Never Trust a Writer

I’ll come right out and say it. There’s no reason to trust a writer and every reason to believe that whatever you tell them may one day end up in some form of written word. The word may be as informal as an internet diary entry with a password and two step verification to a zine article, blog post, academic monograph, traditionally published book, or anything in between. When it comes to the written word, it’s the Wild West out there, which is how I like it.

I am a writer. I don’t want censorship, preferring instead to let people decide for themselves about the written word, which is to say whether what they read is good, bad, factual, outrageous, debauched, edifying, or worth the time they spend reading it. I’m with John Stuart Mill, who prized open, rigorous debate to suppressing the opposition. I would go so far as to let Joe Biden blather on about the importance of “truth over facts.” This from the party that wanted to censor one of their own (RFK, Jr.) during the recent Congressional hearings on–of all things– censorship. As Mark Groubert likes to say, “You can’t make this up.”

Even so, you can’t trust writers, including me, because whatever we hear we consider fair game for posts, stories, reports, plays, podcasts, etc. Sooner or later we take what you tell us and use it to our advantage. And believe me when I tell you that nothing gets discarded. We are the quintessential hoarders, except we don’t hoard magazines, newspapers, rugs, lamps, vacuum cleaners, or crap you’d find at a garage sale but bits of information, names, stories, jokes, and anything we suspect we might need in the future. I have a friend, a fellow writer, who is an expert at this.

For example, I keep a running list of the names of real people just in case I get stuck naming a character. I mix and match first, middle, and last names for both legal and practical purposes. Some real names are more incredible than anything I can make up. Former Oakland A’s left fielder, Coco Crisp, comes to mind along with a guy named Todd Buick. Again, I defer to Mark Groubert.

Stories, especially, are up for grabs, even though there are supposed to be a limited number of storylines. I don’t believe that’s true, but even if it were, how you tell the story makes all the difference. Nuances in character development, plot line, setting, and the like depend not merely on the writer’s experience but what they overhear and pick up from others.

Yesterday afternoon, while celebrating the 92nd birthday of an Ursinus College alumna (1953), the conversation turned to multiple marriages, dating, the lack of follow through in customer relations, and what to do about a sixty-eight-year-old son living with you. I couldn’t get over that she knew Blanche Schultz, my calculus professor at Ursinus and former naval officer.

Somebody at the table expressed concern about “showing up” in a book by yours truly. While they may not appear in a book, they’re already part of a blog post less than a day later. I may even use the elegant, elderly alumna as a character in the future; certainly in my dealings with the college, which happens to be not only my alma mater but that of the writer mentioned above. Why, exactly, haven’t they been in touch with her?

Nothing goes to waste. I am like a Sioux tribesman hunting buffalo that way. But as a writer I am also a liar. It’s part of my genetic and cultural codes. What do you expect from people who make things up for a living? Not only can’t you trust us, but half of what we tell you is a lie. You just have to figure out which half. But if we do it well enough, you won’t mind not knowing. Trust me.

Image credits: feature by Yannick Pulver. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” 


  1. Although much less accomplished, I also am a writer. In fact, I always loved the caption “Vic Brown is a writer who lives and works in Philadelphia”. It sounds so, so New York!

    I think writers bring to the table two basic traits that separate us from the rest of humanity:

    1. We are organized, to a fault. I have a number of commentary pieces, as well as my second book, in various stages of completion. You can’t manage that without being super organized, and most people are not.

    2. We were taught by nuns (I’m sure of it) early in life. From them we learned grammar, vocabulary, penmanship, and how to write a “friendly letter”. This developed into the ability to communicate simply and in context – which, again, most people cannot do.

    So, let’s be proud of what we do and who we are, and hope that we can contribute to the global conversation with clarity, insight and common sense.

    1. My daughter, who has children of her own, looked at a note I had written in second grade to my own mother when she was in the hospital with my brother. My daughter was surprised that I had written it in cursive, which is apparently a difficult if not lost art today…ah, nuns!

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