Have shovel. Can write.

Speaking to one of my teenaged friends yesterday about college essays and other kinds of writing for school, we were discussing the fine art of bullshitting. Now I’m all for bullshitting, as an art form, but I think there’s a time and place for everything. Fine if you want to shovel it in your college essay, philosophy papers and application for financial aid. But speaking as both a writer and a reader I think bullshitting in fiction just doesn’t work.

I think there’s a certain level of honesty and authenticity that is required of fiction authors for the writing to be any good. If you’re spending your time trying to get over on your readers there’s going to be something missing from your work. The focus will be in the wrong place and on the wrong thing. I suppose I can understand the appeal of bullshitting though.  I mean, it’s the old “Ha ha! I’m smarter than you because you fell for it.” But ultimately, I get more satisfaction in crafting my words in such a way that I take my readers with me on a journey through my story. But perhaps that’s just another ego trip? I mean when I write a story I’m God-like, creating a world, peopling it, maneuvering situations, choosing what to reveal and conceal. Maybe I’m just bullshitting myself! Maybe it’s all just bullshit. Possibly my teenaged friend knows more than I. Maybe he’s right about this!


How truthful are you when you’re making up a story? How honest is your fiction?


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6 responses to “Have shovel. Can write.

  1. As someone who has spent countless hours sitting beside my philosophy-professor husband while he grades papers, I take issue with your contention that it’s okay to bullshit in philosophy papers. Students think they just have to write a bunch of crap, but it doesn’t work. The people grading the papers can smell it for what it is, and the more of it they smell, the crankier they get.

    • No offense meant, Ruth. I was going by what the HS student said. Also, in HS the teachers are very interested in the students’ “thoughts” about the material. Rather than actually sharing their thoughts, I believe they take out their shovels to deliver something they believe their teacher wants (i.e. Bullshit).

      Linda Epstein

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. I really work on this…I say to myself regularly, “No…what do you REALLY mean? What do you REALLY want to say?” It makes the writing feel more authentic and I think readers can pick up on it.

  3. Are truthful and honest exactly the same? As a reader of Spanish papers (like English papers but in, for most of the students, a second or third language) I’d hate for that to be the default bullshit repository. If the reader –of your essay or your fiction–throws up their hands and says oh puh-leeze, you’ve missed your mark. But the beauty of fiction is making things up, not just writing what you (think you) know.

  4. Peg

    As a former college admissions director, I would argue that the best college admissions essays are bullshit-free and in a genuine voice. As the reader of thousands of these essays, my bullshit meter became finely tuned. Generally, the essays should not read like an English paper but more like humble self promotion.

  5. Jay

    I think to answer your question it really depends on whether or not someone’s writing what they know versus writing what they don’t. Obviously, it’s easier to write what you know but at the same time, it’s important to expand your horizons and learn new things in order to better your writing. But considering that I’m guilty of bullshitting my way through several of my one course’s journals and ethics assignment, bullshitting for academia is a bit of a must. But as for writing, I have to agree with you. Write what you know and don’t make things up as you go along. As for how honest my writing is… I try my best to keep it as honest as possible.