Posted in Of Writingly

Of Writing and Honesty


It baffles me when people describe any writing as honest. In my mind, honesty and truth in writing, and art in general, are two very different things. You can convey the truth of any given situation, as you must render your work meaningful or significant. Honesty, on the other hand, is much harder to find, if at all. Whenever someone describes any art work as honest, I ask, “Who is there to verify this?” It may sound simplistic when put like that, but when you think about it, that is what people are looking for when they see something as honest – that it should be true in that artist’s circumstance.

I think there is futility and even deception in that. As writers, we definitely insist on having agency, authority, over our stories. But, that is only limited to how we see our stories. When you look at writers in history, whose work in conjunction with their self, have been torn apart again and again, making it possible for numerous, contrary opinions to exist, it is almost as though there was never any authority in the first place. Even people, institutions, who come up with authoritative versions of texts, often fall into numerous assumptions about the author, their influences and their intentions. In pop culture, we would call this gossip.

The popular notion of the “death of the author” would serve well in this tumultuous sea of talking heads, as the author is exempt from any participation in the understanding of the work, and the work can itself be served by a take-it-how-you-want-it approach. The author’s job was to express what he or she wanted to express, in the way he or she wanted to express it. Whether they did it as a calculated business strategy (which is not as bad as it sounds) or because they had nobler compulsions, i.e. their soul begged of them to write it, any measure of honesty can only be made by the author, not by anybody else. And that too, if the author is interested, which many aren’t.

While honesty is personal and disposable, truth is universal. Whether you wish to write a chick-lit bestseller or a postmodern classic, it has to render true in the world you create it in. The morals maybe thrown out of the window, the logic bent to hyper-surrealistic proportions, and yet, there has to be something that rings true, if not all of it. When you recognise any writing as honest, what you see is a believability, an acceptance of circumstances and character as truthful as can be expected in something that is not real. But, that perception of honesty has more to do with how you see it, and not what the work itself is. Even an autobiography can be truthful, but that doesn’t mean it is true to what happened.

In the age of Reality TV, when nearly all best-selling books are products of reality TV stars, it is especially important for us to remember the idea of suspension of disbelief. The bulk of our culture is in determining whether things are honest or not, which is our need to see if such implausibilities (for example, the seemingly unnatural shapes of certain body parts of these reality stars) are actually possible. But, that takes away from what this seemingly “low-brow” entertainment offers us. It is nothing new, but it is something always on our mind. Nothing primal, but something exclusive to our species – a desire to see realities different from ours. Our capacity, and compulsion to exercise our imagination on whatever catches our fancy. Something to inform our dreams, aspirations, things that keep us going.

Suspension of disbelief implies that as long as we insist on the truth, we do not care how distanced it is from reality. Which is a rather healthy way of looking at all art. And what separates art from science, and even helps in creating the latter. The work doesn’t have to be honest, as long as it is truthful. The writer, the artist, has to mean nothing to you, as long as you find their work worthwhile, even if it is non-fiction meant to tug at your heartstrings. At the end of the day, any honesty that should matter to you is your own, while faith and truthfulness is something you should expect of everything that touches your life.

Do you look for honesty in writing?

For post on being true to yourself, click here.


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

9 thoughts on “Of Writing and Honesty

    1. Isn’t purity truthful too? There is a considerable difference between the two in my opinion (would love to know how you see purity!) but there is enough overlap as well. I think relatable is just another way of saying truthful. As long as you “get” what something is about, it is truthful and meaningful enough, isn’t it?

  1. This is a very interesting point, and one that has never been brought up in my world. It definitely got me thinking so thank you for that, it’s always a treat! I find myself more interested in looking at the specific words an author chose to use or the way they decided to design their sentences, I believe it can tell you a lot about the writer, and you can learn through reading pieces with this perspective. (well I do at least). Thanks for sharing your perspective! 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! Thank you for reading it!
      I think you make a very interesting point. I unconsciously form impressions myself of the artist, especially if I am exposed to multiple works. I end up with a personality, a pattern about them in my mind. But, that is only my perspective, and there have been many times that I have been proved wrong in my assumptions. But, what we think and feel about a piece of art is our own, and should not be reliant on what others, including the artist think, should it?
      I haven’t come across much writing myself that deals with honesty in writing. On the other hand, people have been talking about truth in art for all eternity, like the greats Aristotle and Shakespeare. Thus, I found it strange how I’ve read criticisms lately (even encountered some for my own writing!) using the word “honest”.

      1. exactly, we are all going to interpret art in our own ways, and make our own connections. You’ve just got me thinking on the track that this classifications of ‘honest art’ is such an ambiguous concept! its all based on individual interpretations

  2. Great post. And I couldn’t agree more- any honesty we look for is going to be our own in the end. But I have this belief that when something is created with complete honesty and dedication, with no other motive than that of creating, the product is more wonderful. It somehow reaches out to you. I think that is the difference between good writing and great writing- there are words you read and then there are words that speak to you.

    1. Yes! In great writing, you do feel as if there are no “filters” between you and the writing. It is brave, but not in the sense of being provocative. It is as though the author is leading you to some hard-felt truth, without the intention of pleasing or displeasing you, but because it is there, he/she has found it, and wants to tell the world about it. All artifice, calculation, structure collapses, and you see something raw and are in awe of it.
      Thank you for reading!

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