One way we develop our characters is by figuring out their false belief: What lie do they tell themselves? Following Michael Hauge’s advice, the answer to this question usually comes down to what a character believes due to their backstory wound.
For example, a character might be hurt so badly in an ugly breakup that they believe they’re unlovable. The wound—the bad breakup—colors their perception and worldview so they expect that no one will appreciate or love them. Instead of the stereotypical rose-colored glasses, they’re looking at the world through blue-colored glasses to match their mopey perspective.
Now the fun thing about my near-minor in psychology is that when I learn a cool character development element like that, I also think about how it applies in the real world. *smile* Just like our characters, we tend to hold false beliefs and lie to ourselves as well.
Several months ago, I shared an image on Facebook with this quote:
The biggest lie I tell myself is
“I don’t need to write that down—I’ll remember it.”
Oh boy, is that ever the case. I’ve mentioned before that I have a very good photographic-type memory, to the point that it’s hard for me to gain enough distance on my stories. Setting my work aside for a month doesn’t do the trick. Maybe a year would be long enough. Luckily, however, my memory is useful more often than not.
But if I don’t write something down? There are no notes to visualize in my mind so that photographic memory is worthless. Worse than worthless, in fact, because of the false belief that my memory is that good in all situations.
We All Tell Ourselves Lies
We fill our lives with little lies like that. Telling ourselves that something doesn’t matter, isn’t important, even when it is important and it does matter.
As writers, we’re often plagued by self-doubt, and that adds to the lies. We might tell ourselves that our words aren’t special. That we’re a nobody. That we don’t matter.
Just like our characters though, we can change. And the first step to any change is to realize there’s a problem. *smile*
We Can Change Our Internal Monologue
I’m starting to get over the lie of thinking my memory is good in all cases and all situations. Anytime I catch myself thinking that I don’t need to write something down, I think of the dozens of things I’ve forgotten since breakfast. *grin*
However, I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t consciously aware of my false belief. I’m still nowhere close to “cured”—as those dozens of things forgotten since breakfast attest—but at least I’m better about writing down the important things.
With the typical self-doubt of writers, I could probably come up with several more lies I tell myself, but I haven’t consciously acknowledged those. Without that awareness, I can’t do anything to change those scripts in my head.
To follow the lead of our characters and improve ourselves, we first have to recognize the lies we tell ourselves.
What Lies Do We Tell Ourselves?
The biggest, most common lie we probably tell ourselves is:
“I can’t do that.”
Maybe we’re referring to getting on social media, or blogging, or public speaking. Maybe we’re talking ourselves out of a risk in our stories or characters or queries. Maybe we’re putting ourselves down as far as our capabilities and therefore limiting our options for writing or querying or publishing paths.
Fine, maybe we can’t actually do abc. But have we tried? Have we tried more than once? Have we tried and succeeded a bit but ignored that progress to concentrate only on the aspects we didn’t make progress on?
Other common lies we might tell ourselves include:
- We’re not worthy of…
- We (or our writing) aren’t good enough.
- We don’t deserve…
- We (or our writing) aren’t unique or special enough.
- It’s too risky to try to…
- We don’t have a choice.
- Our worth is determined by our success.
- We’re too old to…
- If we ignore this problem, it will go away.
- We don’t need help to…
- It never works when we do…
- We’re not xyz enough to do…
- We’ll never succeed/be published/improve/etc.
- Our circumstances (family, day job, etc.) are what’s holding us back.
- Our dreams are too unrealistic.
- If we follow our heart, everything will work out.
- We don’t have time to…
- We don’t need to say “no”—we have time to…
Obviously, some of those contradict, or at least they might seem to contradict on the surface. Like the bottom two examples, we might tell ourselves we don’t have time to write, but we might also say “yes” to too many things because we’re not comfortable saying “no.”
Or the three examples above those contradict as well. Sometimes our circumstances really are holding us back, and sometimes our dreams are unrealistic, and sometimes following our heart can get us into trouble. Just like with our writing, we have to find a balance between confidence and being open to reality, between sacrifice and reward.
So sometimes those lies are actually the truth. But if we know what false beliefs we tend to fall back on time-after-time, we might have better insights into which situation is more likely true.
How Can We Overcome Our Lies?
As I mentioned above, the first step is being aware of what we’re telling ourselves. We can see what bullet points in that list above look a little too familiar. Then we can think about how that lie affects our life.
Back in my post about how we can show our characters’ false beliefs, I listed several ways those lies will affect our characters’ lives. If we look again, we could probably recognize how those lies might affect our lives too, such as:
- Filtering: Magnifying the negative and ignoring the positive
Dwelling on events that prove our belief right and glossing over those that prove us wrong.
Get a negative review? Don’t forget about all the positive reviews. One negative review shouldn’t outweigh ten positive reviews.
- Polarized Thinking: Seeing things in black-or-white
Deeming any attempt to overcome a flaw a failure if it doesn’t turn out perfectly.
Get feedback that our work wasn’t perfect? Don’t forget about what we did right. Maybe our characterization could use work, but our showing was great, or vice versa.
- Overgeneralization: Basing conclusions on single piece of evidence
Picking out a single word, act, or event to reinforce belief.
Someone doesn’t like our story? That doesn’t mean no one would like our story. Writing and reading are completely subjective.
- Personalization: Taking everything as a direct reaction to them
Seeing ourselves and our flaw as the cause for everything others do or say.
Get a rejection? That doesn’t mean they don’t like us. For all we know, they just signed a new author in our genre and don’t feel comfortable taking on another one right now.
Once we know and recognize the script, we can change it. Or we can learn to ignore it. Or we can stomp on it with an attitude of:
“If someone offered me a million dollars to prove that lie wasn’t true, could I do it?”
Could we find the time? Could we not let our age or self-doubt or whatever hold us back? Could we take risks?
I don’t know about you, but I could probably overcome a lot of those scripts if someone offered me a million dollars. And that’s how we know they’re lies. If we can overcome them with the proper motivation, it’s the lie that’s holding us back, not the content of the lie.
All that said, change is hard. I recognize myself in several of those lies above (“If we ignore this problem, it will go away.”—Gah! Yes. So much yes.), and I still haven’t been able to overcome that false belief. It’s easier to believe the lie sometimes than to go through the effort to change.
But maybe I’ll start thinking about that million dollars perspective. Could I do whatever I’m dreading for a million dollars? Yes? Then I should at least have the courage (and awareness) to admit what I’m dreading instead of lying to myself about the “solution” of ignoring it.
I suppose if my characters can find that courage to overcome their flaws, I should be able to as well. Let’s see if we can write ourselves a happy ending. *smile*
What lies do you tell yourself? How do those lies affect your life? Are you able to recognize when you tell yourself some of the lies? Have you been able to overcome any of your false beliefs? How did you do overcome the lie?Pin It