As I start to write this it’s ten to seven on a crisp winter’s morning. I woke at 6 to an email from a young friend who’s writing a short article for our community magazine. Her first pass at it went ok-ish. I found myself replying to her email with a generally positive and encouraging hurrah, and ended it with ‘Good writing is about more than writing; it’s about honesty, and generosity of spirit and reaching out.’
Is it? In my sleep fuddled, pre-shower drowsiness had I struck on something I believe and hadn’t put into coherent thought before? A few days ago I mentioned the old saying ‘Good writers aren’t clever, they’re just writers.’ and is this a development of that thought? That there has to be a real generosity of spirit in good writing? Mind you, I can think of a few miserable, self-obsessed, isolated and unpleasant really good writers who would give the lie to this idea. If you’ve ever attended the script conference of a well established soap, and sat amongst 25 other writers, all vying for a moment in the spotlight when we can pitch our story and impress the producers with our creativity and ingenuity, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Mean spiritedness? Some of those geezers have degrees in it.
Writers don’t have to be clever, and they certainly don’t have to be (and never are) saintly. For which, I am very thankful.
So, to repeat, in my pre-coffee state this morning, bare footed, pyjama’d, I wrote ‘Good writing is about more than writing; it’s about honesty, and generosity of spirit and reaching out.’ I think I was right. Do you? Good writing reaches out to reveal something of the writer, to invite the reader into the writer’s landscape, but it also seeks to enable the reader to look into his or her own heart to be reassured, maybe, that we are not alone.
I do love it when in the writing process, the thoughts shift, sift and settle to reveal something I hadn’t before realised. I don’t think properly and clearly unless I’m writing and in all the hours when I’m not writing, my brain is cotton wool… but if I sit to write… SLAM! Clarity! It might still be cotton wool, but it’s a crisper and cleaner cotton wool. Sometimes. And that word SLAM! isn’t right, because it’s a gradual unspooling of thought until the slam hits home, a stumbling process up until the light bulb moment.
I have quite long meaty conversations with a friend who doesn’t share my belief in Jesus. We like each other and I generally look forward to our snatched moments and laughter. But recently he has begun to react with flashes of exasperation and temper when I speak about my faith. He says either that I am too certain of my faith, or that my faith is belittling his beliefs, or that by agreeing with him I am patronising him. He knows in his heart, I’m sure (I hope!), that this isn’t true, I’m judging no one, I’m not excluding him, nor dismissing him; but for now he needs to be centre stage and I need to be a bit quiet because he does in conversation what I do in writing. When he talks he sifts and shifts and discovers his thoughts. He reaches out. I get that. So I must hold back, sit on my natural inclination to become excited about what God is doing in my life, what I am discovering in my own spiritual world. Although I am not a fluent speaker, I had come to a point of fluency with him that’s rare for me, but now I must rein it back. It makes me, for this little season and with this one person, a less honest person and I regret that.
I don’t want to be ‘less honest’ when I write. So you get the all sharp edges and the woolly stuffing and the nub of me, my darlings. All of it, confusion and flaws and passion and blurts….
You know the Ten Commandments? The universal ‘obviously, duh!‘ bits of the Bible? There’s one, and only one, that I have never had any trouble with. ‘Thou shall not lie.’ Some translations have it ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’
No problem at all!
You know why? Is it because I is a saint? Is it because I is perfect? Oh, no, my little shufflebums, none of that. It’s because I have never, ever, and I mean EVER seen the point of lying. Even when I lied as a child and teen, I couldn’t see the point of it really so I did it badly and half-heartedly. Why lie when you can tell the truth? Isn’t it stupid and pointless and ludicrous and perverse?
I mean, why waste time on a lie? What will we ever learn from each other if we lie?
Why would a writer ever want to write without honesty? Honesty is the sharp knife, slicing through muscle to the bones of the matter, the heart of life. Honesty is open handed, open hearted, trusting, loving, vulnerable. As a dramatist, when I write a scene or create a character, honesty is the rule. Is the character true, or is it a cipher just ‘doing things’?
Oh. There’s a thought ‘ JUST DOING THINGS’. That was the complaint I had about writing a soap. A soap is a collection of ciphers doing whatever is necessary to keep the audience coming back for more. Is he a hero this week? Yes? OK, you know what will get them back for more? If we make him a muderer next week, and a lover the week after, and a hapless victim the week after, and a hero again the week after that…. no honesty. A soap is about fooling the world. I don’t want to fool the world. I don’t want to fool even one person. What good would that do? What a waste of time.
And that brings me right slap bang wallop into what this blog is about. I didn’t know what this was going to be about but in the very act of writing my thoughts have shifted and settled to reveal the one little nugget I’ve been searching for in all the rubble of my mind: Everything that is worthwhile is honest. Everything. Everything that is in the Bible points to the absolute necessity for honesty. Worship is worship only when it is absolutely honest. That was the message in last week’s sermon at the little church I attend, and it’s taken three days to permeate and become a part of me. Worship is worship only when it’s honest, that much is pretty obvious, but develop that thought and we come to a new and wonderful realisation – when we are honest our lives become worship. Our whole lives. Honesty glorifies God. That was what the message was last week and it’s dug its way into my heart now. I get it.
Honesty matters. It creates good things. When I’m honest with you, I trust that you won’t condemn me, I offer you a moment to forgive me, to embrace me, to understand me. When I’m honest you may find that we have more in common than you knew, it may create a bond of friendship and love. It may make your day better. It certainly makes mine a whole load better! What’s the test of an honest word or an honest moment? Does it bring us closer to happiness, or joy, or resolution? If so, yep, it’s honest.
What is the sign of a dishonest moment? It separates us, creates an unsettled ground on which to base any relationship, it adds to the confusion of any situation, it tunnels deeper into hurts and fears.
And whether you’re a Christian or not, that’s the simple truth. Honesty is at the centre of all good things – secular or religious. Without honesty politics are corrupt, without honesty finances are a car crash, without honesty families are destroyed, without honesty friendships fail. Without honesty, why write a blog?
Honesty isn’t the self-indulgent, self regarding, navel gazing, let-me-tell-you-how-I’ve-suffered indiscriminate sharing of absolutely everything. That’s not honesty. That’s just tedious.
Honesty is you and me, warts and all, humour and love and foibles, reaching out. Open books. Generous hearts. Generosity? Ah, that’s a thought for another day.
Hey – you know what’s a really good lesson in honesty? That fab TV series, The Sopranos. Honest writing. The Sopranos (and series 1 Fargo) are current and fabulous illustrations of honesty. Honesty is lively, witty, revealing, intriguing, uncompromising, life-affirming, positive. Honest writing tells it as it is. Tony Soprano is destroyed. Liars are destroyed. Lives are ruined.
A good man is guided by his honesty; the evil man is destroyed by his dishonesty.