One of the great things about being an author, besides the millions of dollars you get for your debut novel, is the privilege of claiming that your negative personality traits are actually vital to your craft. To get you started, here are five common bad traits that writers can easily justify.
Also known as “lying,” but embellishment sounds classier, doesn’t it? As a writer, you have a keen sense of what makes a good story… and sometimes the truth just doesn’t cut it. (And sometimes it does: see Gossip, below.) So if you’re right in the middle of regaling everyone with the tale of how you met Johnny Depp and your friend pipes up that it was just an actor in the Pirates of the Caribbean area of Disneyland, remember: you’re not lying. You’re working on your craft (specifically, narration and pacing).
My aunt taught me this trick on one of her visits. I was in another room when I overheard her telling my roommate that I’d failed my driver’s test six times before finally passing. I stormed into the room to correct her–after all, I failed twice, let it be known! But she just laughed at my outrage and said, “Yes, but six makes a better story, doesn’t it?”
“And they all lived happily every after” is the end of the story, not the middle. Without conflict, readers have no reason to turn the page. So if this instinct to find the drama in everyday situations spills over into real life, you’re hardly to blame, right? Sure, your mother may have simply forgotten to sign your birthday card because she was in a rush or distracted… but maybe it was because she’s passive-aggressively punishing you for taking so long to potty-train. And come to think of it, she always did like your sibling better, right? Now there’s a story!
So the next time you’re accused of making mountains out of molehills, you can reply, “Exactly. Because who would pay money to go see a molehill?” (Or you can say, “Why are you always so mean to me?” and collapse into a dramatic, sobbing heap. Both approaches work.)
Also known as “part of the creative process,” procrastination is endlessly justifiable. Disciplined writers may tell you that “butt in chair = pages”–which is true–but there are tons of ways to justify your procrastination: maybe your muse is silent. Or your subconscious is busy mulling over the story and you don’t want to interrupt the process until it’s done. Or perhaps your office is a mess and it’s impossible to organize your thoughts until you’ve organized everything else, right down to your pens and paper clips. In any case, the dog needs a walk and the cat is napping on your keyboard, so writing will have to wait.
Note: I am writing this blog post rather than doing my taxes, which are already late. But I figure I should get some points for writing to procrastinate rather than procrastinating about writing, right?
Some may consider this a subset of procrastination, but it can be an art of its own. Daydreaming can range from your average head-in-the-clouds musing about life to wild fantasies about how you’ll spend the millions of dollars you earn as a famous novelist. And it’s productive: by coming up with all sorts of possible (if unlikely) ideas, you’re giving your imagination a good workout.
Come now, how are you supposed to write convincingly about other people’s lives if you’re not constantly sticking your nose into their business? And what better way to learn about different personalities and voices than to befriend a variety of people, especially the ones that like to tell you their life story? It’s not petty gossip, it’s serious character study! But be discreet, or you may find your friends clamming up when you’re around.
An aside: One day, you will construct a single character out of the personalities of three of your friends, and none of them will recognize themselves–but a completely different friend will be absolutely convinced that the character is based on him. You will never be able to convince him otherwise.
Ok, I’m off to do my taxes… but if you need an excuse to avoid your work-in-progress, go ahead and leave your own favourite “writer trait” in the comments!