Are your stories all true?

Uncategorized Jan 12, 2023

Are your stories all true? Or are they just comforting?

Sometimes I think that we get ourselves into trouble as writers because the stories we’re telling ourselves about our writing and our writing lives aren’t actually true.

They seem true -- the voices are very convincing -- but if you start asking questions, you’ll often find the logic disintegrates like the thin foam on an almond milk cappuccino.

I *might* be the only woman writer on the planet whose perfectionist tendencies result in fully formed stories that when questioned turn out to be little more than the symptoms of my deepest fears… Okay, am I though?

From my own personal experience as well as that of my clients and students over the years, if you’re telling yourself any of the following stories, you might be wrestling with the kind of stubborn mental blocks that will only result in you never actually realizing your writing dreams.

So if you’ll let me, I’d like to gently poke at the logic of these stories to how they hold up for you in the light of day.

(And here’s another well-worn secret of life that they don’t tell you in high school but definitely should: multiple things can be true at the same time. Crazy, right??)

If you’re feeling halfway brave, let’s go for it!

If you’re telling yourself: “I just need to figure out my plot/sub-plot/character development/setting/narrative arc.”

What if it’s true that...

Yes, all those things matter, but nothing matters more than your mindset and how you’ll fight the very specific fears that will stop you personally from actually completing your current writing project.

If you’re telling yourself: “No one can write my book for me, so I have to do all of this entirely on my own.”

What if it’s true that...

It’s a 100% true (yet sad) story that no fairies are coming to your house tonight to write your book for you. But that doesn’t mean you have to go it all alone. The most productive writers identify the supports they need to finish their books and seek out loving accountability to help them get there.

If you’re telling yourself: “All my fears and self-doubt are signs that I’m not cut out for this, and just not as talented or as dedicated as other writers.”

What if it’s true that...

Sweetie, fear is just your brain finding ways to keep you safe. It’s a natural part of the creative life and self-doubt is something all artists live with. But you can learn to identify the sneaky ways that fear and self-doubt manifest themselves in your life and use proven, science-backed tools to develop long-lasting responses that will sustain you in your writing life for years to come.

If you’re telling yourself: “My life is too busy. I just have too much going on -- with work, with family -- to be able to find the time to dedicate to my book. There are just too many distractions and it’s too hard to steal the time.”

What if it’s true that...

Life will always be full and there will always be distractions. The key is to problem-solve and plan around your specific Real Life realities to make your writing sessions happen. And what if you made your own time instead of stealing it from someone else? Writing without distractions is possible when you have the guidance and support you need to craft a writing ritual that really works for you.

If you’re telling yourself: “Okay, but I just can’t figure out how to structure my book and if I can’t get the overall structure right, then there’s no point going further. If my final manuscript is going to be more of a hot mess than I am right now, what is even the point?”

What if it’s true that...

The first draft is just you telling yourself the story -- that’s a quote from His Excellency Terry Pratchett. (RIP). And that’s true but there are also a few classic guiding principles for structuring a book and once you understand these, the sections of your book will slide into place AND you’ll know exactly what pieces to tackle in revision, which -- published writer secret -- is really the fun part!

If you’re telling yourself: "Who are you kidding? Just be a reader -- you’re really good at that part.”

What if it’s true that…

This is just the troll in your head giving up some smack talk. With curiosity and self-compassion, you can beat that troll. And beating him once makes it so much easier to keep him away forever.

If you’re telling yourself: “I’m just not ready to finish my book and get it out into the world. I need to learn more, read more, take more classes, talk to more writer friends. I’M NOT READY!”

What if it’s true that…

No one’s ever ready. It’s true that having a good start can help, but what’s a good start? An idea and some pages: this is all any writer has when they start a book.

Thinking that you have to achieve the magical sparkling unicorn state of “ready” could just be your perfectionism talking -- and perfectionism is the enemy of art. No one’s ever ready: what if you dove in anyway? (What’s the worst that could happen? You wake up a few months from now having written 100 more pages than you have now?)

If you’re telling yourself: “It’s all too big, the enormity of a project like a book. I can’t picture the whole thing in my head right now so that’s a sign I’m not ready for an artistic project that significant.”

What if it’s true that…

It really is big, and you are up to the task. You can break it down into manageable pieces, just like every other meaningful thing you’ve accomplished in this life. Every artist feeling called into a significant artistic endeavour -- a book, an art exhibit, an album -- is afraid. Uncertainty is a natural state of being for us. But, what if the call to complete a big project is actually the sign that you’re ready?


Friend, to state the obvious: I’m not you. Only you know if all of your stories are true.

But if you’re anything like myself and most of the writers I know, there’s at least one or two that are more fiction than fact. You can’t gain momentum and make progress in your writing until you look your fears straight in the face and learn to tell yourself a different story in the service of your art.

And there’s nothing I know of that’s truer than that.


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