The Art and Skill of Vulnerability
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer
“True art requires true honesty, which means that for our art’s sake, as much as for our own, we must learn the skill of vulnerability.” Julia Cameron The Right to Write
It’s time to get real. Yesterday I talked about the importance of being truthful and honest in your writing – say what you mean, and write it as it is, not as you wish it were. You have the power of creation behind you when you write. You can choose the words, the setting, the characters. You get to decide what’s important and what’s filler, whether that glass is half empty or half full. But with that power comes responsibility – a commitment to staying true to yourself and true to the story you are trying to tell.
We are, all of us, pulling from deep within ourselves when we begin writing. You cannot be agnostic about it – you are coming from a particular point of view, you are bringing your own set of beliefs, you are bringing some aspect of “you.” And that can make you feel exposed and vulnerable – what will everyone think?
Most of the time, we feel like we have a pretty good grasp on who we are. We know how we’ll react in a certain situation, we know what’ll make us sad and what will make us cry, we know “right” from “wrong.” When we let ourselves be vulnerable – particularly in our writing – we change all that. Something happens and we begin “shape-shifting into a new form that feels strange to us in its fluidity,” as Julia Cameron explains in The Right to Write.
“We believe ‘I am this kind of person, not that kind’ and then something happens, something jostles us and we begin, begin, uncomfortably, vulnerably, to wonder, “Maybe I am not so much this sort of person. Maybe I am a little more that sort of person.’”
This happens most strikingly when we reconnect with someone from our past – an old friend, a relative we’ve lost touch with, a mentor or employer that was part of a past incarnation. Maybe you meet on purpose – a scheduled lunch, a quick catch up over coffee – or maybe it’s the chance encounter, you see them at a wedding, a reunion, a funeral. Whether you’re expecting the encounter or are unprepared, you’re sure to be startled by the differences in your recollections. Surely that neighbor’s dog was big and mottled, not a nicely groomed poodle. Could it be that you really did lead the boycott of the school’s lunches (porcupine balls, ugh!)? Were you really the kind of person who believed the hard luck stories of strangers and picked up hitchhikers on your way home from class?
And if you were so different then, how can you be sure you’re who you think you are right now? How much will you change as the future unfolds? What can you count on if you can’t rely on youself?
“Vulnerability requires that we contradict ourselves,” Cameron assures us. “It requires that we change our minds. It requires that our perspective shifts. Vulnerability, which is honesty’s shy younger sister, is the part of ourselves that renders us capable of great art, art that enters and explores the heart.”
Don’t fear vulnerability – embrace it. If you’re uncomfortable with what you’re writing, you’re on the right track.
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