a story about a best selling author who tries to get rid of his mistress when she threatens to tear the fabric of his carefully sewn life apart. Without giving too much away, in the novel, the main character’s wife, Martha is a different kind of writer. She is content to work on her stories and, once finished, put them away, never giving them another thought. She has the courage to be a writer.
The book did the rounds in my writing group a while ago and once my friend Wanda Wiltshire read it, she pestered me until I did too. Oddly enough (as I think she knew it would be) I had seen the same amazing truth as she had when she’d read it.
Now I’m not saying Arango wrote the novel with this particular truth in mind, yet it was the one we both took from it. And it basically goes like this:
If you want to be a writer then write. Write for you and no-one else. Write because you love to write and not because you’re lusting for fame or fortune, accolades or awards, because honestly most of us are going to die without ever having achieved any of that. Just write because you can’t not write. Because there is no joy in your life without it.Write because you love to write & not for fame. Truth is, most of us will die without it Click To Tweet
The paradox of writing
Through the characters in The Truth and Other Lies, Arango creates a paradox. On the one hand you have the main character, Henry who is all about satisfying his ego and on the other you have Martha who cares what no one else thinks and simply goes about her life doing the things she loves and finding simple pleasures in them.
When Wanda and I send emails to each other, complaining about the things writers complain about—usually what we’re frightened of, eg my writing is rubbish, this story is the worst thing ever written in the universe ever—we now just say to each other, be Martha.
Because really, why would you want to write for any other reason?
The idea of obscure authors is not a new one. And I’m not suggesting it is the only way to truly be a writer—far from it because each of us are individuals and we all need to do what we need to do. But many obscure writers have something to teach the rest of us—namely that the work we create is the most important thing.
I was recently listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, Big Magic and I was captivated by the story she told of poet, Jack Gilbert.
‘Jack could’ve been famous, but he wasn’t into it. He had the talent and the charisma for fame, but he never had the interest. His first collection, published in 1962, won the prestigious Yale Younger Poets prize and was nominated for the Pulitzer. What’s more, he won over audiences as well as critics, which is not an easy feat for a poet in the modern world. There was something about him that drew people in and kept them captivated. He was handsome, passionate, sexy, brilliant on stage. He was a magnet for women and an idol for men. He was photographed for Vogue, looking gorgeous and romantic. People were crazy about him. He could have been a rock star.’
But instead he vanished into obscurity, living in Europe—Italy, Denmark, but mainly in a shepherd’s hut on a mountain in Greece. He got by. He wrote. He was happy. Two decades later he published another collection of poems and again the public and critics fell in love with him. Then he disappeared, again.
‘This would be his pattern always,’ wrote Elizabeth Gilbert, ‘isolation, followed by the publication of something sublime, followed by more isolation.’
Later in life Jack Gilbert admitted that to him, fame was boring. He wanted a life that was more textured, more varied and found that being famous was just the same every day. When asked how his detachment from the publishing world affected his career, he laughed and said, ‘I suppose it’s been fatal.’
I don’t know about you but I think this is wonderful. And I think it’s why Jack Gilbert’s poetry was so real because he wrote what was true to him and cast away the false truths many of us feel forced to adhere to. You can see this about him in his interview with The Paris Review.
What do I mean by false truths?
Sometimes when you’re writing do you think you need to follow a formula to write a certain kind of story? Can you only talk about things in certain ways in your writing? Do you write with thoughts of being published in mind? Does this affect what you write or how you go about your craft? If the answer is yes to any of these questions then you’ll know what I mean by false truths.
Fear and the ego make us afraid to be real writers. To write from within ourselves rather than catering to what the public or what critics want. Often as writers we are bound and constricted by our search for perfection. But what is perfection? A myth, a fantasy, a mask for fear.What is perfection? A myth, a fantasy, a mask for fear. Click To Tweet
As Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book:
‘We all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun. This is common knowledge; sometimes we just don’t know what to do about it.’
We don’t have to be fearless, just courageous enough to face our fears and live a creative life that is true to the truest parts of ourselves. Just like Martha. Just like Jack Gilbert.
My own journey
The whole point of me starting Writing Journey Co was to, in a way record my own journey as a writer. And at the beginning I have to admit I was truly focused on getting my work published, but not any more. Of course it would be lovely if that happened, but it’s not the be all and end all. Because even without that, I would still be writing.
My friend Wanda Wiltshire summed it up really well when she was asked recently to tell people what it was like being on the ‘other side’ of publishing. She said:
‘There is no other side. I was writing before and I would have kept writing even if I didn’t get published. Nothing has changed. I’m still writing.’
So I’ll ask you again, do you have the courage to truly be a writer?
This is a question I ask myself all the time. And some days I fail. Some days I focus soley on what writing could do for my ego and not on what it’s already given me, what it gives me everyday. When this happens I have to remind myself to be Martha—or at least try.
What motivates you to write? Do you have any writers you admire who sound like Martha or Jack Gilbert? Let me know in the comments.