Wednesday, January 25, 2012

31 Writers, 31 Lessons-Lesson 25: Above All Else, Be Honest

Let me start this little essay about honesty by being honest—I’m not really a writer. Yes, I recently co-authored a book about my life, but the truth is that I spent nearly three decades in the advertising business. I’m an advertising sales executive by trade. But I can say that I am a storyteller, in the way that all of us are storytellers. We go through life forming and sharing stories about our adventures and setbacks, as a way to feel like a part of the human experience. And what I’ve learned, through my life and my book, is that the best stories are the ones that are ruthlessly honest.

This would be my advice to anyone who wants to write—above all else, be honest. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or non-fiction: the events and emotions in your story must ring true, and must come from an honest place inside of you. Before you can create a story that really connects with readers and makes them feel invested in it, you must resolve to share your deepest fears and desires with the world. You must dredge up your most secret disappointments and most private dreams, and you must be prepared to mine them for your writing. That is not an easy thing to do—it’s much easier to stay on the surface and avoid confronting certain unpleasant emotions. But in my experience as a reader and a co-author, what makes a story special are the moments in that story where someone feels a jolt of recognition and says, “Yes! That’s true! That’s happened to me! I have felt like that but I’ve never had the words to describe it.”

I had to make this decision to be honest before I began my book. The story I tell in An Invisible Thread is the story of how, when I was a 36-year-old single woman in Manhattan in 1986, I met a homeless 11-year-old panhandler named Maurice, and took him to lunch at McDonalds. The book describes how we wound up meeting every Monday for the next four years, and hundreds of times after that, and how we’ve been great friends for 25 years—and how that friendship profoundly changed our lives. But the book also tells the story of my difficult childhood, and of my painful divorce from a man I believed was the love of my life. I had to make a decision to tell the full and true story of why our marriage fell apart—and of how the marriage adversely affected my relationship with Maurice. I could have kept some of the more painful moments I endured out of the book, but I believed that for the story to work, it had to be completely honest. I believed that readers would be able to tell if I was holding back or presenting an incomplete version of events.

Believe me, reaching this decision was not easy—I had to consider the feelings of my brother and sisters, and of other living people who played a role in the story. But I concluded there was no reason to write the book if I wasn’t going to tell my true and full story—if I wasn’t going to pour my real sorrows, regrets, joys and emotions into the writing. I resolved that my book would be honest if nothing else, and I hoped that by being honest I would be able to connect with and inspire readers who experienced similar emotions in their lives.

And that is just what’s happened. Since An Invisible Thread came out last November, I’ve received hundreds of letters from readers telling me how they were moved and inspired by the book, and how my story brought them to tears or touched them in the heart. Those letters have been profoundly rewarding for me. They prove that the payoff for writing honestly is a genuine connection with readers, and that, in the end, is the goal of any writer in any genre. And that is why my advice to anyone who wants to write is simple—explore your real emotions, tap into your real fears and dreams, and resolve to be ruthlessly honest with every word you write.

Laura Schroff is the co-author of An Invisible Thread, a memoir about hope and friendship that has been on the New York Times bestseller list for ten straight weeks. She lives in New York City with her feisty poodles Coco and Emma, and she dotes on her many nieces and nephews. Laura invites readers to share their own Invisible Thread stories on her website,


  1. Thank you for this beautiful message. I've often felt like the best pieces of my writing or music have been ones in which I've connected deeply with myself - felt each word, each note... and then expressed it in all its honesty - pristine, untainted.

  2. Laura, I can so relate to this post having recently completed a memoir myself. I also found that I had to be honest and reveal parts of my life that I just as soon not include, but I knew they were important in telling my story and in connecting to my readers. Thanks for sharing your post here!