When Writing Honestly Makes You a Bad Wife and Mother by Summer Koester

“You always say the brutal truth,” my nine-year-old said the other day. “You really should try to do more ‘white lying’.”

Here’s the thing: I’m a writer. Here’s the thing about being a writer: We can. Not. Lie.

Well, maybe some writers can, but I can’t. Writers are supposed to be honest. Ernest Hemingway said, “Write the truest sentence that you know.” David Sedaris said, “Connecting to a reader hinges on your ability to be honest.”

Readers are smart. They can smell B.S. like a hound. When I’m watching a movie or show that lacks the tiniest bit of credibility, unless it’s Barbie, I’m out.

As a writer, I’ve trained myself to be honest—all the time. Since I wrote TELL THE TRUTH on a Post-It stamp and stuck it on the part of my brain that forms language, I can only keep it real. I have metaphorically injected myself with truth serum.

My mom says I’m being “negative.” I call it being a “realist.”

My proclivity for brutal honesty means that sometimes I’m a bad parent. And wife. I’ve had to apologize to my middle school students for saying things I shouldn’t, like how the Economist once ran a story about how libs had higher IQs. (Yes, I said that to my high school students in conservative Orange County, during the Bush-Kerry election.)

Two days ago, my husband asked me what my “financial plan” was. I should have said, Don’t worry, honey, I’ll return to full-time teaching when the kids are out of school.

But no. Like Hemingway, I spoke “the truest sentence that [I] know.” I said, “I don’t have a plan. I want to be a writer, and writers don’t make any money.”

And then my nine-year-old daughter told me I should lie more. True story.

The thing is, I feel like every time I hear/speak/feel an untruth, a literary fairy loses her wings. It’s the same thing with actors. Actors are some of the realest people I’ve ever met. Why? Because actors perform on stage, not in real life.

Actually, scratch that. Actors don’t act. They feel. If they’re any good, they feel their role like it was the real, honest, messy truth. Before I became a writer, I was an actor. Once, I played Jim Croce’s wife. In the play, I lost a baby and a husband. I did not act sad. I cried real tears. It was horrible. It sucked. I digress.

Writers are honest. This is why writers make bad spouses, parents, and babysitters, and probably shouldn’t be allowed around children. Similarly, performers are super non-performative IRL and probably shouldn’t be politicians. Unless they’re comedians, in which case, they’re geniuses and probably should be.

Yesterday I stumbled upon Lidia Yukanovich’s Chronology of Water. This memoir is one of the most brutal and honest and brutally honest pieces of literature I’ve ever had the fortune of being kept up at night by. I got the digital download through my local library, then immediately bought a hard copy because I needed to scribble notes in the margins and underline the sentences that had been cobbled together with witchcraft.

Chronology of Water is honest. Yuknavitch writes like the words just sprang out of her head after taking a couple of shots of whiskey and a hit of MDMA. She’ll write something, and then she’ll say, “Actually, no, that’s not true, it was this way,” and then she’ll say, “Wait. No. That’s not true, it was actually this way.”  The way she doubts herself, lacks any self-censorship, and writes as if she never altered a single word from its original form, is how I know I can trust her. (She’s also hysterical and a genius.)

I wonder if Lidia Yuknavitch has figured out how to tell a white lie to her son. I wonder if she’s learned to bear less of the “brutal truth” to her husband.

Only because—and I don’t mean to sound like I’m bagging on Lidia Yuknavitch, just speaking from personal experience—that being honest, writing the truth can make you a great writer and a terrible parent and spouse.

So if you are brave enough to write your own personal truth and possibly ruin your familial relationships, then go read Lidia Yuknavich, and good luck to you. Let me know how it goes!


Summer Koester is an award-winning poet/writer, artivist, and culture disruptor in Juneau. Her work has appeared in New York Times, McSweeney’s, The Sun, Independent, Brevity Blog, Ploughshares Blog, and on buses in Juneau. Find and friend her on Substack!

3 thoughts on “When Writing Honestly Makes You a Bad Wife and Mother by Summer Koester”

  1. Great stuff, Summer. I love the idea of that kind of honesty. But there is a sort of conundrum like Zeno’s paradox for writers. Since even the most purely intended honesty is flavored by the writer’s consciousness, the actual truth can never be reached. Which is why I prefer writing fiction, al though there is a certain kind of truth needed for that too. I’m not suggesting we give up trying to write non-fiction; I’ve published a lot of short essays that hopefully approached some kind of truth. But I hope readers recognize that my biases are at work no matter how honest I’m trying to be.

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