“Lies” or “Writer, Writer, Pen on Fire”

Firstly, a quick shout-out to my sister-o’-the-soul, Tirzah Duncan, because it’s her birthday! If you’ve got a second, pop over to her Ink Caster blog and wish her many happy returns!

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post:

Some weeks ago, a darling friend of mine (let’s call her “D’Artagnan”) linked me to an article titled “25 Lies Writers Tell (And Start to Believe)” – basically a back-and-forth between common excuses for writing poorly or not at all and Chuck Wendig’s (author of the article in question) generally funny, frequently colorful, and consistently sympathy-free rejoinders. Some of these “false statements deliberately presented as being true”, I’m guilty of using myself. Some, I’ve scoffed upon hearing from others. And some I don’t believe to necessarily be lies at all.

Rather than leave a several-hundred-word comment on Chuck’s post or confine my remarks to my inner circle of beloved hooligans, I figured that the most useful place for my rebuttal would be here, at good ol’ Ever On Word. (What’s a writer’s blog for, after all, if not the occasional writerly rant?) For a full read of the piece that started it all, click here (warning: Comically-meant profanity abounds). For what I’ve got to say about some of those lies, read on.

1. “I Don’t Have Time!”

Yeah, I’ve used this one. And I know, I’ve got just as much time as anybody else: 24 hours a day, give or take Daylight Savings. But hey, why don’t we artistic types get 30 hours a day? We’d make worthy use of them. We do big things for society. We create societies! Where are our special time benefits, hmm? Value the arts!

2. “It’s Okay That I Didn’t Write Today, I’ll Do It Tomorrow!”

I may occasionally tell myself this, but I never believe it. No, the world didn’t end. And one doesn’t have to write every single day, zero exceptions, in order to produce and improve and stave off debilitating creative withdrawal. But if I’ve gone a whole day without writing anything, that only feels “okay” to me in the loosest sense of the word. (But what do I know? I’m a write-oholic.)

3. “I’ll Come Back To This Story After I Write This Other Story!”

According to Chuck’s admittedly made-up stat, 90% of writers who do this won’t go back to that first story. I’m part of the 10% that’s been known to, but even my project switches are few, far between, and done with caution. There are times when you’ll need a break, and times when you’ve just gotta stick with it. Work on determining for yourself which is which for your writing, and forge on ahead accordingly.

4. “Oh Noes, Writer’s Block Again!”

Oh noes, indeed. I get mini-blocked at the beginnings of most chapters. …and sometimes in the middle. …more rarely, the end. Blocks are part of the process for even the most prolific of us (unless there’s someone reading this who never, ever gets stuck in their writing, in which case, give a holler). So write over it, around it, under it, or through it. Take a side street. Take a stick of dynamite to it. Walk away whistling until the block lets its guard down, then jump back in and shout, “Boo!”, thereby giving the block a heart attack and leaving the way wide open for you. Whatever you’ve got to do to get to the other side, do that. Using the block as a pass to dance off and do anything and everything but write, however, will not get that story written any faster.

5. “I Can Only Write When The Muse Allows!”

“Muses help those who help themselves. Trying to write is the best invocation.” – D.E. Shipley

7. “My Characters Are In Control!”

This is no lie.

Or if nothing else, it’s no excuse. Having a bossy minstrel in your head doesn’t give you leave to crank out drivel and lay the blame for it at his door, heavens no. On the contrary, it means that you’ve got to work harder, better, faster, stronger, and write at the tippy-top of your game to please your merciless dragon of a slave-driving client, lest the story you write him not meet his self-interested standards. Trust me, writers: This simply isn’t a lie worth telling.

9. “I Write Only For Me!”

Perfectly valid. Just don’t expect anyone to pay for your stuff if you didn’t at the very least write it with an audience in mind. Getting the words inside of you down on paper is for you, and that’s wonderful. Sharing the words with others is a group activity, and that, too, is wonderful. It’s helpful to know which wonderful is which before some poor third party is forced to read what should have stayed hidden in the deep recesses of your diary.

12. “I Have Nothing More To Learn!”

You’ll learn better. Or you’ll remain smugly ignorant, in which case I probably don’t want to read your book. I actually quite like Chuck’s response to the “Being a writer can’t be taught” lie: “You can be taught. And you can teach yourself.” My personal favorite way to learn to write? Just keep reading and writing – a lot. You’ll look back and see progress, and you will shout “whoo-hoo”.

15. “If I Write It, They Will Come!”

Please don’t believe this. You’ll be very disappointed when you wake up and smell the rejection letters. Oh, wait, no you won’t, because you’ll be too delusional to have sent out queries in the first place. Never mind. Keep your pretty bubble. If you actually want anyone to know you wrote something, though, I’d suggest working to get the word out. The world doesn’t read minds, you know. (All the more reason for them to read awesome writers’ awesome books!)

17. “This Draft Needs To Be Perfect!”

I’d settle for typo-free. If there’s a perfect book out there, I have yet to read it. There are some really super great ones, though. Aim slightly higher than those.

21. “Writing Should Be Easy / Delicious Misery!”

It’s both. Enjoy the ride. (:

The floor is open for further discussion. What sort of lies or truths do you tell yourself to make it through a novel?

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17 thoughts on ““Lies” or “Writer, Writer, Pen on Fire”

  1. I will sometimes do the *strangest* things to avoid writing, like vacuuming out my car or washing windows! As far as writer’s block goes though, I don’t usually have that problem. I write whatever is in my head, regardless of sentence structure, stupidity level, etc. I like to call it “puking on paper.” Later, once I’ve got some ideas down, I go back and edit it, and it’s usually better than I thought it would be!

    • Lol, I wish you’d avoid writing over at *my* house, some time. Bring the vacuum cleaner!
      And I admire your knack of turning paper puke into gold. No, seriously! — I don’t know if I could make myself just jot down a story in messy, free-for-all form; I feel compelled to take pains over making a first draft read like a second or third. There’s something to be said for the freedom of your method, if one can make it work. (:

  2. Hmmmm. Of all of these, the only one that I object to strongly is “I have nothing more to learn.” There’s always something more to be learned. I disagree with 17 only in that there is no such thing as a perfect manuscript. What that means for me though is that there is always room for improvement. All of the other ones I think are things that could be true depending on your circumstances.

    • Fairly spoken, Ben. Perfection can be a great motivator, so long as it’s stretched toward with realism and humility. ‘Tis a balance between knowing one’s limits and pushing one’s boundaries.

  3. I can only list the lies a reader tells him/herself to get through a novel.
    1. “With such a great beginning, this novel must be worth reading.” This isn’t an outright lie, but it is false far more frequently that it is true.
    2. “I can overlook the bad (grammar, characters or plot) and glean the good or worthy.” The bad tends to be a signal that there is nothing good or worthy. And yet, I hope.
    3. “Random chapter breaks (or that weird double-spacing thing authors do to denote a space of time or change of scene) aren’t distracting.” Oh yeah, they are. They are, however, useful places to put a bookmark or stop for a snack or potty break.
    4. “Character names (or spellings) don’t matter.” I can’t bond with a character whose name doesn’t fit. I think I can tell when a name is pulled out of a hat.
    5. “There is no such thing as too much detail.” Do we ever need 3 pages to describe a field, the weather or an outfit? and THEN 3 more to describe your character’s reaction to it? That must be some field!

    • Listed like someone who’s definitely read her way around the block a few times. Goodness know I’ve yet to come across a field that needed half-a-dozen pages to its name — especially if the name and its spelling don’t jive.
      Thanks for your insights, Momma. (:

  4. “I’m not in a writing mood.”

    Well duh, what writer ever is!!! The definition of a “Writer” is one who challenges and inflicts pain on him/herself! It happens. Every day. SO get over it and draw some blood. Just sayin’.

    • Lol, you’ve clearly got a different edition of the dictionary than I’ve been using. Truth in jest, though. I haven’t really felt like writing all day. Guess what I’ve been doing pretty much all day anyway? That’s right, the same thing I’ll be doing after dinner: Writing. ‘Cause the books won’t write themselves, y’all.
      It doesn’t have to be fun, soldier! Get down and give me 20 pages!
      Sir, yes, sir!

  5. So it looks like I am guilty of at least 6 of those lies. I’d add “I can’t write now, I have to read all of my blog friends’ posts first!” I am a master of distraction.

  6. Great post, Danielle. (Here I am reading your blog instead of writing a book…) I think we should take a tip from creative people in other fields. It’s no easier painting, choreographing, composing music, etc., but I never hear visual artists, dancers, or musicians talk about cleaning closets to avoid their art. (Ever heard, “I love having danced but the dancing itself is agony”? I haven’t.) I need to stop thinking, “I have to write now,” and start thinking, “I get to write now!” (So I suppose I get to write now. Argh.)

    • Yay! I get to write now, too! *whimper* Lol, funny how some truths can feel like a lie, eh? Ah well, so long as we know better.
      Thanks for choosing Ever On Word to help you procrastinate. XD Now let’s go love our art!

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