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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Are You Lying about Your Writing? To Yourself?

As Lisa Cron, author of the fabulous writers’ guides Wired for Story and Story Genius, explains in her TEDx Talk, our brains evolved to attend to, engage in and learn from stories. The title of her first book is literal: we are wired for story.

Your brain is a fabulous storyteller. You make up more stories than you will ever know. We make up stories to make sense of the world. Most of the stories we invent are useful, accurate representations of reality. But not always.

Sometimes, you invent stories that don’t accurately represent reality. Sometimes, the story you’re telling yourself gets in the way of doing the writing you want to do.

When you don’t consciously know why you did something – and let’s face it, as much as and maybe more than 98% the brain’s activity is below or beyond our conscious awareness, so most of the time your cortex doesn’t have a clue why you’re doing what you’re doing – your cortex makes up a plausible story to explain the behavior.

Scientists call this confabulating. Your cortex calls it reality.

Liar, Liar, Don’t You Know Your Pants Are on Fire?

liar-liar-pants-on-fireLying is intentionally saying something you know is not true. Confabulating is saying something you believe is true, but in fact is not true.

Confabulating is a symptom of several different neurological disorders. The stories a diseased brain invents are obviously untrue to others.

But healthy brains also confabulate, and they do it so subtly that most people can’t see it.

In a study on “choice blindness” at the University of Lund in Sweden, researchers showed their test subjects – both men and women – photos of two young women and asked the subjects to select the most attractive photo.

You’d think that when the researchers used magician’s sleight of hand to secretly switch the photos so that the subjects were asked to explain why they chose Photo A, when in fact they had just chosen Photo B, the subjects would notice the switch. I know I’d notice, wouldn’t you?

But results showed that in 75% of the trials, the participants were blind to the mismatch. What’s more interesting is that, not only were a large number of participants were clueless of the switch, when allowed to take a longer look at their choice, they were able to make up a detailed explanation for why they chose that face when originally, they actually rejected it. (read more…)

How Writers Fill the Explanation Vacuum

correctionsYou intend to show up for your writing, but you don’t. Why not?

Before you rehearse the usual stories you tell to explain not showing up, consider this strong possibility: you don’t know.

Resistance to writing is often triggered by memories we’re not consciously aware of: big, red marks your third-grade teacher left on your homework, or the TA who ridiculed your writing in Freshman Comp, or the time your sister read your journal without permission, or…

Your cortex can’t tolerate an explanation vacuum. Faced with admitting you don’t know, your cortex becomes a slightly more benign version of Dr. Suess’s Grinch. Instead of “He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick,” your cortex makes up a confabulation and it makes it up quick.

“If I’m not writing, there must be an explanation and that must be…”

Nearly all the explanations you have for not writing (I’m lazy, something came up and I couldn’t, I don’t have will power, I need to clean my office before I start, I must not want it enough, I write best under a deadline, I can only write in this particular coffee shop and it was closed…) are confabulations.

Explanations for why we aren’t writing make as much sense as the explanations for why the unchosen photo is the most attractive. But we believe them anyway.

Question the stories you tell yourself (and not just about writing). Instead of assuming the story is true and the reason is reasonable, consider the high probability that you don’t have a clue why you’re not showing up the way you want to show up.

Fortunately, you don’t have to know why you’re resisting your writing, you only have to know how to effectively respond to the resistance. (More about that in our next post.)

For now, try telling letting the explanation vacuum suck you into writing: “There’s no reason not to write, so I guess I go write…”

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6 Comments on “Are You Lying about Your Writing? To Yourself?”

  1. Michaeline Duskova April 29, 2017 at 3:46 am #

    I love that last paragraph particularly. I was in the writing mood, anyway, and just goofing around before starting, when that last sentence tipped me over the top. There’s no reason not to write, so I guess I will. (-: Our blog, Eight Ladies Writing, has Friday prompts that I try to do regularly, but haven’t been able to do for a few weeks. Well, I managed to post in the comment section today! I think I might even finish this prompt.

    https://eightladieswriting.com/2017/04/28/elizabeth-friday-writing-sprints-the-traveler-edition/ (If you don’t like the link, please feel free to remove it. I’m just pleased as punch you could help me today.)


    • rosannebane May 1, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

      Thanks for sharing the link, Michealine. and for letting me know the last paragraph of my post inspired you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. emmajamesonbooks April 27, 2017 at 8:10 pm #

    Very interesting indeed. I look forward to the next part.


  3. Joel D Canfield April 27, 2017 at 8:23 am #

    This is so easy to forget. Since I’ve struggled with my writing more in the past year than ever before I think I need to get your book out again.

    Looking forward to the next article.


    • rosannebane May 1, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

      Thanks Joel! Struggle is often a sign that something significant is unfolding. Happy struggles!


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