In the February issue of The Writer magazine there is an interview with Ladette Randolph, author of Leaving the Pink House (a memoir). One of the questions Ladette is asked in the interview is, “In your memoir, how did you find the right balance between discretion and honesty?”
Here is Ladette’s answer: “I don’t say anything that I’m uncomfortable saying. I’ve achieved enough distance, and I think I’ve digested the material enough. I’ve been around a lot of memoirs that are so undigested. They’re so raw that it’s too much. There were moments when I allowed that to happen. But I really was very much in control of the material.”
The part that stood out to me was the one about “memoirs that are so undigested. They’re so raw that it’s too much.” It made me wonder how much cooking/digestion/editing is necessary before publishing something?
Ray Bradbury believes that raw writing is the only kind of honest writing.
Stephen King says something similar. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from him.
The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
– Stephen King
I cried when I first read that. That’s not a joke. Raw honesty like that, intense feelings that can rip you apart … I choose them anytime over shallow, faked … anything. No matter how much pain I know they might bring.
Back to raw writing though: Ladette Randolph doesn’t say anything she’s uncomfortable with. Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, on the other hand, make revelations that cost them dearly, they write about the very places where their secret hearts are buried. That’s an unbelievably uncomfortable thing to do.
Which one is the right way to write? Both, of course. We don’t all write from the same place, we don’t all write for the same kind of readers.
Ladette’s memoir wasn’t intense enough to hold my attention. But I read Stephen King’s On Writing and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing from cover to cover in less than two days. I re-read favorite passages almost every night. I’m sure there are plenty of people who choose Ladette Randolph over Mr. King or Mr. Bradbury. There’s nothing wrong with that. Again, we’re all different, and that’s a very good thing.
For myself, I choose raw writing. It’s what affects me. It can make me look and feel foolish. It can take me all the way up to heaven and down to the darkest pits of hell. It can leave me with too much energy to make any sense to anyone, or so exhausted that nothing and no one can stir anything in me. But it will not leave me feeling like a hypocrite.
The only thing I try to be careful with is the subject of my writing. It’s OK to “expose” myself, but I try not to talk about anyone else. I don’t want to drag someone else into my madness, my crazy joy, or my dark pain. My bouts of insanity are mine alone to deal with. Now, if anyone else wants to read what I write and see where my secret heart is buried, well … there are better things and worse things they could be reading. That’s for sure.
To end this post, I’ll use one of Kahlil Gibran’s quotes, just because it helped me fall asleep last night.
We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.
– Kahlil Gibran
P.S. I love Damien Rice’s music. Are his songs an example of being honest, or are they undigested? Too much? Whatever they are, I love them.