Rejecting Stories

My wife and I have been homeschooling our youngest son for the last few years. In September we mentioned to him that the woman from the state who evaluates him thought that with a little work he’d be ready to take the G. E. D. in another year. He was very excited to hear this, and for the first time since we pulled him out of public school embraced the math, science, and social studies work we gave him. Soon, however, his enthusiasm for this sort of formal study began to wane. He would cut off his math class after fifteen minutes, complaining he’d never use algebra in his daily life. He said the documentaries we found on American History and biology, no matter how well produced, were dull. I reminded him of his desire to pass the G. E. D., but this was ineffectual. Boring is boring, he said, and within a couple months our preparations for the G. E. D. had come to a standstill.

Then, a few weeks ago, my wife and I had a little conversation with him about the G. E. D. “What’s the point in preparing for it?” he asked. “I’m just going to fail it.” And then I understood. Of course his procrastination had nothing to do with the practicality of algebra or boring documentaries. It was that story he was telling himself. Why would anyone do anything if they “knew” they were going to fail? It makes no sense.

He has since returned to his G. E. D. studies for reasons that I will save for another day. But for that stretch when he was not studying for the test he very much wanted to pass, he reminded me of all the writers I knew who were not writing books they wanted to write. Usually these writers will complain about needy children or exhausting jobs, but they will rarely talk about the real reason: the stories they are telling about the stories they want to tell.

Having talked to and worked with hundreds of writers over the last few years, I have concluded that if a person sincerely wants to do something, the only reason they are not doing it is because of the story they are telling themselves. These are stories of impending failure, of lack of talent or of the world not being ready for their genius. We need to reject these stories as if we were editors in a journal of our own. Reject them, and tell only the stories we want to share with the world.

If you have a question, concern, or quibble you’d like addressed in this space, please, feel free to contact me. Answering other people’s question is one of those things that pleases me most.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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