Let me just start by saying I’m a huge Kurt Cobain fan, and this week I watched the HBO Documentary MONTAGE OF HECK. What I’ve always appreciated about Kurt (and I call him Kurt because I feel like I have a personal relationship with him) was his willingness to lay his darkness out for all to see. In his drawings, in his music, in his poetry, in his life.
To me, Kurt’s greatness was that he wore his tender, twisted, bloody heart on his sleeve.
When he was happy, we saw it in the way he bobbed around the stage. When he was sad, we saw his voice drop to a whisper. When he was angry, he’d scream out his rage and fury.
When you listened to and watched Kurt, you were getting his whole authentic self.
I’m sure you’ve all read books or watched films where you feel the writer putting up a wall. There’s something deep underneath the jokes, or behind the cleverness, but the author won’t go there. The characters talk, the plot unfolds, and you can smell the B.S.
For those of you writing memoir, this might manifest as a moment where you think, “Uh… that’s a too real.” Or, “I don’t want anyone to know I did that.” Or “I can’t embarrass that family member by writing about what happened.” I’ve actually had moments when I’m working on my pages where I stop and think,”I cannot have the character think this thought because then the people reading this book will think that I’ve had this thought and it’s just too embarrassing.”
Here’s the thing people…. We don’t want to buy your lies. Some say all fiction is lies, but you know what? No. Under that “untrue made up story” you are writing, is the truth of your heart. And if you don’t reveal it, we won’t care.
Holding back is a natural protective act. But it makes your work inferior.
Even if you are writing the zaniest of comedies, there is something underneath the situation or characters that has compelled you to write. Something real. Underneath that submarine movie script, with the giant sea monster the size of a skyscraper, is your childlike fear of being alone or facing that person that hurt you.
So I’m asking you. Are you going there? And if not, can you, just for today….
Reveal your true emotions on the page, without fear of judgment?
Can you be specific, and tell the truth about what people said, or threatened, or did?
Instead of running away from the truth, can you face it and deal with it, and by so doing, allow your reader to do the same?
Can you have faith that always, underneath the “lies,” is something frightening but beautiful?
Can you be like Kurt Cobain, and no matter how dark the twisty path you walk, be willing to bring us along? And bear witness to its shadows?
Can you not hold back, but hold things up to the light, and understand them in a new way?
Take Action! Tell the truth in your writing. Go there. Don’t be afraid. And if you are, go there anyway. You can always go back and trim away some of the dark branches to let in the light.
Be like Kurt. And in case you want to know what it looks like to NOT hold back, check him out singing this Leadbelly song. Watch his eyes, near the end, and know that he IS the guy in the song.
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