Write Your Truth

I’m taking a blogging break this week. Hope you enjoy this post from my archives.

“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~Barbara Kingsolver

My husband and I were going out to the movies. We were in the mood for something light so we chose something that looked cute and funny. We knew it wouldn’t be a moviemaking masterpiece, so even though the critics had been harsh, we decided to take our chances.

Before the movie we went out to dinner, ran into a friend and chatted for a bit. Her dinner companion, whom we’d never met, heard what movie we were going to see and blurted, “Oh, it’s really bad.” We were taken aback and I’m sure she could see it in our faces. She continued, “Yeah, I saw it last night, it was just like, really stupid. A waste of time. But hey! Maybe you’ll like it! Have fun!”

That was kind of a downer. But we already had realistic expectations of the movie, and it turned out we thought it was cute, fun, and funny. A thoroughly enjoyable night out. The general response of the others in the theater seemed to agree with us.

The experience got me thinking about a whole bunch of things… like how our expectations influence our experience. And how art and entertainment are so subjective (as we’ve discussed so many times on this blog.) Those thoughts led me to another conclusion I keep coming to over and over:

Since we can’t please everyone with our work… since readers (like movie watchers) bring their own expectations and subjectivity to their experience of our work… it doesn’t make sense to try and predict what people want to hear and write that. You’ll never get it just right. Instead, simply write your own truth. Say what you want to say. Be honest in your writing—honest about who you are, what you think, what you question and doubt, what you fear—and eventually, as you master the craft, you will connect with readers.

I doubt you’ll make that connection as long as you’re just trying to predict the market; as long as you’re writing what you think publishers are looking for; as long as you’re resisting writing from your deepest core.

Many factors will influence whether you’re published and whether you have commercial success—including the market, and the overall quality of your writing (which can be judged by many different criteria). But your writing will improve and connect with more readers as you get better at writing what you think and feel and know rather than what anyone else wants to hear from you. Keep in mind that you can do with within any genre that exists (or any that haven’t been coined yet). You can express your truth in a paranormal romance as well as a dystopian YA fantasy or a crime thriller.

Readers’ opinions of your work will vary but in the end, the way anyone responds to your work will only matter if you’ve written the truth as you know it, or are discovering it.

Of course, you’re always hearing how important it is to learn the market and know what’s saleable, and you may be tempted to attenuate your writing to fit the market. But even if you’re writing toward the market, you also have to write your truth. It’s what usually produces the best writing, the kind that touches people and makes them think and feel.

This is what you have to offer the world: Yourself. Put it on the page, even if it’s scary.

If you haven’t yet, drop by my Facebook page and click “Like.”
© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  22. Talei Loto on June 20, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    Ah, this post just reinforces something I’ve been pondering over recently. I am so glad I read this today, its made my day.

    Thank you Rachelle, as always, great advice for us!

  23. friendtoyourself.com on June 1, 2011 at 8:41 PM

    >Man Rachelle, I've been reading your blog for about 10+ months but only started commenting to push myself a little more in connecting and courage. However, this is not the first time I've resonated so loudly with your words that my head rings, savored them in my mouth and felt them against my teeth as they go down! You have got it going and I thank you for making each of us feel like we do too when ever we connect. Keep on.

  24. makeithappen on June 1, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    >Well said. I especially like the last part of the post:

    "This is what you have to offer the world: Yourself."

    It is so easy to get wrapped up in giving the world what they want to hear instead of what is pasted in your heart.

    phoney sounds pseudo…
    thanks for putting this out there.

  25. Christine on June 1, 2011 at 10:15 AM

    >Thank you so much for this post! I needed it very much. I've been in limbo as I await another response to an R&R I sent in two months ago. Not sure what direction to go in and am I suitable to that line? But now I know what I have to do. I am writing the story I have to write and I'll worry about whether or not it is suitable if the call happens.


  26. Leigh D'Ansey on June 1, 2011 at 1:56 AM

    >This is so true. Thanks for another excellent post.

  27. patti.mallett_pp on May 31, 2011 at 11:42 PM

    >Glad you took off with your hubby, of course, because you deserve it, but also so we would get to read this post from the Archives. Truly, I would prefer to write a book I was proud of, in which I told "my truth," than to get a book published that was not.

    Thanks for reminding us of something we know to be true, but that can get lost in all of the Advice flying around.

  28. Marissa Hawkins on May 31, 2011 at 9:40 PM

    >I will join the several above in saying I really needed to hear that! Thank you.

  29. Jerry Eicher on May 31, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    >If you write only for yourself, you may be the only one who reads the story.

  30. Beth K. Vogt on May 31, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    >Your post made me think of this quote by Bill Cosby: "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."

    Enjoying the reruns, Rachelle!

  31. Lenore Buth at www.awomansview.typepad.com on May 31, 2011 at 3:59 PM

    >Love the Barbara Kingsolver quote AND your post. (Also yesterday's wisdom.)

    Thanks for telling me what I already know. Today I needed to be reminded.

  32. Donna Hole on May 31, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    >Excellent advice. You can't please everyone, so may as well please your own writing voice. All other things are negotiable once you set your goal.


  33. Janice Hardy on May 31, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    >This is something I remind myself whenever I get a not-so-great review. You can't please everyone and no book works for all readers. Even the top bestsellers have one star reviews where people pan the books.

    I try to write what I love and hope it finds the folks who have the same taste in books I do 🙂

  34. fran b on May 31, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    >Just finished reading Bird by Bird…again, and your post fits right in with what Lamott espouses. You guys are so right on! Thanks for the confidence boost.

  35. Rebecca Stroud on May 31, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    >@Larry Carney – I don't think you're surly or unreasonable at all. Of course, I'm one who has always marched to a different drummer so trends don't phase me in the least. It's also why I write what I love: Be it a short story or a newspaper column or a suspense novel, there will always be a dog involved. Fabulous examples of God's work, I adore them…absolutely adore them.

  36. susan reichert on May 31, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    >Was delighted to read this post. I do believe we have to write to please ourselves. And it was nice to hear someone else say it.

  37. Joanne@ Blessed... on May 31, 2011 at 11:17 AM

    >On my author-eve, this came at a great time. I woke up this morning and told Paul, "I'm nervous."

    "About what?" he asked.

    "My book release it tomorrow. What if everyone hates it? What if I'm a one-book-wonder?"

    He said a few sweet things I won't share here, but I know I wrote the truth, I know I wrote with my heart, and I know it will be a beautiful thing to pass down through the generations.

    After the publication ride I've been on, I have few expectations. I think that's a good place to be.

  38. Wendy Paine Miller on May 31, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    >Tempted to print and frame this.

    Oh so good!
    ~ Wendy

  39. Rebekah on May 31, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    >Agree. If it isn't from you how can you promote and speak to it once it is in print, be passionate about people reading and discussing what you have to say.

  40. Loree Huebner on May 31, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    >Great post! Sometimes you get what you need to hear from unexpected places. Thank you.

  41. Carradee on May 31, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    >Good point. I remember how Lady in the Water is disliked by so many people, and much of their complaints stem from it not being what they expected. It wasn't a bad movie for what it was—but it wasn't what moviegoers had gone in there wanting to see.

  42. jjdebenedictis on May 31, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    >It's interesting that to touch many people, you must get in touch with yourself–to find the universal, you need to dig deep into the personal.

    People read fiction to know humanity, so your humanity is what you have to give them.

  43. Jackie on May 31, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    >This post really chimed with me. I'm working on my current novel and as a Christian writer, although not writing specifically for the Christian market, had been debating whether certain content in this new wip was wholesome and appropriate. Then the other morning I read John 14:17 'Even the Spirit of truth…for he dwells with you, and shall be in you.' and I realised I'd been focusing on the wrong issue. My challenge as a writer was to write from that spirit of truth. Like you say, when we tell the truth we connect and avoid the gratuitous.

  44. Larry Carney on May 31, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    >"Put it on the page, even if it is scary."

    Thank you!

    In an industry where everyone seems to be chasing trends, it is really and truly refreshing to know that not everyone is a coward. That there are those who still recognize that the primary function of truth is to be heard, not simply sold.

    (Guess if I say something like that which indicts our industry I should at least offer what I find scary…ok, here it is: I find it a bit worrisome that I might garner the impression of being surly and unreasonable simply for writing the truth as I see it. Or that there are too many other writers who might, on occasion, share my views or any particular view yet are too worried about crafting a squeaky clean image that they don't dare share a controversial or even honest thought, and thus our ability to speak truth is censored by our own selves: scared of being the lemming with the dawning realization that the cliff is approaching, yet none dare turn away for fear of breaking from the pack).

    Okay. If that was a bit surly, I'll blame it for lack of coffee this early in the morning 🙂

  45. Crystal on May 31, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    >Thank you so much for this, Rachelle! I'm printing it out NOW . . . 🙂

  46. Joanne Sher on May 31, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    >Oh yes – loved this, Rachelle.

  47. vvdenman.com on May 31, 2011 at 8:16 AM

    >Great advice, but so difficult sometimes. Even if I shut the door, the voices yell from the other side!

  48. Richard on May 31, 2011 at 7:32 AM

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  49. Heather Sunseri on May 31, 2011 at 6:30 AM

    >Fantastic post, Rachelle!

  50. Sharon A. Lavy on May 31, 2011 at 5:53 AM

    >Your reruns are so inspiring. You don't ever have to apologize for them.

    There comes a time in every writers life when you have to filter out the voices.

  51. Christine Murray on May 31, 2011 at 3:05 AM

    >This is such an inspiring post. Thanks for putting it up again.

  52. C Ann Golden on May 31, 2011 at 2:50 AM

    >Thank you. I needed to "hear" this today. 🙂


  53. sally apokedak on May 30, 2011 at 11:16 PM

    >Excellent post! Thanks.