Sunday, April 21, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Lie to Yourself

Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird talks about Radio Station KFKD, that voice in your head that whispers (or sometimes shouts) an endless stream of self-doubt.  In order to be a writer, you have to at least temporarily shut that radio station off.  You have to trust yourself.

Easier said than done.

Sometimes it feels like that station is playing on a radio that runs with zero electricity, has a broken volume dial, and is hidden up in the neighbor's tallest tree.  And the neighbor has vicious dogs.

Here's one technique that I use for shutting off KFKD:

Lie to Yourself

I promise myself that no one will ever see the story that I'm working on.  It's only a draft -- my secret draft -- and none of the words I write will be in the final version.  The plot won't be the same.  The characters won't be the same.  All these words are merely placeholders until the real words can come along.  But I have to get the placeholders there so that the real words have a place to go.

In other words, I lie to myself.

Oh, to a certain extent it's true.  I will revise.  A lot will change.  But some of it won't, and I know that.  But promising myself that the words are secret is sometimes enough to trick my brain into cooperating.  It makes it okay to make mistakes because no one will ever see the horror of the secret draft.  It makes the draft safe.

I know writers who take it further and tell themselves that they're writing a secret book just for themselves.  They won't ever show it to their agent, their editor, or even their pet guinea pig Marbles.  And a part of them knows the entire time that that's not true and they'll try to publish it, but they lie to themselves to fool the radio station, to make the draft safe, to give themselves permission to experiment and play.

In other words, the lie can set you free.

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At 10:19 AM, Blogger Kaye M. said...

I have never even thought of doing this. Stupid, I know, but KFKD always fools me: "You want to be published, right? You want an agent, right? Then polish this off on the first round - YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO. And who would want those rotten words from you, anyway?"

I like to think of it as my own evil, slinky Mata Hari - right there in my head. Or maybe just a mean teenage girl.

This makes a lot of sense, though. <3

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is brilliant, brilliant advice! I've been struggling with my WIP (it's a sequel to my debut novel and the very first thing I've written under contract) and this post made me realise why... I've been too aware that it's going to be read (at least by my agent and editor). Thanks so much, Sarah. *commences lying*

At 4:03 PM, Blogger Jazz said...

I like this. I can do that. Thank you!

At 11:34 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Kaye: Love the idea of picturing KFKD as a person... and then shoving that person out the door.

Sarah: So glad it helped! One of my favorite tricks is to open a new file and name it something innocuous like "dinner" or "argument" while I draft it and then, if and only if I like it, copy it into the full draft. Makes the scene feel secret and safe even if the overall project is under contract.

Jazz: Happy to hear that!

At 1:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I had been never do this to me.

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At 11:53 PM, Blogger rain bow said...

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