In Bird by Bird, the creative life-force that is Anne Lamott writes, “You own everything that happened to you. Every story you own is yours. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” She also says, “You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart — your stories, visions, memories, visions and songs. Your truth, your version of things, your own voice. That is really all you have to offer us. And that’s also why you were born.”
That is why you were born. That might sound like a grand statement (one of the many reasons I love Lamott is that, like me, she is fond of the grand statement) – but take a moment to consider. There is one person in the world who sees the world as you do, one person in the world who can filter that experience and knowledge and instinct and perception in just your way. That person is you.
Apologies for the spoilers.
This does not mean that you write just about Your Story. Perhaps memoir is your thing. Or perhaps you are writing a story born out of something you know, something that once happened to you. But this knowledge – that only you can tell your story – applies not just to stories from your life. Not at all. It applies to historical works, to fiction, to fantasy, to writing of any genre in any shape.
Your own body of experience and story is what will attract you to certain ideas. You don’t always need to know why that might be true, any more than you need to know why you love green apples more than red apples. What matters is that you let yourself choose, you let yourself follow the thread and tell the truth about that story.
The truth might mean true events, sure. But it might mean that there are certain feelings, certain understandings of the world, that you know to be true. By imagining villains and heroines, you might get to rethink some of your own story, or of the story you want for yourself – or for the world.
Fundamentally, it means this: write like you. Speak like you. Not a performed version, but the real deal. Bring your whole messy and brilliant self to every moment in your writing. All the moments that led here, to you being you, seeing the world as you do: that’s it. That’s the truth. And if you can write in that, and from it – magic can happen.
This week let your shadow in to your writing. Let those characters emerge who can give voice and form to those hidden shadows; think the unthinkable, say the unspeakable. It’s part of the thrill of writing, surely, being able to ‘say the unsayable’. No-one is watching. In the privacy of the page, you can do anything.
Your prompt for today…
Write about a ceremony…