How To Write The Truth

Target the people who typically avoid your messaging with no bullshit love letters from the bottom of your gut

I do not think I am a truth teller, though I try to be.

I am currently transitioning careers, from the arts to advertising, and I’ve been reading a lot about truth and integrity. Two books in particular, Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy and Anna T. Forrest’s Fierce Medicine, have me questioning my own truth-telling.

I use writing as a vehicle for the truths I have trouble articulating, which I believe is writing’s most valuable property.

Writing the truth is important because we are all one another’s teachers.

If we do not teach each other where pain comes from, we miss the point of connectivity.

That’s when everything becomes a lie and everyone becomes a dick.

Lies are weapons. Untruthful writing is weaponized writing. Often it is effective because liars are those who speak and write with fabulous insight into what their listener needs. Manipulation is enticing and it often speaks loudly enough to make the truth seem pretty boring.

Moving into advertising I realize that truth writing can be made more attractive and effective if we include same strategy from the world of Sell Sell Sell.

A few things I’m exploring lately that I want to share below are:

  1. Constructing a Readable Truth
  2. Finding Your Truth
  3. Writing For The Person Who Doesn’t Already Know

I have always been more truthful in my writing than in person because I have always felt more intimately connected to my reader than I do to any single person I have ever met in my physical life, including my partner, my mom, my friends.

I always plan to tell the truth to the people I love because the depth of truth writing expands the more intimate I become with real life people.

But, I am not sure that I tell the pure truth. Still, I know I am not a liar.

I used to be an incredible liar.

Summer 2000, Camp Kadimah, Becca S. sits on a top bunk and plays Limp Bizkit from her iPod as she explains to the other two girls who are sitting on her bed that “basically any music with a message is going to be impossible to dance to but I still think it’s important to listen to it just you have to listen to it like…different.”

“Fred Durst loves to dance when he sings, he told me.”

I am sitting on a bed, eating candy, lying through my sugar-coated teeth.

“Who?” Becca is friendly with me but I wouldn’t call her my friend.

I would love to have friends but I can’t help all of my lying.

I don’t have any friendly relationships at camp, or anywhere, that don’t end completely the second I am caught telling an outrageous lie. The two girls sitting with Becca are laughing while Becca smirks, questioning my mention of the band’s backwards-hat-and-stubble lead singer.

“Fred Durst, the lead singer?” I offer at guess at what I am talking about.

I am not even sure that I have the right name. I am very unfamiliar with Limp Bizkit. I have seen one music video for a song about how men are entitled to have things their way and one time, when my family was in Florida, I spotted the band’s tour bus in a stadium parking lot.

Actually, it as my brother who spotted the tour bus.

I am a bad liar.

The Listener’s Reactions Are Not My Responsibility to Control

(Anna T. Forrest)

In Fierce Medicine Forrest writes that when we tell the truth we need “to allow the listener the freedom to react or respond in whatever way he or she will.”

Similarly as writers, it is not our responsibility to control the way our readers react to our writing and I insist that, in order to write the truth, you have to suspend the reaction of the reader.

But, Rory Sutherland writes that the best campaigns for public attention are those that typically defy logic and instead make use of the psycho-logic.

The readable truth is the truth that satisfies the psychological needs of your reader.

The readable truth is the truth that tells a story that targets the reader’s need for your truth while satisfying your need to tell it.

When I lied to Becca S about my friendship with Fred Durst, I forgot to tell a story that she needed to hear. She was babbling on about music and dance to two friends who were hanging onto her every word and I could have told her the truth, “My brother once spotted their tour bus in a parking lot in stadium parking lot in Florida and I wish I asked my dad to take me to the concert because I hear people think they are a cool band and I wish I was cool.”

Of course Becca would never have needed that story for her own person but she would need that story as motivation to be my friend rather than the lie I told her which, even if it was a truth, I did not deliver in a way that invited Becca to get to know me and it would have satisfied my need to fit in.

The lie made me look like a show boating idiot.

Discover Your Truth

We are currently inflamed with bullshit. Or maybe we are inflamed with truth. But, it’s worthwhile to consider that not all truth is your truth.

Before you can write the truth, you have to hear it from yourself.

It seems like a few booklists got passed around and now we’re all parroting the same ideologies and philosophies, as if we’ve all taken the same lecture course in “Careful, Don’t Piss Anyone Off With Your Ignorant Use of Words That Are Now Blacklisted”, carefully reminding each other as we go that history is a bitch but it is not to be forgotten.

It is important to learn. It is even more important to respect what you have learned. It is of paramount importance that, when you are learning a lot, you evaluate that which you are learning and decide for yourself whether or not it is true.

Do not let peer pressure write your truth.

Do not let the fact that you agree with a particular school of thought override your ability to articulate your personal attachment to that way of thinking.

One of the reasons why I am revising my relationship to the arts is because, to me, art is a free expression of our personal truths, no matter how embarrassing or pigheaded or evolving and it seems to me that, when art becomes communal, we fall into one another’s voices and we lose the joy in hearing what we each individually really have to say.

When I can’t tell people the truth in person? I am betraying myself as an artist and I believe, to grow out of my habit of round-about answering questions until I run out of breath and then ask, “do you know what I mean?” I have to let go of the arts and start working with people who obsess over identifying psychological pathways to truth.

Actually, more simply, I think I need to meet new people so that I can force myself to learn new social habits.

In the meantime,

Here’s what I do morning and night and whenever I feel overwhelmed by influence

Sit in a corner, on a cushion, close the door if you have one, relax your face but keep your eyes open and watch the room. Every time you have a thought, put it in the room. Imagine it sitting in the room somewhere so that you can watch it. When you have another thought, put it somewhere else in the room. Keep going for 5, 10, 20 minutes, whatever you need.

Let yourself perch outside of your thoughts.

Thoughts are often lies.

Your reaction to your thoughts, all those thoughts, that’s the truth.

Every time you react, put that in the room too.

Let your thoughts and reactions dance around you and when the timer dings, shake it off.

Sit in your chair.

Pick one thought you had.

Write it at the top of a page.

Start writing.

You will write media. The media will be true.

Write for the Person Who Needs To Understand

The last element of truth telling is about your reader.

You’ll be writing for the people who love to read your work, always.

But, remember that there are people who need your truth who fall into the reason why you need to write and you cannot leave those people out by crafting language that chases them away.

Remember, with digital media, the only thing keeping your reader from scrolling past your post is the taste of what you’re feeding them.

Imagine the person who never listens to you, who doesn’t get it, who probably wouldn’t typically be reading your work. Do not exclude them from your writing.

Summer camp, 2000, even if my lie about being Fred Durst were the truth, I told that lie in order to make myself appear better than the girls on the top bunk. I could have engaged with them, even in the lie. Of course, there are far more ways to engage with the truth because the truth is emotional. But, still, had I said, “Fred Durst is my friend and, you know what, I feel like you’re a fan, what if I could get him to come visit us on visitor’s day? Actually, he would love to hang out with you, I’ll just tell him to write you a letter while we’re here.”

Those girls would have loved me. Or, in the very least, they would have heard what I had to say.