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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Confessions Of A Liar

Confessions Of A Liar – Confessions Of A Writer
Helen Hollis

I am a liar. Not a vicious liar – I’m not inclined to tell the kinds of lies which get other people into trouble (I’ll leave that to the politicians), or spread untrue gossip and rumors about my friends. I’m more of an embellisher, a self-mythologiser, a teller of impromptu stories involving fictional characters, made up on the spot and passed off as true. I’m also a writer. It is my humble opinion that these things are connected.

Telling Tales

My tale-telling generally occurs during casual conversation with friends. Something will be mentioned, and the part of my brain devoted to telling stories will light up, begin to construct an elaborate story around the subject matter, made up pretty much on the spot. I reel it out calmly, telling my friends that this event happened to me, or that these people (who do not exist) are known to me personally. I’m also inclined to elaborate, embroider, or straight-out make up details of my actually rather humdrum life. Of course, it is often said that there is no such thing as absolute truth, only personal context – but this probably does not excuse my persistent (and apparently uncontrollable!) self-mythologising. It’s also worth noting, for the record, that my motivation for such pathological lying is not born of narcissism or a desire to be adored. I simply want to tell stories – and if the social context will not allow me to do so in a fictionalised frame, I will pass them off as true anecdotes. Why? I’m not sure, but I strongly believe that being a writer has a lot to do with it. The question is – what came first? The lying or the writing?

Lying And Creativity

The urge to write has always been strong with me. Telling stories is the stuff my soul is made of. The connection, here, with lying is pretty clear – after all, what is a lie but a story which pretends to be true? It seems that I am not alone. Studies have found a definite connection between lying and creativity. Those who habitually lie tend to be more creative than those who do not. Is this a causal connection, however, or a simple correlation? Do liars become more creative as a consequence of their lying, or do creative people feel the urge to lie as an aspect of their creativity? Perhaps those who lie successfully throughout their lives do so because they are better – more creative – at constructing the tales they tell. Or perhaps those who lie successfully do so because they learn an element of creativity through their lying. Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s an accepted fact that the psychology of writing and the psychology of lying are often intricately connected. Writers the world over, from Byron to T.E. Lawrence have been noted for their tendency to self-mythologise, embellish, and outright lie about their exploits.

The Writer’s Psyche

Of course, every writer is different. It would be wrong to make generalisations about writers as a group – we’re an incredibly diverse bunch of individuals. However, having said this, it has been noted that there is an unusually high incidence of depression and other such mental conditions among those who write. The connection between creativity and madness has been debated for centuries, and scientists now think that there may well be something in it – that the areas of the brain responsible for creativity may also encourage the kind of rumination and self-analysis which can precipitate a variety of mental illnesses. How does this relate to lying? Well, it has been noted that both liars and creatives (as already discussed, lying and creativity share many of the same mechanisms) have abnormalities in the white matter in the prefrontal cortex of their brains. The same area has been observed to deviate from the norm in those with non-hormonal depressive disorders – depressive disorders caused by hormonal surges notwithstanding. Perhaps those with depression feel the need to lie about their lives in order to distract themselves and others from the perceived horrific banality of their existences. 

Perhaps those with depression are constantly lying to themselves about the state of their lives, and this accounts for the correlation with lying. Perhaps it’s all completely unrelated. Whatever the truth of the matter, it certainly makes for interesting reading to one who is creative, a liar, and has struggled with depression in the past.

Finding The Truth

While I cannot seem to help myself from lying every now and again, I am trying to stick to the truth whenever I can. Partly this is to keep my life running on simple and honest terms. Partly it is make sure that I am treating myself with honesty and respect. And partly it is simply because this is the Right Thing To Do. Being a writer, I find that I can expunge many of the tales which leap into my head during conversation within my writing. Perhaps this is, ultimately, why so many liars are writers – because writing down the tales we would like to tell as fiction saves us from displaying them in public as fact.

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