Writer’s Block: Honesty in Action

Now that’s an honest picture.

I love this picture because it is as honest a portrayal of my family as I can imagine. Addison is about 75% posing for the camera and 25% laughing at Colin’s refusal to sit still. Heather is about 25/75 the other way. Colin has just lost his 1% interest in posing, and I, in true 100% don’t-take-my-picture fashion, am holding the camera.

The wonderful and the imperfect get along quite nicely within this frame. As a photographer (I’m not one, except by the most rudimentary definition) it can be pretty difficult to capture an honest image. As a writer, it can be paralyzing.

I have always felt that good writing demands adherence to two fundamental disciplines of human nature: 1) Keeping your eyes open to all truth; 2) Honestly telling the story of what you see. I call them disciplines of human nature because writers aren’t alone in the need to follow them both. Everyone should be compelled to observe and tell with honesty, but a writer must mind that responsibility especially severely because the lies we tell persist in posterity. We can either skew or straighten the sight of our readers.

Herein lies a potential downward spiral of circular reasoning. Being honestly aware is no small burden for the depraved. I might be able to live with my own ignorance, but perpetuating it in someone else through the power of the written word stops me in my tracks. When I begin to write, I begin to notice, to open my eyes to the painful realities I have conveniently ignored for as long as writer’s block has allowed. For the record, writer’s block is a most forgiving accomplice.

As long as I am unwilling to tell the truth about who I am and who we are as people, the more comfortable I am in illusions and half truths and dreaminess, the longer I will go without fully opening my eyes. And the longer I go without honestly surveying the situation, the worse it gets. The worse the situation, the greater the sense of loathing that accompanies the prospect of writing.

So the part of me that’s really good at rationalizing (which, incidentally, is the same percentage of me that hates to be photographed) tells me that not writing is at least a way of being honest. Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies, you know?

But silence may be the worst lie of all because it forces observers to fill in the blanks without any help from me, making a liar (or an unreliable guesser) out of their own imaginations. So I suppose writer’s block is just an excuse to procrastinate facing or telling the truth. The only cure for that is intensified vigilance in observation and repeated acknowledgment of the trouble made plain before my eyes.

To improve I must write. If I don’t write, I will regress. Even in inaction and silence, there is no idle state. Get writing.

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