The Lie

I was a student in college, trying to make my way in the world and figure out what on earth I wanted to do with my life. I had stories that I wanted to write but was slowly accepting more and more that they wouldn’t be written. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was believing a big lie. That lie convinced me that writing those stories would be a waste of time.

I had the unique opportunity to attend writing lectures by Brandon Sanderson (You may have heard of him). I had applied for the exclusive writing group workshop portion of the class. I thought surely this class would be what I need to make it as a writer.

But alas, I didn’t make it into the class. In all fairness, my submission was awful, and my attitude was more “that’d be a miracle” than “I got this”. But I was still able to attend the lecture portion of the class.

The class was inspiring! I had fantastic stories flowing through my veins that semester. I was learning how to put it all together! Maybe I could do this writing thing. Maybe I could become a writer!

But hidden in the previous paragraphs is that big lie that would end up being my downfall and the downfall of those stories.

I was trying. I was in a writing group and things were going well. But sure enough, once the class was over I stopped writing, stopped seeing my writing group, and normal life took hold again.

I started thinking things like “it’s ok if my writing doesn’t go anywhere” and “this time in my life isn’t right for this.” Perhaps most dangerous of all was the thought: “my stories aren’t good enough anyway.”

And at the root of it all, was that terrible lie. Now let me be clear, this lie still gets me today. I still believe it sometimes, and I’m guessing so do you. What is this big lie? It’s simple:

I’m not a writer.

Yep. Just like that. Sure I was writing. I’d written thousands upon thousands of words. But that wasn’t really writing. My efforts were simply a facade, a mimicry of what real writing looked like. And I believed that no matter what I did, that wouldn’t change. 

You’ve probably felt it too. When that little note you saved on your phone gets forgotten or when you plot out an epic tale on a paper that gets lost and discarded.

You’re probably like me. Surrounded by thousands of words, notes, ideas, doodles, drawings, maps, and worldbuilding details. All things that I’d created, and all the while I stare at it and think “sure would be nice if I was a writer.”

Now, the big key. The big reveal that changed my mind? What caused me to stop believing the lie? It was something Brandon said in that class. He compared writing to learning the violin. 

If you’re learning the violin, you won’t be playing concertos on your first day. More likely, your violin will be begging to be put out of its misery, screeching and squeaking and providing a terrible experience for you, the violin, and everyone in earshot. But that is still playing the violin. Everyone who has ever been a great violinist has started there.

As that lesson came back to me after the class, it clicked. When I wrote, my words begging to be put out of their misery, screeching and squawking and providing a terrible experience for me and for those poor souls who I subjected to those first drafts, that was writing. It all changed because I realized the big lie was a lie.

I am a writer.

I may not be great at it! In fact, quite often I’m pretty bad at it! How great is that! I make tons of errors every day. But I learned that I didn’t have to be great at it all the time, or even most of the time. What I put on the page might be garbage, but it was making me better simply because I had done it.

Every great writer who ever lived went through the same thing. By continuing to try, every once in a while I produced something a bit better than the last chapter, paragraph, or sentence. The more time I spent writing, the more opportunity I had to improve and for truly great ideas and pages to come to me.

Eventually, I finished a novel. It’s terrible and will likely sit in a folder on my computer forever, hidden from the world. But because I finished it, I knew that I could do it. I could write a novel and reach the words “the end”.

A year passed and the time to apply for Brandon Sanderson’s workshop was upon me again. I worked hard, crafted the best piece I could, and submitted it. I got tons of help from my writing friends, mentors, and family. Regardless of the result, I was proud of what I had created. I was a writer, and no one could take that away from me. And then a week later I got an email.

I got in.

It was amazing and confirmed to me that thinking I wasn’t a writer was indeed a lie. I also learned that to do something great, you need to surround yourself with great people. I never would have submitted a quality writing sample if it weren’t for the many people who gave me feedback, advice, and edits to help my work be its best self.

But what I want you to know is this: It’s a lie for you too.

You don’t need some class or workshop as proof that you are a writer. They can be extremely helpful. I recommend learning how to write in any way you can, but not if the reason you are doing so is to prove to yourself that you are a writer. You just need to write. Writing will help you build the habit of writing. That habit will help you keep writing even when you’re convinced that it isn’t worth it. And when you do that, greatness is surely on its way.

What you write will probably be pretty bad at first, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a writer. You are a writer if you write.

As I was finishing my degree, I had a thought. I had found a process that works (most of the time) for me. I had found a way to improve. Then came the question: could there be some way to help other people find their process?

So that is why I started Habit Writing. Because I wanted to share the things I have learned along the way. And, of course, because of you!

Because you are a writer.

As I said, I’m far from perfect. I’m very far from a total expert, but I’ve been diving deep into the psychology of habits and the ways that authors write. I want to share what I learn along the way.

If you came here for a perfect writer to tell you how to be a perfect writer, you came to the wrong place. But if you came here to find someone who is struggling along their writing journey and want a place where you can share your journey, be encouraged in it, and find a community, HabitWriting is the place for you.

Embrace the process, embrace your style, and most importantly, embrace your garbage. Eventually, through drafts and practice, something awesome will come out of it all. And when it does come, and it will, I can’t wait to read it! Let’s get there together.

– Reed Smith