Write about what you know, they cry. What you know is boring, write about something else, another voice shouts. Bleed onto the page. Hone your craft. Make sure there’s a truth at the heart of every story. Be sure not to stick rigidly to the facts, because it’s harder to make real life sound believable than fiction anyway.
The advice is endless. And what are we meant to make of it? Tell a little truth? Enough to be authentic and not enough to offend? Make sure that when you do tell it, you tell it with style? Reading recent articles and posts about poets derided for putting honesty ahead of form (imagine heavy quotation marks here, I’m not sold on this), has left one question going round and round in my head: what is authenticity?
And the answer I keep coming back to is that it’s something you can aspire to, not something that can be pinned down. Attempting to tell the truth doesn’t mean you will or can. Even memoirs can’t be completely authentic. Maybe especially memoirs, because who can resist the self editor that either makes you a slightly better person or, at least, a slightly more interesting one? And telling the truth isn’t always all that interesting.
Better must be deciding that you will be honest in your intentions, that you will unlock whatever it is you need to say – whether you say it in plain, realistic words and settings or in complicated flights of fantasy. Writing is about sharing, if people are willing to dive in and feel a connection, what does it matter whether it’s about small themes or big ones? Whether you reveal your secrets or not. Honesty is more than relating facts or telling the truth.