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The Curious Cat Blog is all about writing, for writers, by a writer.


Why Honesty Really is the Best Policy

Carina Sitkus


I read somewhere just this past week that anyone who is honest is interesting. I wish I could cite the source, but I can’t, so if you know where it came from, please comment and I will be sure to give it the credit it deserves.

Honesty is what helps us connect to one another in “real life,” but it’s also what keeps us coming back to our favorite blog or novel. What makes us feel sad to finish a story, or to say goodbye to a fictional character we can never meet, as much as we’d like to. The first time I saw a Post Secret book in Barnes and Noble, I was hooked. The anonymously authored post cards bare the funny insights and secrets of thousands, if not by now millions, of people from around the world. Many of them say what so many of us have thought but never dreamed of saying, and even when you can’t personally relate to what’s written there, you are reeled in by what you can tell are unfiltered, unfettered, uninhibited declarations of thought and feeling.

Part of what enables such uninhibited honesty is anonymity, but even writing that is attached to a name, when done well, has the rare gift of making people feel like someone understands their innermost thoughts. Like there are others who think and feel the same things they do.

Our favorite books speak to us, and even though there may be hundreds of other people walking around feeling the same things as we do, the book is what reaches us first. Because people can be more honest there. Especially in fiction, where writers get to put bits and pieces of themselves into characters who don't share their real name.   

The best writers use their personal feelings, thoughts, and experiences to forge an honest, authentic connection with their readers.

Here are a three tips to get you started:

1. Honesty isn’t about baring your deepest darkest secrets and publishing them for the world to see. If you feel comfortable doing so, there is probably a lot of value in that.  But it’s not a requirement. Honest writing is genuine writing. About being authentic on the page. God, this is always easier said than done, but when you’re really doing it, it’s tremendously powerful. The best part is that when you’re being authentically you, not only do others feel better about you, YOU feel better about you. This goes for “real life” and your “writing life.” So never write a sentence that you don’t feel comfortable writing, but also never write something just because you think it’s what readers want to read or that it fits the mold of what you think is popular.

I recently finished this book called Mistakes I Made At Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting It Wrong. I highly recommend it for both men and women because it talks about how much more we get out of being honest and open with one another. One of my favorite interviews of the book was with Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, a book I mentioned in my post about hiking and writing. She recounts being paralyzed by writing assignments that she took on early in her career that felt inauthentic, and how she dealt with them. You really should pick up the book to read her story, because it’s great, but I’ll share with you a quote from one section:

The lesson I’ve learned over and over again as a writer is that my work has to come from an authentic place. It’s impossible for me to fake it on the page. This isn’t to say I’ve never had to push myself to write about something that doesn’t come particularly easily to me— doing so is certainly part of being a writer. But I’ve learned that I can’t pretend I have something to say when I don’t.
— Cheryl Strayed

2. Write about what you know. And if you don’t know much about what you’re writing, be sure to do your homework.  I went to a thriller writers' panel at Brown University last year that featured R.L. Stine, David Baldacci, Lisa Gardner and Steve Berry. Lisa talked a lot about how she went on visits to places that could help her paint a more detailed and realistic depiction of the events and plot in her stories. I wish I could remember the exact book she referenced, but apparently I’m very forgetful tonight. On the flip side, Stephen King in his book On Writing (another book I recommend), gave the following advice about the writing process:

Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all…as long as you tell the truth.
— Stephen King

3. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, write stuff you’d write even if no one was going to read it. Sure, it’s important to connect with the reader and to write in a way that’s accessible, but odds are that if you write from an honest place, your writing will be interesting and people will naturally want to read it, anyway.

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