If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive. ~ Anne Lamott
She’s right you know. Yes, you do know. It’s Anne Lamott, after all!
The thought crossed my mind that if we had found these sentences in Scripture we would have understood them as prescriptive advice for exactly what we should do, exactly how we should behave, exactly what is required. No questions asked. (It’s another post entirely for me to address whether or not I actually think that IS how we should read and interpret Scripture).
I’d love it if we took Anne Lamott’s voice to be Sacred Writ; if we actually followed her advice, her mandate, her doctrine. It’ll preach, to be sure!
- Risk placing real emotion at the center of your work.
- Write toward vulnerability.
- Risk being unliked.
- Tell the truth as you understand it.
Can I get an Amen?!?
I do try to do this in my writing – all the time (and over and over and over again). Yes, the writing you see here: on my blog, in my book(s), anywhere in which I write for a reader. But a different and even deeper level of commitment to such shows up when I write for myself. My personal practice has taught me (over and over again) that my writing isn’t actually “working” (not to mention my life) unless real-and-vulnerable emotion is showing up on the page. And when that happens, often before I even know it, I’ve written words / sentences / phrases / paragraphs that I don’t actually like. Which is the BEST experience ever!
When I “write toward vulnerability,” I don’t often like what I see, what is revealed on the lines and in between them. And for this, I am profoundly grateful.
Because when that happens I am telling the truth as I understand it.
Here’s an unedited example of what I mean, an excerpt from my journal – March 16, 5:45 am:
I am frustrated this morning. I have a lump in my throat and could cry if I gave myself permission and space. I feel like the bad guy, the mean mom. I feel ignored. I feel a little used. And I feel sad. Why? Sad about what? That things aren’t easy. That my girls aren’t quickly responsive and compliant and perfect. That I must bear the wound of life’s imperfection. That I have to ever feel disappointment. That struggle or conflict or frustration exist at all in my world. Yep, that’s it. When things don’t go my way I am reminded (yet again) of just how painful life can be. How even the start of a new day does not necessarily signal a fresh beginning, a clean slate, the miracle of overnight healing, or the guarantee of ease. I’m not expecting or even wishing for a perfect life. That’s just crazy-talk! But something in me MUST still think it’s possible – otherwise, why the resistance to imperfection? Why the frustration? Why the held-back tears?
If I didn’t resist I’d actually have to acknowledge the messiness of life; I’d have to acknowledge ambivalence itself. And this is completely counterintuitive to my learned way of being (Everything’s fine, thank you!). Ironically though, when I get underneath it and actually listen, messiness and ambivalence and imperfection are completely aligned with what I truly-deeply know-know-know. So…my resistance and frustration and tears are invitation and opportunity to see the perfect-world and “someday” reality that still dwells within…and wreaks havoc. Blech. Right. OK. I see it. Not crazy about it, but I can recognize the old story in operation, the internal and implicit demands, the harsh judge, the endless-and-exhausting effort, and every attempt to pretend things are other than they are…
As long as I keep pretending everything is perfect, no one else ever knows I am frustrated – which only makes me more frustrated. As long as I keep resisting imperfection, I resist my very self – the true and generous and grace-filled me who can lean in and allow and rest and maybe even cry…
This is hardly print-worthy copy. Nor is it anything new, revealing something I didn’t know about myself. But it keeps showing up – in different and more-often-than-not very similar ways. It keeps showing up because it longs to be heard (kind of like a fire-and-brimstone preacher), It keeps showing up because I am committed to writing from my emotion, because I am committed to write toward vulnerability, because I have learned to let myself write the things I’d rather not see – that I don’t really “like.” It keeps showing up because I have learned (over and over again) to tell the truth as I understand it. And no matter how messy or repetitive or frustrating or imperfect (yep, that again), it IS what changes me…and my writing…and, not surprisingly, my world.
Anne Lamott says If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. I think that if you’re human you have a moral obligation (and wide-open invitation/opportunity) to do this: to tell your truth. And yes, in the most emotional and vulnerable (even unlikable) ways. Write yourself there. Please? I promise, it’ll preach.
A postscript (or prompt): When I first saw the words write toward vulnerability, I interpreted them literally. Like writing to vulnerability – a letter, an email, a sonnet, an epistle. ‘Might be worth trying – even if frustrating, imperfect, and unlikable. Just a thought…