For a long time, I lied to myself about being a writer by telling myself things like “writers are poor,” “you can’t make a living as a writer,” and “writing novels isn’t a career option.”
And these lies writers tell themselves (aka: limiting beliefs) were holding me back from being the writer I dreamed of being.
It’s true that as writers, we often have limiting beliefs we operate under, most of the time subconsciously. But there are five specific limiting beliefs that are not only untrue, but that will also keep you from reaching your writing dreams.
The 5 Lies Writers Tell Themselves
1. Because I’ve Read a Novel I Can Write a Novel
Um, no. Writing a novel is not intuitive, especially not at first. Being good at it requires years of studying storytelling and the craft of writing a story.
It’s like when you dine at a fancy restaurant. Your meal comes out looking like art on a plate. The taste is divine, almost indescribable. But you wouldn’t then go home and think you could recreate it in your kitchen. If you did, you’d soon find that it’s not as easy as it looks. That’s because what you saw and tasted on the plate was years of experience, practice, and studying the art and craft of cooking.
Same goes for writing a novel. What you see in the finished product on the shelf is backed by a team of people with years of experience and practice in the art and craft of storytelling. So stop telling yourself it’s as easy as it looks. It’s not.
2. I Can Do Whatever I Want in My Story
Yes and no. Depends what your goal is. If your goal is to get published, telling yourself this lie will land your manuscript in the slush pile.
If you don’t care about finding readers, well, then I guess you can feel free to do whatever you want. Just don’t expect to achieve the results you’re looking for.
3. I Can Do It All Myself
You can’t do it all yourself. And writing and publishing in a vacuum will set you up for total disaster.
You need to have outside feedback and opinion, eventually, if you want to publish a book that’s worth publishing. Whether that’s an editor, beta readers, a critique group, or another writer friend, you have to put your story out there and get feedback. Feedback will help you make your story better, and point you in the right direction when you veer off course.
This is your writing career, so don’t skimp. You’re worth the investment needed to acquire the support and feedback you need to put your best work out into the world.
4. Anything Counts as a Story
No, no it doesn’t. A story is a very specific thing.
It’s often said that conflict is story, but that’s not totally right. Because a story doesn’t just have conflict, a story has stakes. It has a goal. It has a vicarious experience for the reader.
A story is a protagonist who wants something, an antagonist who wants to oppose what the protagonist wants, and a journey that ensues because of it.
Anything less than that isn’t really a story.
5. Process Lacks Creativity
This is the biggest lie of all. Telling yourself this lie will keep you stuck in neutral for years, spinning your wheels without really getting anywhere.
I defer to the following quote from T.S. Eliot when a writer tells me this lie:
When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost—and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.
Creativity and process go hand-in-hand and work together to help you create a cohesive story that keeps a reader turning pages ’til the end.
Creativity is great, in theory. But when it’s applied to something with inherent structure, like a story, it pushes your creative boundaries and forces you to think in totally different ways.
That’s where breakthroughs come from.
I like to think of it this way: if you tell yourself you need to sit down and write, you’ll likely stare at a blank page for a while before you know what to write. But if you’re told you need to write a 500-word short story that focuses on finding a solution to a problem, you’ll be off and running, your mind buzzing with possibilities.
That’s because you’re being given a framework to work within, and your mind likes the puzzle.
So don’t shun process by telling yourself this lie. Study storytelling, learn story structure, practice implementing it in your own stories.
Your writing career will thank you for it.