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Writing Lies You Tell Yourself When You Should Be Working

You’re creative, right? That’s why you write. That probably means you’re lying to yourself about your writing, too.

You’re creative, right? That’s why you write. That probably means you’re lying to yourself about your writing, too.

You tell yourself all kinds of sneaky things to rationalize why you’re not writing. After a while, you begin to believe your lies, which also means you never actually start writing. It’s time to stop lying to yourself!

Are you telling yourself these things? Then they’re holding you back. Here’s how to get past the lie and start writing again.

I’m too busy.

There are many variations of this lie, too. I’m too tired. I’ll do it later. I’ll start tomorrow.

My graduate school poetry mentor Marie Ponsot had five children and worked two jobs. She was a single mom, too. She told us that if she could find time to write, anyone can. Just ten minutes. No matter how tired, you can find ten minutes somewhere in your day. Most times, you end up writing longer.

I can’t write.

If you’re telling yourself you don’t know how to write, then you’re counting yourself out before you start. Whether writing a book, short stories, essays or something else, you have to begin somewhere. No one is born just knowing how to write. It takes practice.

There is no special power that makes one person able to write while another can’t. There is no specific set of words or length of book or depth of meaning that makes one person a real writer.

The main difference between a person who writes and someone who doesn’t is simple. A writer ignores the shoulds and might-have-beens and puts one word in front of another and does.

I’m not inspired to write.

Inspiration gets you going. It’s the seed that sets you off with a bang, but no matter how much energy you have in the beginning you’ll eventually get tired.

Ideas are a dime a dozen.

I saw Chuck Wendig speak in Atlanta when his fabulous book Wanderers published. He spoke about the nature of writing and building a writing career. “Ideas aren’t precious,” he said. Meaning, your ideas mean nothing until they have a story and characters behind them.

Chuck Wending also wrote a list of lies writers tell themselves, completely different than the ones on this list, which tells me we’re great at making stuff up. Focus on writing instead of tricking yourself out of writing.

One idea can produce endless stories. Don’t wait for an idea to grow on its own, just as you wouldn’t ask an apple seed to sit on the counter and become a tree. Don’t let your ideas dry out and disappear while you wait for inspiration. Put your butt-in-chair and write.

I don’t want to be published.

You write for yourself first. Write the story you want to write. Follow your instinct and tell the story you want to tell. That is where every writer must begin.

But if you’re telling yourself you don’t really care if no one reads your writing, you’re lying to yourself. This lie stems from the fear that no one wants to read what you write, but stories are told to be shared. You tell them to make people laugh, to connect with others, to share, and to be human.

A piece of writing that sits on your computer on your desk is as unfinished as if you never wrote it.

There is, of course, no one way that’s right for people to hear your stories. You don’t have to publish on a major website or magazine in order to publish. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to shame you, reinforcing the idea that you’re not good enough. You can self publish or read your writing on a Youtube channel or wait for a high powered agent to find a top-five publisher.

Choose where you want to publish based on your goals. Then work to make it happen. But remember, writing and publishing are two completely separate goals. You need to write if you want to publish, but publishing is a completely different process.

I want to tell my story, but I’m going to make it fiction instead of a memoir.

Some stories are meant to be told as a memoir. When you try to hide your story in fiction, you’ll ruin it. Fictional characters need leeway to develop as they want to develop. If you try to force them to follow the path of your story, they won’t listen. Or they’ll be stilted and boring. No one will believe them.

Ray Bradbury said of writing: “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”

If you attempt to write a version of your story that people won’t recognize, you’ll end up with a half baked, lightly veiled version of your truth. It won’t be worthy of you, because in trying to tame your story into fiction, you’ll neuter the most important parts of yourself.

I need a formal writing education.

You don’t need a formal writing education to write. You simply need to tell a story, and telling your story is a matter of instinct and practice.

Each of us has a certain level of innate aptitude when we write. You copy what we’ve read. You share words the way you talk. You write the voices in your head.

You’ll also find resources online to boost your craft. You can find mentors and join groups. Learn to get and give feedback, too. In fact, the best way to improve your own writing and editing is by giving feedback to others.

This is going to be amazing.

Your first draft is not going to be amazing. It’s not going to be awful, either. Writing is a series of ups and downs. You’ll have moments when you are absolutely sure you are a genius. You’re amazed at how words just throw themselves at your feet, forming gorgeous images and poignant metaphors that illustrate the true meaning of life.

You will also have moments when you’re convinced you’re the most awful writer ever. You’ll wonder why you started. You’re terrible, a talentless hack.

The truth is you are none of these things. You are instead a writer, moving through the challenges of starting and finishing a piece of writing. Stick with the process no matter how daunting it seems. This is the only way to be a writer.

I’ll just check e-mail/social media/messages quickly.

If you’re checking social media and email in the middle of writing, you’re not really writing. You’re distracting yourself. You’re holding yourself back from fully concentrating. You’re not letting yourself create and problem solve.

When you check e-mail and social media, you’ll get sidetracked and the next thing you know, you’re writing time has ended. You didn’t get anything done.

Disconnect from all distractions when you write. Start with working like this for half an hour. Then build up your writing time from there. You’ll be amazed at what you create when you’re fully immersed in your work.

I’m not really a writer.

This is the most pervasive writing lie of all.

There is only one thing you have to do to be a writer. You have to write. Otherwise, I’m not sure what magical mixture of qualities you think you need to have in order to be a writer. But if you’re writing and finishing pieces of writing, be that books, short stories, essays, flash fiction,then you’re a writer.

If you’re not finishing, then make the commitment now to pick up one piece of writing and finish it. Then pick up another. Write and finish.

Tell people you’re a writer, too, even if it feels false to you. Repeat to yourself. I write therefore I am a writer. Write some more. Believe it.

I need to write this right the first time.

Maybe there’s some magical wizard of a human out there who can sit down and write the perfect story in one sitting, but I have yet to meet someone like this. The best writers know writing requires time to mull things over and let ideas marinate. It takes time for ideas to settle and for the connections between those ideas to form. They don’t happen in a moment.

Shitty first drafts are called so for a reason. Not because you or your writing is shitty, but because you give yourself permission not to be perfect. Let your first draft be a mess because chaos is the root of creativity. When you stop trying to do everything just the right way and allow yourself to make mistakes, you dig into different ideas and explore freely. It’s the only way to write.

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