Attraction Not Persuasion

Pretending Not To Know The Obvious Is Exhausting

I have been a promotion writer for 30+ years. Essentially, writing promotion involves making true statements in such a way that readers are encouraged to arrive at false conclusions. For example, when I say our vinyl siding virtually never needs painting – that translates to – our siding needs painting.

This profession has never posed a moral struggle because, to me, the marketplace rule is caveat emptor and companies have the right to hire professional persuaders adept at putting products and services in the most positive light possible – so long as these hired guns do not intentionally misrepresent the truth.

However, when it came to recovery, and writing my books, I went to the opposite extreme. Rigorous, even brutal, honesty was my modus operandi, I understood that there was no alternative. When writing about serious matters like mental illness, evil, and alcoholism I quickly realized there was no room for preaching or persuasion, only the truth was important, only the story mattered.

Years spent in therapy and recovery netted a treasure trove of knowledge, not just about the hideous monsters that delighted in tormenting me, but also the tools and techniques of the healing process itself. Enthusiastic and happy about these positive developments I sought to share what I learned with my near and dear, and was met with various sorts of rejection. After a while, I stopped. One can only be hit in the face with a bull fiddle for so long.

I came to understand that people are, for the most part, invested in keeping you in your pigeonhole. If they have come to think of you as a self-destructive loser, continuing to do so makes them feel good about themselves. When you present as self-disciplined, confident, productive and – most egregious of all – happy – your new persona is upsetting and troubling. No amount of explanation will help them understand, or care, what you’ve been through. Only results matter.

Even before setting down the first word of INVISIBLE DRIVING I vowed to tell my tale with the mercilessness of a research scientist, embarrassment meant nothing to me. I applied the same formula to MOONLIT TOURS and WASHED UP, even though they are novels. When it comes to my personal writing, the poetry and lit, (and in an odd way, even the cartoons), I have no desire to persuade anyone of anything. 

Tell the truth, as you understand it, with clarity, precision and elegance – and make it entertaining. Don’t tell the readers anything; show them.

Published by

Alistair McHarg

Alistair McHarg was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, moved immediately to Edinburgh, and three years later moved to Amsterdam. At 6 he settled in Philadelphia and for 16 years was confused by Quaker education; Germanton Friends School and Haverford College. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Louisville nudged him even closer to unemployability.

Convinced at an early age that fate had chosen writing as his calling, Alistair followed a characteristically slow and circuitous path. He has found work as deck hand on a Norwegian tramp freighter touring South America, Bureau of Land Management Emergency Fire Fighter in Alaska, guide at a Canadian wilderness survival camp, truck driver crisscrossing Colorado’s continental divide, and inner city cabbie.

Alistair has been arranging words on paper for a living since 1983.