21 Things Writers Tell Themselves
This has been an issue, I believe, ever since the first writer ever worked at home.
A general guideline: underwear isn’t pants. That is, you can’t tell yourself, “At least I put on pants today,” if it was just underwear—and no, you shouldn’t sign for a delivery like that.
There’s no shame in working in your skivvies, though. Victor Hugo used to get undressed and have his valet take his clothes away. Be proud; just know that it’s not pants you’ve got on. Now go back to work.
2. All you need to be a writer is talent.
Despite the success of many untalented writers, this myth persists.
No, you need to be persistent, and writing needs to matter above other things. Most often, talent only means that you can do easily what others work hard to achieve—and this almost always means you don’t value it the way others do. You probably don’t even know how you do what you do. Talented people are often very frustrating to work with because they lack good work habits.
If you find you’re talented, learn to work your tail off. And if you’re not (or don’t think you are), work your tail off—persistent people usually learn to do what talented people can do. Also, read on.
3. My talent and its demands protect me from the responsibilities of normal people.
I see this a lot at writers colonies, where I get to the kitchen and someone has just left their dishes despite the ‘please wash your dish’ sign.
While most people still think talent matters more than anything, in my experience, character will doom talent more than most other challenges a writer faces. Certainly, you don’t need to be a good person to write a good book, and what’s more, lots of people who write good books take advantage of others to do so—and they usually find someone who will uncomplainingly do what they will not do. Those dishes in the colony sink are usually an invitation to you to become their next little helper, in fact. Don’t fall for it! Don’t be their helper and don’t be the person who tries to get other people to do your chores. Just be a person. Do your dishes, take out the garbage, say “I’m sorry,” text people back, do some of the grocery shopping and so on.
Because even if you can find someone who will do everything you require to make sure you can write and ask for nearly nothing from you in return, just watch Kathy Bates in Misery, or read Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives to see how that turns out. That little helper will punish you for it eventually.
4. I’m almost done.
You just want to be done, which is completely different from almost being done. Usually you can’t know, though, until you get to the end.
5. When I’m not engaged in the process of writing, I’m thinking about writing, therefore I am writing.
Well… most likely you’re blocked.
Caveat: If you’re Edward P. Jones you may not be. I heard him speak at the Wesleyan Writers’ Conference a few years ago and he said he spent most of the years working on The Known World watching DVDs and thinking about his characters, living in an apartment with no furniture. He wrote most of it near the very end of that time after a lot of thinking. But he really was thinking about his characters, getting to know his characters. If your brain works this way, then yes, your thinking about writing counts as writing. Otherwise, write.