How to tell the truth

Truth-telling starts with you, in the moment.

The novelist Carol Shields advised, “After writing, ask yourself, ‘Is this what I really mean?’”

There’s an adage in writing: first thought best thought.

Is it possible to over-edit your work, to edit the truth out of it? Sometimes. The first draft can contain a messiness that is closer to the truth.

If you’re writing a scene that was confusing when it happened—a drug trip, a car crash, a death, a birth—and you revise it to make a lot of sense, with the clarity that comes years later, well that’s not true to what really happened. It’s all too neat. Your job as you revise is to retain that truth while making the meaning clear for the reader.

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