The Biggest Lies All Writers Believe
Note, that’s biggest lies, dear friend. Please don’t think for a moment that this in any way limits the list down to a mere four. If that were the case, we’d have a lot more books. I’m merely honing in on the ones I’ve heard, and muttered, the most.
If you don’t see your lie on this list, please, by no means should you feel excluded. Your lie is just as big and harry and scaly as the rest of them. May he live, and die, on your own personal version of this list.
People believe lies for all kinds of reasons. For politicians, it’s easier than questioning the foundations we’ve built our worlds on. For lovers, it’s easier than boxing up a life made together. For flat earthers…I’ll be honest I have no idea what’s in it for the flat earthers. And for writers, if they just believe the lie hard enough, grimace it down into their bones, then maybe they’ll neve have to start.
And then maybe they’ll never have to fail.
And the world will never get to find out the biggest lie of all: that we have no talent, and no real worth. We’re pond scum. Just a BigFatPhony in normal people clothes.
Which of course is all a bunch of crap. But I’ll be damned if we don’t each bury our heads in that pile of crap more than we’d like to admit.
Which is why today we’re pulling those lies up at the root. Unearthing the truth that lies beneath, so the next time they come tip-toeing up in all their dripping, sewery deceit, you’re armed to the hilt with the facts. Let’s look at what they are.
LIE #1: THERE’S NO ROOM FOR ME AT THE TABLE
Ah, the old “No Room” lie. It was the lovely writer Hannah Brencher who put words to this insecurity for me. I’ve heard it from so many writers in one utterance or another. Who the heck am I to write? There’s enough greats, already. Who am I to think I could sit among them?
You’re exactly who we need. Imagine if Steven King decided the 60s had already delivered the greatest horror people could ever ask for. What if C.S. Lewis decided no fantasy could best Tolkien’s 1937 publication of the Hobbit? Or if Tolkien decided nothing could compete with Lewis’ Chronicles and that continuing the story of the Ring was moot (I’d probably have been a lot cooler in high school but that’s neither here nor there). What if Jane Austen had decided there were already plenty of published female authors in her time…
Jokes aside, it’s a mentality that would drive the rumination of the world to a grinding halt if we all adopted it. The great Steven Pressfield sums it up in a few perfect sentences better than I ever could with a scroll of words.
“You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.”-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
LIE #2: I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY
Surely you have something to say. What did you have for breakfast? There, you just had something to say. Now, perhaps it’s true that not everything you have to say is worth publishing. After all, unless it’s Lembas Bread or the blood of a virgin, your morning meal isn’t a riveting experience that drives a plot forward.
If you feel you must write but have nothing to say, to me it means one thing: you haven’t been practicing. The ability to write, to have words flow down from your fingertips onto the page, isn’t one that’s gifted to us by the gods in vaporous moments of inspiration. It comes from work. Writing is more muscle than muse, if you ask me. The less you work it, the more it atrophies. Until it feels like you can’t even lift a pen to put it to paper.
So write. Even if it’s stupid. Even if it ends up in the trash and your own mother would find it ghastly. Write. Eventually, you’ll stop wondering if you have something to say. You’ll already be saying it.
LIE #3: I DON’T HAVE THE TIME
This one goes for more than writers, but I’d argue it’s especially untrue for us. I believe it when they say people make time for what they want, whether it’s turning off our brains by scrolling Instagram, working out, quality hangs with our spouse, you name it. And that’s ok. But the reality is– the time is there. It’s simply being utilized somewhere other than writing.
Of course, it’s easy for anyone to say, “You can always make time if you want it.” It’s not lost of me that bills exist, and work is necessary (for some of us, in double shifts and at multiple jobs). I’m in no way saying this is equally easy for everyone.
But I do believe the time is there, however fractional.
Typically if you haven’t started because you feel strapped by the clock, it means something will have to go in order to make room for writing. Our time typically falls into five big buckets for a healthy life, and I’d argue you really only have the time to do three well. They are:
1. Work 2. Family 3. Community (friends, church, volunteerism, etc.) 4. Physical Wellbeing 5. Personal Growth
It means that as we barter time throughout life, some of these buckets will fall to the back of the line. And that’s ok. To me, the most important thing is to do so intentionally. It’s a conversation that must be had with yourself and/or your family as you embark on your new endeavor. For example, “I know that to write my book, I’ll need to spend the evenings writing. I want to spend time with my boyfriend, so that means my workout regime isn’t going to look the same.” Or, “If I’m going to leave my full time job one day to write, I’ve got to start building an audience. I need to tell my boss I’ll no longer be answering emails on the weekend when I’m off.” This way when things begin to shift, you’re not left feeling like you’re dropping the ball. This was the plan; this is the associated growing pain. Keep moving forward.
Thought I forgot to drop the hammer about why this especially applies to writers? No way, kimosabe!
As a writer, you can bring your craft absolutely anywhere. This is truer more now than ever. If George Patton could manage to jot a few notes down on the battlefield, you can save some ideas in your phone while waiting in line to buy cotton balls.
LIE #4: I DON’T HAVE A CREATIVELY INSPIRING SPACE
This one is especially easy to tell yourself if you, like I, take a lot away from your physical environment. The right environment (usually replete with bad lighting, the dull chink of glassware, dark walls, and creaking wood floors) can ignite in us that other-worldly calling that says, “This is what I’m supposed to do with my life.” And a bad one can just as quickly snuff it out. For years I told myself that meant I would start writing when I had the right set up– one worthy of a real writer, something that looked straight out of a Harry Potter common room. Then I’d get serious. Until then, I’d only write when I felt motivated by the environment around me.
Because that happens to us so often.
The truth is if the muscle is strong, you can write wherever you damn well find yourself. This goes back to the practice part, and the absolute hog-shit that is the idea of the striking muse. Does she sometimes grace us? Of course. Should we wait on her arrival to get this party started? Never.
The next time you start believing that you need to be immersed in beauty to write, remember this: Steve King wrote in the washroom of his trailer once his kids had gone to bed, working from a typewriter he balanced on his lap. John Cheever wrote in the maid’s room in the his apartment’s basement. Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying during the night shift at a power plant. I know, dreamy.
Don’t wait for aesthetic gold. Make any environment the right environment by carrying your well-practiced craft with you wherever you go.
What Should a Writer do with all that Truth?
Whatever the lie, its ultimate purpose is to stop us from doing what we must do. And what we must do is write. The next time you find yourself believing one of these big four, force your brain back to the truth of it. Cling to it like gospel. Write it out and stick it under your keyboard if you need.
If you’re sitting here saying, “None of those are the reasons I don’t write,” I want you to do two things for me.
- Tell me your reason in the comments.
- Play the devil’s advocate and search out a truth that can decimate your reason. Feeling like it’s hopeless and there is no underlying truth to counter your reason? That’s why I want you to tell me in the comments. We will sort a game plan out together. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Hit me with your best shot.
Rock n Roll,