Storytelling: 5 Stories I Tell Myself When I Write

MikeachimWriting14 Comments

This is a post about the lies I tell myself when I’m writing.

So I think it’s quite fitting that for the whole of this article I’m going to liberally swap out the word “me” (or the letter “I”) for the word “you”. It’s nothing personal, and I’m not suggesting you’re as much of a procrastinating warzone of neuroses as I am. (Although if you’re a writer, you probably are).

Anyway, let’s begin. The sooner I get this over, the sooner I can claw back some professional credibility.

Stories, then.

If you write, you’re a storyteller of some kind.  The problem with that is that you’re also good at telling yourself stories, and sometimes, they’re propaganda released by your insecurities, your fickle self-destructive nature and your bone-idle lazy-assed inner you that just wants to sit in a corner and whine about how It’s Just Not Fair, Generally.

Here are 5 stories you tell yourself every day – even though you know they’re pure, steaming zonkey-shit.

1. “I’m not in the mood”

This is born of presuming you’re here to create Great Art – something so astoundingly memorable it will make people weep (and not in the Stephenie Meyer way). But you’re almost certainly not here to do that today. If it’s a day like any other, you’re here to hammer out a set number of words that create a piece of writing that’s just about good enough for the job at hand. Nothing more. Just good enough. It’s almost certainly not a day for making the defining work of your career – which is a good job, because you’ll be able to write something even better tomorrow.

(But only if you write something today).

Your mood is irrelevant. People don’t take days off their dayjobs because they’re “not in the mood” (or if they do, they lie about it and say they were “not feeling very well” – and why the hell would you lie to yourself like that? Weirdo).

This is a creative job. You’re not here primarily to have fun – you’re here to make fun. In creative professions (read: professions), having fun is a byproduct of making fun, and it’s something you manufacture, sweatily.

Mood’s a thing for cattle and love play, not fighting!

– Gurney Halleck, Dune.

The war on Resistance will never be won – and every single morning, the first assault on your defenses comes with the skirling battle-cry “You’re Not In The Mood!”.

“Dawn’s golden fingers caressed the”…..no. “The glowing orb of”….NO. “Across the hushed Orcadian landscape, a massive distant ball of luminous”….oh for GOD’S…. “The sun rose, and I’m starting to wish it hadn’t.”

2. “My Writing Sucks”

Yes. It sucks (or “sux”, if you insist on being “contemporary” ie. illiterate). It’s dreadful, appalling, sickening, vile.

But let’s be fair and objective. Let’s put your writing next to something by Saul Bellow for a second, or Michael Paterniti, or John Steinbeck, or Malcolm Gladwell, or Alain de Botton.

Done that? Let’s take a look…

OH SWEET BABY JEEBUS, MY EYES JUST DIED.

And I think my brain just threw up on itself.

Yes, you’re a worthless writer. You are absolutely the most worthless hack in the history of human language. You are to creative writing what Todd Akin is to gynaecology.

In comparison to your writing heroes/heroines, your work is rubbish.

OK, here’s a good question: why? I’m serious. Tell me why their writing is better than yours, specifically.

Come on – don’t get mystical, get practical. Point to exactly what they did that worked better than exactly what you did. If you can’t, it’s worth spending some time doing this (don’t worry, this is work ). Pull that writing apart, until you can see what they did and how it affected you. There are tricks and techniques in there. Writing is a human construct – a machine built with words, designed to deliver information. Want to know how machines work? Take them apart. Start to do that now, and keep doing it until it’s done. Understand it, not as a piece of Art that simultaneous makes you want to sing from the rooftops and get drunk in a gutter, but as a thing of pieces uncomplicated enough to understand in themselves.

Get down to the level where magical “talent” is suddenly little more than a collection of practical skills, employed brilliantly.

Next – think about how you might be able to build something similar – because if you have any ability to improve, you can do that, right?

OK. Here’s the kicker. Put your writing next to some of your writing from this time last year.

Well, look at that. It seems you are improving. There’s hope for you yet.

3. “I Just Need To Do A Few Things First”

No, I’m pretty sure you don’t.

Be honest – do you find those “things” usually take up a few hours? Or the whole morning? Or most of the day?

Also, why do you need to do them first? If they were legitimate things you needed to do, you’d just gone ahead and done them, instead of “realising” you need to do them. You would have known yesterday that you needed to do them, and got up a bit earlier to fit them in.

Nice try – but you’re staying put.

Caesar didn’t have access to social media – and he ended up being stabbed to death by his friends. Worth thinking about.

4. “Social Media Is A Necessary Evil”

Here’s a pattern. Recognise it?

(a) Full-blown jittery smacked-off-your-head social media addiction – a Liking, Stumbling, link-sharing automaton fuelled by coffee, Red Bull and the testicle-icing fear of missing out.

(b) Self-disgust (at breached deadlines, projects gathering dust, frayed personal relationships etc.)  manifesting as a knee-jerk compulsion to shut your accounts down and get the hell off the Internet forever.

(c) And back to (a), except with much less willpower and a lingering feeling of being on a leash.
It is incredibly easy to blame technology.

Facebook is ruining society and actual, genuine friendships. Twitter is turning us into self-promoting jackasses. LinkedIn is making us give ourselves fancy titles that we even use on our loved ones (“Next time you speak about me to our neighbours I would appreciate it if you remembered I am a Sports Media Evangelist, darling”) . The Internet is turning us into biological support systems for pointless virtual meeting-places; we are the bio-batteries of social media. Our attention spans are ruined, our mouse-clicking finger joints are more developed than our biceps, and we’re all instantly-gratified into a tranquil alpha state of moronic repetitive behaviour that is ripping the bottom out of our lives. The Matrix is finally upon us, and we really Like it.

In most cases, the reaction to this feeling is Cold Turkey – again and again and again and again. When these experiments in digital self-flagellation are done right, the participants are trying to change their own habits to see what happens. When they’re done wrong (in that sly, luddite way that rails against The Fruits Of This Terrible Generation Of Young People)…it’s the technology that gets all the stick. The story is this: for our own sakes, we need to get offline and get real, the way people were before computers started stealing our souls.

People love this story. (Including, I’m ashamed to say, myself).

And yet the solution is so very simple. It really is. Ready?

You stop regarding social media as something you “keep up with”.

You just can’t. Ever. It will never, ever happen. You don’t even have a fraction of the neurological bandwidth. Too many articles to read, too many unmissable news stories, too many things to read and watch and listen to. There will always be too much at any given time, and beating yourself up about that is childish, angsty, self-indulgent nonsense. Accept this now at a core level, and let social media go.

Now – get back on social media immediately. You’ve got a job to do, and it’s this: following people.

Narrow down your social media streams – either by unfollowing and unfriending or using lists and filters, unsubscribing to feeds you never read, hacking into your bookmarks, decluttering and pruning and mucking out until suddenly, you’re listening and chatting to the people you truly identify with. Broadcast as widely as you like, but don’t fool yourself into trying to interact like that.

And start regarding your digital realm as a physical one. Get rid of your clutter. It’s clearly stressing you out. Narrow it down to the things that make your time on the Internet feel worthwhile – the people you dig, the ideas that thrill you, everything worthy and good and useful. Pick the best for yourself.

And the rest? Ditch it.

It’s an unnecessary evil.

5. Nobody Will Care About Your Story

Wait – do you care?

You do? Well, there you go. You were wrong about this even before your story left the confines of your own head!

Right now, you are officially the least reliable critic of your work in the entire world. So then, you’d be wise to not listen to another damn think you say. Instead, just sit here until it’s done so you can publish it or send it off to other people whose opinions are bound to be more trustworthy, to people who will give you genuinely useful feedback (even if you disagree in your own sucky, unreliable way) that allows you to have a good, long, dispassionate think, with a clearer, less compromised head.

But for now?

You have everything you need to write your story.

And if everyone hates it? You’re clearly a Misunderstood Genius. You can put that as your title on your LinkedIn profile! Maybe with a thumbnail of yourself looking Artistic ie. really manky and unkempt! It’ll be awesome.

But you can’t be a glorious artistic failure until you’ve written your story – so just damn well KEEP WRITING.

  • Rich P

    “sing from the rooftops and get drunk in a gutter”.

    I want to do this.

    • Mikeachim

      As if you haven’t?

      Pull the other one, Purves.

      • Rich P

        Not at the same time…

  • Sharon

    Huh. My response to this demands drinks AND cake. Put this on the list of topics for when we meet.

  • I would try to write a clever comment here but given that I’d be comparing it to the above post and I don’t want my eyes to die (I’ll be needing them today), I’ll just thank you for the laughter this morning. The Todd Akin analogy was perfection!

  • I am speechless and wordless after this tower of truth.

  • pam

    So, Mike. Some inversions are true, too.

    We tell ourselves our writing is GENIUS so we don’t have to work at it, or some times, GOOD ENOUGH, when we’re just being lazy.

    Or, and maybe this is for us bloggy types, we convince ourselves people DO care, immediately, when we have not given them a reason to. We assume they care and we publish away nary a thought for our audience, imagining ourselves interesting by default, when we’re just boring angsty writer types, or worse, almost entirely self involved.

    I agree with you, but also, I am contrarian and agree with the inverse of some of the statements too.

    Now, get back to work.

  • Pingback: I edited all my words away « cresting the words()

  • I could have written this post, I feel all of these and so may more.

  • i’m working on number four at the moment.

  • You really hit the nail on the head with this one. I think I’ve told myself each of these stories at least once in relation to my writing. I’m particularly bad about the first story you listed; I don’t feel “in the zone” right away, so I give up. Then I remember that writing is like practicing an instrument (as a musician, this analogy works well for me). Even if you don’t feel like practicing, playing your instrument is something you need to do every day. Writing is the same way; once you get past the fallacy of needing to be in a “writing mood” and you accept that it’s something you need to practice every day, the words seem to flow with much more ease.

  • “why do you need to do them first? If they were legitimate things you needed to do, you’d just gone ahead and done them, instead of “realising” you need to do them.” I SO can apply this to me just about every day ;)

  • haha brilliant!!

  • Been reading your blog for a while now and each post has great and thoughtful insights. Amazingly, each and every one of them is just as good as the last one… Well on!