On freedom and telling the truth

Today I am sharing an excerpt by another writer, who addresses so well what I am struggling to explore and discuss [on truth]:

See, the thing is, as a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness. You are in the country where you make up the rules, the laws. You are both dictator and obedient populace. It is a country nobody has ever explored before. It is up to you to make the maps, to build the cities. Nobody else in the world can do it, or ever could do it, or ever will be able to do it again.

Absolute freedom is absolute responsibility. The writer’s job, as I see it, is to tell the truth. The writer’s truth – nobody else’s. It is not an easy job. One of the biggest implied lies going around at present is the one that hides in phrases like ‘self-expression’ or ‘telling it like it is’ – as if that were easy, anybody could do it if they just let the words pour out and didn’t get fancy… Well, it just doesn’t work that way. You know how hard it is to say to somebody, just somebody you know, how you really feel, what you really think – with complete honesty? You have to trust them; and you have to know yourself: before you can say anything anywhere near the truth. And it’s hard. It takes a lot out of you.

You multiply that by thousands; you remove the listener, the live flesh-and-blood friend you trust, and replace him with a faceless unknown audience of people who may possibly not even exist; and you try to write the truth to them, you try to draw them a map of your inmost mind and feelings, hiding nothing and trying to keep all the distances straight and the altitudes right and the emotions honest… And you never succeed. The map is never complete, or even accurate. You read it over and it may be beautiful but you realize that you have fudged here, and smeared there, and left this out, and put in some stuff that isn’t really there at all, and so on – and there is nothing to do then but say OK; that’s done, now I come back and start a new map, and try to do it better, more truthfully. And all of this, every time, you do it alone – absolutely alone. The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself.

You may have gathered from all this that I am not encouraging people to try to be writers. Well, I can’t. You hate to see a nice young person run up to the edge of a cliff and jump off, you know. On the other hand, it is awfully nice to know that some other people are just as nutty and just as determined to jump off the cliff as you are. You just hope they realize what they’re in for.

~ Ursula K Le Guin, The Language of the Night – Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction


Melanie Tan writes every day – for money and for love. More here.

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