a bit of grace

The random musings of Kate Grace

Artistic Obligation?

As writers we’re told to write what we know, to begin with our personal truth and work our way out from there. But as writers, should we adhere to that advice when “what we know” could potentially hurt people we love, distance us from people in our life, or simply stir up a whole lot of crap?

This is a problem I avoided as a writer for a very long time. I went down alternate creative paths to get my artistic fix and ignored the little writer sitting on my shoulder, ass chaffed and disturbed. “You’ll have to deal with me one of these days,” it would say in my ear, but I went along my shallowly merry way.

A few years back we had a “cousins” dinner at Gallagher’s sports bar and grill outside of Phoenix. Laughing, teasing and collectively cheering and jeering at the Central Michigan University football game playing overhead. After the orders had been placed, but before the food came, there was a lull and I faced across the table to find my older brother staring at me. His wheels were turning, I could tell.

“What?” I thought some sort of joke at my expense would follow. That pretty much is the name of the game in our group. High on self esteem, low on restaurant etiquette.

“Why don’t you write anymore?”

His arms were crossed over his chest as he asked, his Texas Hold ‘Em eyes narrowing to watch for any sign of a bluff. I didn’t answer, so he asked again.

“Why haven’t you written a book?”

I gave a number of excuses or reasons depending on how honest I was being with myself at the time. Busy with work. Adults need more security and the arts can’t give that. I don’t have anything to write about. …

That’s where he cut me off.

“Load of crap. You can’t worry about other people’s reactions, Kate. Shut up and write your book.”

The conversation ended there, as did my habit of manufacturing excuses into reasons and justifications in my own mind. From then on I tackled writing, slowly at first just dipping my toes in. But always avoiding that memory perimeter I wasn’t ready for… am still not ready for.

I was relieved to find that “what we know” is a vast ocean of thought, opinion, memory, senses and reference. I pulled from everything… everything but, that is.

I’m proud of what I’ve written, and I’m proud of how far it’s come. I’m anxious to see what comes next. But the little, chaffed writer remains on my shoulder flicking my ear impatiently. “When we gonna get to the rest, eh?”

So here is my question I pose most sincerely to all of you – if your truth, the “what you know”, could potentially connect with, bring comfort to, or even heal many at the cost of potentially hurting a few, what do we do then? Is it just advice? Or is it our artistic obligation to use honesty through art to reach the truth of others?

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One comment on “Artistic Obligation?

  1. Allie Sanders
    October 3, 2010

    I think write what you know is an interpretation. When I was writing Forever Never Comes I didn’t think about it. Didn’t realize a lot of the parallels to my own life. I just wrote what worked for the character who began whispering to me and after I was done I felt a lot better for it. It was cathartic for me. My little sister was the one who pointed out some of the ties to our lives that I missed. I didn’t see them there because I had never imagined talking about them. I’ll not share what parts were real and what were fake, those are still my scars to bare, but I’ve found myself better for having written it and shared them. I felt better yet when people began telling me they identified with the characters and situation. I’m afraid what will happen still if certain people ever make it through the book but mostly, I think it did me more good by writing it and getting the problems off of my chest and onto paper than I could feel for stepping on a few toes. FNC isn’t autobiographical, not really, most of it is false but there is enough truth to it that it could be worriesome but worth it for me. You have to decide if the toes you’re stepping on will hurt more than keeping it to yourself. If you honestly believe it needs to be written, write it. But if you are more worried about those toes you’ll have to find another way of doing it. Besides, this is fiction…you can add a lot of BS to the truth and many won’t be able to see to the core. It’s what I did.

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This entry was posted on October 3, 2010 by in Uncategorized.
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