To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.
Shakespeare makes it seem easy but being true to yourself can be difficult and is something that can be challenged on a daily basis. For example, your boss may have strong political opinions you vehemently disagree with but in the work situation you may feel forced to keep your true opinion secret, or worse you feel compelled to agree with your boss.
Most of us don’t like getting into arguments, especially in the workplace but it can be difficult to avoid if you decide to defend your true beliefs and opinions especially if your opinions challenge or offend those of someone in a power position.
Nobody wants to be a people-pleaser but when even a difference of opinions in a social gathering can trigger an argument, or even a fight it’s understandable that we often prefer just to keep our mouth shut and save our energy for something more creative than arguing with someone whose opinion will never change.
That is why, to me, creative writing is a great opportunity to be true to yourself. You can choose to write whatever you want. You and you alone pick your stories and themes and it is up to you how you deal with them.
Just be prepared to deal with the fact that there will undoubtedly be those who dislike not just your work, but may even dislike you personally, on account of something you have written – something they have taken offense at.
When I wrote my first novel Piggy Monk Square, I used to worry about the way I was portraying the area in which it was set; Toxteth in Liverpool, which is also where I grew up. The area had a bad reputation at the time and became infamous for the riots in the eighties.
I know that there were plenty of good people there and who are still there working hard to improve the area and make positive changes in their environment. For a while I worried about offending them. I was not portraying the area in a positive light, but is that a writers job?
The more I thought about this the more I came to accept that to be true to myself I had to write the story as I saw it. Of course my own perceptions and experience influence my writing but that is as it should be. The writer’s mind is like a stew – we create fiction of course, but all our experiences, thoughts, perceptions, everything is there.
I was honest in what I wrote and when the publisher at the time described Toxteth as being like a character in its own right I was happy. I’d been understood. To me the area was a character, it was everyone who had ever lived there; the good, the bad and indifferent.
I don’t believe a writer should be expected to be an ambassador for their country, race, religion, or any other aspect of their background but I do think a writer should be true, first to themselves and then to their story. After that – it’s all in the eye of the beholder.