Volunteer Holly blogs about cauterizing life’s wounds with writing.
I recently saw the movie The Words with Dennis Quad, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde. It is the kind of movie that makes you stare at the end credits as you sort it all out in your brain. At least that’s what happened to me.
I believe that my favorite character was that of The Old Man performed by Jeremy Irons. He played the voice of truth in a movie mostly about dishonesty. Explored in the film are the lies that we tell others to better our own lives and the lies we tell to try to help others, but mostly the movie is about the lies that we tell ourselves. The Words is a story within a story within a story about three male writers who each explore the depth of their own souls and find them lacking. In trying to find meaning in the challenges they face, they each wind up bearing the heavy burden of regret. It is their love of words, their love of story, but mostly their strong sense of pride that steers each man down a path that leads him to a place he never wanted to be.
What I got out of the movie was a rush of ideas for a novel that I’d started during a very difficult time in my life and then had to set aside. When I would try to pick the manuscript back up again, I would either be left with a blank mind or emotions too strong to confront. Thinking of the story of The Old Man in the movie, I came to the realization that I rarely write about my own life. Writing to me has been a means of escape, a way to enter new worlds and new lives and to ignore my own. I have rarely written in order to confront my life, to take on the mess and to sort through it, all the while dealing with the emotions that result. I suddenly realized that I’ve got to stop putting up the wall, stop escaping and face the emotions I work so hard to avoid.
It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will… then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells. – Confession of a Story Writer by Paul Gallico
The quote above is often attributed to a variety of authors perhaps because it is easy to relate to. The kind of book I want my novel to be is going to require some bleeding and healing and bleeding some more. I think that is exactly what I’m afraid of and why I haven’t been able to write more of that manuscript. This is something I need to change. To cauterize a wound brings more temporary pain, but ultimately such an action allows the wound to heal. I’ve got to confront the very issues that scare me the most, or else my writing will never be good enough. I will spend the rest of my life escaping, even escaping the possibilities of what my writing could ultimately be.
That is what The Old Man alone had been able to do, and he created a work of art. The movie was a cautionary tale to writers for us to stop thinking of ourselves as separate, distant creators of our work, but instead to infuse ourselves into the very words themselves.
The Words is definitely not for everyone. Some people just won’t get it, but the movie left me wanting more. To me, it was an honest look at dishonesty, the consequences of which can’t be tied up in a neat little Hollywood ending, so the writers of the script didn’t even try.