Writers: Are we finders? Or manipulators?

I’d wager my latest Unemployment check that every dedicated writer has, at one time or another, had a friend who pushed away from a conversation saying, “I’ve got to be careful what I say around you, because I don’t want you to write it.” And I’ll bet that most of us have felt somewhat stung by those words.

Question is: Are they true?

We tell ourselves that we do not—would not—write about our friends’ quirks; that we are too principled turn their foibles into page-fodder. And yet, do we?

Writers are the hoarders of life. The magpies. The packrats of the emotions. We walk wide-eyed into the world daily, collecting everything we see, afraid to let a moment of it go. If a truth or a sight or a sound or an emotion shines for us, we pick it up. Ours, someone else’s…doesn’t matter. The attic-nests in our heads are crammed with stuff…so much of it tucked into so many deep corners that we’re unlikely ever to see some of it again.

We do that because we find the found-stuff fascinating. We find the finding fascinating. We find instants of truth in it.

When we write, we take the stuff out of storage, sometimes without intending to; we polish it up, gaze at it with our original fascination, and cobble it into something else. Moments of personal truth, nailed together by a story; a hopeful thing made up of the found bits. A non-truth made from other truths that, if we’re good enough at what we do, reflects a truth of its own.

The picture frame in which we’ve memorialized those thoughts, things, moments will still be there, but the picture itself will be faded to invisibility. The cobbled sculpture of assembled bits won’t be recognizable as anything but what it is. If I’ve displayed my own guts out to create a deeply flawed character, chances are you’ll never know it, not even if you know me very, very well. All you’ll see is an interesting shade of red; you won’t know that it’s my blood on the page.

Thus, the answer to the concerned friend is, “Yep, I am going to write about you. It’s inevitable, it’s a compliment—you’ve meant something to me. But don’t worry, and don’t be insulted…by the time I’m finished with you, you won’t even know yourself. Because I won’t either, by the time I’m done with you.”