Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Four (Nasty) Lies We Tell Ourselves About Writing


Inspired by Lynda Young's 14 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Writing, which has the positive lies that we tell ourselves to make life easier (we think), I'd like to add the four negative lies that keep us from accomplishing what we could.



1. The Lie: I'm a talentless hack who will never be able to write anything worth reading.
The Truth: You have great taste and you have great aspirations for creating wonderful works. But you're early in your writing career and still have much to learn. Even if you've got a few novels under your belt, you have much to learn. It's the nature of the craft that you will always be learning and improving - otherwise you will stagnate as a writer.

If you've told yourself this lie, watch this Ira Glass inspirational video:


2. The Lie: I'll never be as great as {insert famous author's name here}; I might as well quit now.
The Truth: This is a lie we often tell ourselves after reading a fantastic book. It's important to note that you will never be {insert famous author's name here} - you can only be YOURSELF. And that self has a unique perspective to share with the world. But in terms of writing as brilliantly as your writerly heroes, it's important to remember the great equalizing forces of the writing process. Every writer starts with a blank sheet of paper. Every writer struggles with plot points and character arcs. Every writer has to work hard to get the words on the page to reflect the ideas in their heads. Accomplished writers wrestle with this as much, or more, than beginning writers. Because they must always be as good as, or better than, their last book - and this is relatively easier to do when you are starting out.

If you tell yourself this lie, read this article about the writing processes of great writers.

3. The Lie: If I keep writing this one chapter/paragraph/sentence over and over, eventually it will be perfect.
The Truth: There is no perfect, there is only finished. And only authors who finish will be successful, no matter how you measure that. There is a difference between rewriting to improve and rewriting to endlessly fiddle because you're not sure what should change (if anything). If you're not in pain or euphoria during the edit process, you're not learning anything and should move on. It will never be perfect, and besides, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And of the writer.

If you tell yourself this lie, read the Six Steps to Writing Success, and commit to getting through Step 2 (finishing). It will set you free.

4. The Lie: (via Carol Riggs' comment) I am not a writer unless I'm published.
The Truth: If you write, you are a writer. When someone is willing to publish your work, it means that they think they can make money off your writing. This is not a bad thing! But you were a writer before that happened, and you will be a writer afterwards (unless the publishing process drives you around the bend, which is entirely possible). Self-publishing means that you think you can invest your own money in your writing and make a profit, or at least have a shot at it. Even 7 in 10 traditionally published novels don't out-earn their advance, breaking even or losing money, so there are no guarantees with any of the paths. The real difference between self-pub, small-pub, and large-pub is the size of the bet made on the future success of your book and who the people are making the bet. Before, during, and after those publishing adventures, you are always a writer.

If you tell yourself this lie, read my post about Owning the Writer Title.

And be nice to yourself and lie no more.


58 comments:

  1. When I went to see Dark Knight, I said (not sadly, but truthfully), "I will never be that good of a writer."

    Two years later I saw Inception, also done by Chris Nolan. Except this time I said, "I'm not that good...but I could be."

    Time and perspective changes a lot of these :-)

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  2. Always liked that Ira Glass bit. And so snazzy, now!

    Also, mentioned you on my blog today. :)

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  3. Thank you for sharing this! I needed to see this post today!

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  4. Boy, did I need to hear this today! I will be FINISHING my final edit this week (thanks to your words)! Rest assured, I will be sharing this post on FB, Twitter and possibly from the rooftops. Thanks!

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  5. I love that Ira Glass video--it's one of my favorites.

    Lovely post and it's so true. Sometimes, our biggest obstacle is ourselves.

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  6. Yay, I haven't told myself any of these lies. :D

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  7. I think those are lies that some writers fall into but not everyone. Sometimes I get discouraged after reading an awesome book but I try to use that to inspire myself to try harder. I think I'm neither over realistic or under and telling myself these lies!

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  8. @Jill Yay for finishing! And thanks so much for the sharing! :)

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  9. @Ava Sometimes I'm convinced that ourselves is the only real obstacle. Or that could just be me. :)

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  10. Fantastic, Susan, and I so agree.

    You don't need to be published to be a writer. If you write, you are!

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  11. been through all four...I have to keep reminding myself to never compare myself to anyone else, you write your own way.

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  12. I'm probably most guilty of #3--I can't seem to convince myself that a project is done--that if I edit one more time, tweak it here and there, it will finally be 'perfect.' In my head, I know this is a lie, but I always have that doubt, even when I call a project finished. I'm certain someone will come along and point out the obvious flaw that I should have addressed, but it will be too late! hmmm...could be that nasty perfectionism...foiled again!

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  13. Great post, Susan! I struggle with number two.

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  14. I really LOVE you right now! Thank you for this. I'm going to print it and share it with my students. :-)

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  15. These are definitely 4 lies that can surface when doubt rears it's ugly head.

    I actually got a terrible critique from a random online person as part of an online forum and his only issue with my story was that I would never be as good as J K Rowling. It stunned me since my story had magic in it but was far from a Harry Potter ripper and I wasn't trying to be her. That critique soured my day those years ago, but put something in perspective: I am NOT JK Rowling. I have my own writer's voice, style and MC to champion, just as it should be. If it's not as good as hers, then I'll accept that. It's still mine. In hindsight, I suppose I should appreciate that louse for the terrible crit, but...naaaaa. :-)

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  16. There is truth in them there hills.

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  17. This post should be required reading for all writers! Thank you.

    I'm currently struggling with the step of starting to send one of my "babies" out there. Yes, I have a completed picture book manuscript all ready for submission. But the current one is quite possibly a stronger story. So I've been procrastinating, waiting for this one to be ready.

    I think I need to start sending Manuscript Number One out into the world.

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  18. Absolutely amazing and to the point post, Susan. You address 3 of my biggest lies. :)

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  19. @prerna Comparisons can be deadly. I know I keep having to remind myself of things I already know. :)

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  20. @Kelly I still struggle with #2 on occasion (Suzanne Collins, I'm looking at you!). :)

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  21. @elizabeth I think your next story is always stronger (or at least should be). For me, I decide if I've learned everything I can out of a story - if so, then it's ready to send out. It may get rejected, but you will learn more in going down that path of rejection than you will by letting it sit in a drawer. Good luck!

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  22. @scribble I'm so glad that it helped! :)

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  23. this is awesome! I especially love the last one.

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  24. The lies we tell ourselves relates to our confidence in what we are writing. Some of that confidence comes with experience, and with learning along the way.

    Self-doubt has a way of creeping in just when we think we know what we're doing, perhaps as a control to remind us we're mortals.

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  25. Sue, I have Ira Glass' video permanently planted in my right sidebar. Love, love, love it!

    I started to tear up after I read your first sentence. I'm in a place, right now, where all writers visit. So close you can taste it, yet waiting in limbo. It's totally stifled my ability to write. Or should I say that I've let it. Thanks for being such a good friend.

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  26. Inspiring and so worth remembering, or chanting as a mantra!

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  27. @DG You're 1000% percent right on all counts. And what do you mean, we're mortal? LOL

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  28. @Catherine I'm so glad you found it inspiring! That was certainly my intent. :)

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  29. This is a great pick-me-up. Sometimes it's hard not to get caught up in lies like these :)

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  30. Wonderful truths (er, I mean lies)! We all suffer from those insecurities at times, and wallowing in those negative feelings just piles more obstacles in our way.

    Sometimes it's easier to say those lies and make excuses than it is to keep going. But the goals most worth achieving are HARD to reach!

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  31. Your posts just get more and more amazing! I LOVE THIS. I'm going to go shout it from the rooftops. Well at least tweet.

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  32. I love love love this point-counterpoint, and I've totally seen that Ira Glass video and it is AWESOME! Thanks for this, Sue, it's so easy to get down in the dumps. Way to get us refocused. ((hugs)) <3

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  33. Excellent post, Sue! In our instant gratification culture we want our first book to be a bestseller but of course that's a pipe dream. I tend to get inspired by reading amazing books. They make me want to be a better writer.

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  34. Love your responses to the lies. Thanks, Sue! I've been known to use a couple of these over the years. :o)

    Hugs!

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  35. hi miss susan! wow that just a way important post. for me i didnt do any of those lies cause i just write cause i love writing. for that last one i wish all those ones i see on blogs every day that got that lie going could read it and not worry bout getting published. im gonna copy that and send it to some of my blogger friends that i know could need to read it.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  36. Thanks Susan for reminding us to believe in ourselves and our abilities. The many rejections we receive as writers can leave us emotionally crippled and lacking in self-confidence, its great to be reminded that we can produce excellent work with perseverance and determination. Great post!

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  37. Thank you for this!! It can be so easy to doubt your writing and story and plot and characters and a lot of other things, especially at various stages of writing/editing/rewriting/re-editing.

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  38. LOVE your truths and that Ira Glass video is fantastic. I definitely notice when my work doesn't live up to my taste, but I keep working so it eventually will. :)

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  39. Thank you for this inspirational post! :)

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  40. Excellent advice! Especially the last one. I also like to to say that if you are a writer, you are also an author, published or not. I've never understood such a painful rift between those words. Seems unnecessary.

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  41. Whoa! Shock to see myself in there. LOL Thanks for the great post, and run-down on these lies. Great to encourage us as writers; we all need that. :)

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  42. (and I meant that I was shocked in a flattered way by just reading along and suddenly seeing my name!)

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  43. Those are all good lessons to learn, though I'm not sure if they're lies if we don't intend to deceive ourselves, so much as mistakes we make.

    It's great to meet you, fellow Campaigner!

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  45. @kelworth These aren't the "deceptive" kinds of lies - I think the ones that Lynda wrote are those kind. The ones we use to pretend that the easy path is ok. These are more simply "untruths" that we tell ourselves and yet believe. Thanks for the great comment! :)

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  46. Loved #3. As a lighting designer I always still had a list of notes on opening night. As a writer I have to rein myself in from overwriting something so many times that I squeeze the shine out of it.

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  47. @Leslie A lighting designer (I wanted to read that as lightning designer! LOL) sounds very cool, and like something I would have no clue about. :)

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  48. Lovely post, Susan! :) Am happy to have you in my tribe!

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  49. @damyanti Thank you! And thanks for stopping by! :)

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  50. This post is absolutely inspiring. I struggle with all of these, particularly #4. Even though I have hundreds of small magazine articles published, and one YA short story, I tell myself that these don't count because I didn't get a lot of money for them, and they're not in the Sci Fi genre, blah blah blah.

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  51. @Jen Believe me, I am the queen of "it doesn't count because..." I'm glad you found the post inspiring! We need to allow ourselves to own our accomplishments. (If I keep saying this enough times, maybe I will do it myself!)

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  52. Stina, way above in the comments, said she hasn't told any of these lies--it makes me happy to know there are writers who haven't! That it's possible to avoid these!

    I'm definitely guilty of the first two lies, though, especially the first. But I've never been guilty of the last. I've been a writer just about all of my life. :D

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  53. True words indeed. Despite the temptation, one should never start comparing your self against {insert famous author here}. It's totally self-destructive. All you can do is to try and be the best you can be.

    Thank you for the encouraging post. :)

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  54. @Lauren I know Stina, and she's that rare self-confident writer. One of the things I love about her! :) And I used to tell myself these things, but I don't anymore. There's always hope!

    @JC Comparisons are so natural to do, but you are right, are very destructive. Especially in creative work. And interestingly, that's where people do more "comparing" to each other than other fields...not sure why. But I know when I worked in engineering there wasn't these ideas of "Oh, I'll never be Einstein, I might as well quit now." Just crazy, this writing business. :)

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  55. Wonderful affirmation for writers, Susan.

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  56. This IS a fantastic post! I posted that same video by Ira Glass; it's beautiful!
    It's way too easy to get discouraged, and always good to hear that we need to keep going and remember we can offer something truly unique! :)

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  57. @Kimberly Thanks for checking out the post! I went through and re-read it myself and I think it still applies just as much. I'm glad you liked it! :)

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers