So, I’d call myself a liar.
Used-to-be outstanding liar, but maybe just above average now. My intentions are never anything more than comedic (or dramatic) relief. We all love drama, and we all lie about that too.
When I was little, I’d come up with intricate stories to cover my ass when I was in trouble or embarrassed (or just to make things interesting, you know?). I had a crush on a boy named Zach when I was ten. He had this ashy kind of blond hair and green eyes that I was obsessed with. I asked him if he wanted to swing with me at recess and he said no. He actually pretty rudely refused and laughed at me with his friends. I remember my throat swelling while I tried to keep the hysterics contained to my stomach.
Both of their faces creased into looks of concern—one full of pity, and the other full of guilt. We were both sent back to class. No punishment.
I didn’t even have a cat.
As I’ve gotten older, the creative foundation of my lies has changed. Nowhere near as dramatic or eccentric, but you know, muscle memory exists.
Because as writers—we’re good liars. And we’re good liars because the industry makes us feel like the books we read, the stuff we write, and our knowledge of all things literary define who we are as potential published authors.
Cue the early stages of imposter syndrome—the syndrome that we’re led to believe we bring upon ourselves, when really our industry is dispersing each and every diagnosis disguised as an acceptance letter.
I can’t say I’ve been in many writing courses where the introductory class doesn’t include a “tell us what you’re reading,” “tell us your favorite book,” or “who’s your favorite author?” type of question.
Not going to lie (even though I did and continue to do)—I’m not usually reading anything new at any of these given times. Do I read new stuff? Of course. But it’s very unlikely I’m reading something new at the beginning of the semester. And god forbid I walk into a fiction writing class and confess that I’m reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the 789th time—I’ll be labeled, skewered, and thrown to the literary wolves. If they want to know what I’m reading at the current moment, I’ve learned to recite, “I’m reading an anthology of short stories right now…”
I am never doing that.
To the question of favorite book, I say “A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway”—because he’s Hemingway, so most will infer that I am, in fact, not a moron. As for favorite author, I give a safe, cliché nod to Jane Austen.
My real favorite author, Sarah Dessen, is a New York Times bestselling author of fourteen Young Adult novels.
As a twenty-eight year old mom, reading YA is at the very least a judgeable offense in the world of graduate level writers. Reading Twilight is probably a punishable offense to all level writers. But I will say, screw The Man; Jacob Black is worth the persecution.
When we’re kids and we lie—it’s because we don’t want to get caught. We want to hide the childish evil that exists deep in our innocent spines. When we’re older and we lie, it’s because we want people to think of us in a certain light—one that isn’t true, but it’s better than the one we have.
As writers, when we struggle with our work, we’re told we might be experiencing imposter syndrome. That we’re being too insecure about our own work to truly see its value—its potential. We then sit in awe at the discovery of a new flaw we never knew we had.
But it’s not a flaw, and it’s not something we bring on ourselves. It’s something we catch from the people we write with and are learning how to write from. The industry diagnoses us with our own self-diagnosis. We’ve been programmed to believe unless we’re reading a new piece of literary fiction every month, we’re failures. Unless we’re writing 500 words three times a week, we won’t be published. Unless we talk about Faulkner and Steinbeck in the classroom, we won’t be taken seriously.
I know that William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying and that’s about it. I can Google pretty much any story imaginable, look up the plot summary and tell you I’ve read it—but do I get it? Do I know what the larger themes are? No. Because I’m lying about reading it because I feel like I’m an imposter in my own program if I don’t. And as the years go on, I’ll have partially (and borderline maniacally) convinced myself that I did in fact read Wuthering Heights when I can tell you—after five attempts and five failures—I have not read Wuthering Heights.
But I will tell you I read it because I’m a writer and that’s what I need to say to keep the worthy writer brand painted across my forehead. I’m a ten-year-old girl again who has to make up stories to be liked—to not be in trouble, to not be judged.
The bright side here? Being a liar makes us better writers. Even if your lies are just arbitrary childhood-inspired fabrications like most of mine. When you have to sit and cleverly come up with a lie, you have to be creative. You have to make people believe you. To make them feel something.
You know, that thing we also have to do as writers.
Take those lies to the page instead.
Hemingway said he wrote every morning, and E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper”—Further rooting the absurdity into our brains that we will never be accomplished writers if we haven’t written something creative in a week because we’ve been busy and haven’t washed our hair in four days and shamefully binge watched You because we’re twenty-something and super failing at that “live in the moment” thing.
I’d be willing to bet that Hemingway and White are liars too—keeping up with the façade that if you’re great, you have to have a great routine, a great library, and a great never-needing-to-stop-for-air brain that can read literary books and write a novel simultaneously before lunch.
I don’t think there is an answer on how to become a great writer, so I don’t think we need to keep lying to our peers. The only reason we’re insecure in our own process (or lack thereof) is because we’ve been told that our own process (or lack thereof) is wrong.
We lie about what we do, how we prepare, how we draft, what we read, who we read, how often we read, (etcetera forever), just so we can fit in with the masses and feel as though we’re doing exactly what everyone else is doing.
Maybe it helps a little to lie, especially when we’re talking to the people who aren’t writers, the ones who don’t understand. But it doesn’t really help unless you’re putting those thoughts—that pressure, those feelings, that fiction—to paper.
Raw vulnerability brings out the best writing. The kind of writing that is special and is a tangible representation of our souls as they truly are, deep within our Harry Potter loving bones. Our real inspirations are going to give us our best writing. The moment we try to adhere to someone else’s version of what a writer should be is the moment we will fail. We will become the statistic the industry so passive aggressively stresses we will be if we don’t overcome the imposter syndrome they coughed in our faces.
So it’s time we accept ourselves—retired liars and all—and write because we want to and because it fuels a magical kind of fire that only us artists can understand. It’s time we take the liar in us all and create something insane with it.
P.S. I never liked a kid named Zach.