I once wrote a highly autobiographical novel in which the protagonist’s primary complaint was that “no one understood him.” I was surprised the first time he said this. I knew this character and his life were based solely and unapologetically on me, and I could not remember ever complaining about being misunderstood to anyone. But I also knew that his complaint was true, the way you know anything is true when a character – even a thinly veiled version of yourself – surprises you.
And by “true” I don’t mean that it was true that no one actually understood this character or me. I mean it was true that he felt that way and apparently so did I. This is the way I privately understood truth. The “truth” and “facts” as far as I was concerned were unrelated. How I felt was the only truth I ever cared about because I always wanted to feel good but I didn’t always feel good. If facts could change how I felt for the better – great! Usually, they couldn’t.
This idea of truth and feeling was one of those concepts I secretly believed no one would understand if I tried to share it in writing or in conversation. There were many others. This is a tricky way to live if you want to be a writer, and went a long way to explain why nothing I wrote was published for a very long time. Why bother if no one’s going to understand it?
In reality I didn’t fully understand why I felt good one day and bad the next, or where poems and songs and stories came from though I knew it wasn’t my brain, or why love was more important than anything else. I wouldn’t let myself write about these things I didn’t understand but wanted to understand. I suppose I was afraid I would write about them and that other people would either not get what I meant or not care, and then there I’d be, stranded forever on an island of inscrutable thought.
You have probably guessed that I have since allowed myself to write about what I don’t fully understand. I am happy to report I do not feel stranded on an island of thought - quite the opposite, actually. I think this is every writer’s journey, however. We write a story because we do not fully understand the answer to the question it’s asking. By the end we do, but usually in a way that still belongs mostly to us. The story, meanwhile, belongs to everyone, a friend for any heart wanting to understand itself.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com