The Facts vs. The Story You Tell Yourself
As an agent, I spend a lot of time talking writers through the obstacles and difficulties — both tangible and emotional — of a publishing career. We’re constantly making important decisions together and solving problems.
One thing that persistently thwarts a writer’s ability to stay positive and optimistic is the tendency to see a set of facts and then construct a “story” from those facts — a story that isn’t objectively true.
Like a set of blocks that can be used to build an infinite number of structures, a set of facts can be interpreted in numerous ways (although with the facts, some interpretations are correct and others aren’t.)
Here are some examples to illustrate what I mean:
Fact: An unpublished author has been querying agents for a couple of years with no success.
Story: “I’m a terrible writer and will never be published.” Alternate story: “The publishing industry is full of idiots who can’t recognize a good book.”
More positive and probably truer stories: “I haven’t yet hit my stride as a writer,” or “I haven’t yet found the right outlet to publish my work.”
* * *
Fact: A published author is notified that their publisher doesn’t want to renew their contract.
Story: “My writing career is over.”
A better story: “It’s time for me to talk with a trusted adviser (my agent), see if we can identify the reason for this change, and come up with a new plan for continuing my writing career.”
* * *
Fact: An author has received news from the agent that a publisher has agreed to buy their book; but a month later, there is still no contract.
Story: “The publisher is going to change their mind! I’d better panic!”
The true story: “Publishers sometimes take an unreasonably long time to generate a contract, and once the agent receives the contract, the negotiation process can take days or weeks. There is no reason to panic. It is exceedingly rare for a publisher to make an offer on a book, then pull the offer before contract.” (In fact, I’ve never once seen this happen.)
When faced with a set of facts, we tend to tell a story that’s negative rather than positive. Perhaps we’re trying to keep from getting our hopes up.
We also tend to construct a story that confirms something we already believe — or at least suspect is true. Since virtually all writers suspect they’re no good and will never find success in publishing, be aware that your tendency will be to create a negative story that confirms your probable lack of success as a writer.
The fact vs. story test can be applied to countless situations. If you find yourself frustrated about the path you’re on or something that has happened, simply ask yourself: What are the facts of this situation? And what is the story I’ve constructed? Could there possibly be a different story that is more true than the one I’m believing?
If you find yourself making up a negative story because you honestly don’t know a truer or more positive story, take the time to think about it, ask questions, do some digging and try to find a better answer.
What false stories have you constructed for yourself lately? What were the facts that led you there? What’s a better story you can tell?