Facing up to the truth isn't always the easiest thing, especially as a writer. This week, columnist Kirsty Logan writes about the importance of tackling difficult subjects in your work...
Last week I huddled in a cave on a beach, my glasses spotted with rain and my arse going numb on the rocks, and talked into a microphone about my dad. There was a reason for this: my dad died suddenly last September, and that particular beach is where we scattered his ashes.
The interview was for a week-long series on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with female writers about their favourite places in Scotland (if you want to listen, the interview will be on Radio 4 on Monday 6 August). I loved doing the interview, despite the moody Scottish weather. The producer and I talked about mythology, islands, childhood and how we grow up as writers – all my favourite topics. We had coffee and she drove me back to Glasgow. I was fine, and then the next day I wasn’t.
Shit hurts, and it continues to hurt no matter how well we’re dealing with it. It can hurt even more when we try to use it for our art – but that is exactly why we should use it.
You know the phrase “truth hurts”? I always thought that was a looking-outwards sort of phrase, meaning that it hurts to hear the truth from someone else about yourself or your situation: your boyfriend is an arse, you’re getting fat, your joke wasn’t funny. It hurts to hear these things because you know they’re true. Now I realise that it’s actually a looking-inwards phrase, meaning that it hurts you to tell the truth – but maybe that’s how you know that it really is the truth. Lies hurt a lot less to tell.
In Anna Raverat’s novel Signs of Life, she quotes Jeanne Moreau: “If you are vain then you don’t dare go to those unknown places. All you do is keep yourself safe. You think, Oh that’s far enough, that will do, they’ll buy this much. And it’s not real. Not real at all.”
This is something that all artists (including me) need to learn. It took me a while to figure out that my sudden rush of emotion was to do with the recording. Grief is never fun, but I have a great support system of family and friends and I know that my dad would want me to just carry on and live my life well – so that’s exactly what I’m doing.
Using emotional subjects in our art still hurts, and it’s good that it hurts, because that suggests it means something. Maybe we can’t – and shouldn’t – dig into our darkest moments for everything we do, but we can’t be scared to do that when it’s necessary.
It’s a lot easier to go through life playing it safe, only scratching the surface, because you’re worried about what other people might think or you’re scared of the pain of prodding an old wound. You might think that these simple surface emotions are enough to fool people, but they’re not. You owe it to yourself and your audience to tell the truth, even if it hurts.
... on the fun of failure
... on taking criticism
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