Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part One)

Being a writer's a tough gig. Okay, no, wait: Being a published writer is a tough gig. It's the difference between sitting around in your house and playing guitar merely for your own pleasure – or, maybe, the pleasure of a few friends – and playing on stage in front of an audience. An audience which may or may not have actual people in it and an audience which may or may not even be listening. So you go up on stage and play your heart out and no one responds and you don't really have any idea of how good you were. It's a tough gig.

Because it's so tough, we've come up with little lies to tell ourselves to make the seeming rejection less hurtful, and these lies would be okay if we only told them to ourselves. The problem is that once we've told them to ourselves, we start telling them to each other and, when we start telling them to each other, we inevitably tell them to people who are just starting out, and those lies can really cause problems for people who think they're hearing the truth from people who ought to know it. Then they believe the lies, too.

And that's the real problem: People don't think they're lies. They believe they're telling each other the truth, but it's the same as believing that the world is flat or that man never walked on the moon. Or, you know, that climate change isn't happening. So you have people that mean well, they really do, who are telling people, “Hey, you can't sail your ship off in that direction, because you'll fall off the edge of the world.” Just because you believe it doesn't make it true.

So let's talk a little math and science before we go on.

If you think back to your days in geometry, you might remember these things called postulates. In case you don't, I'll remind you. A postulate is something, in an argument (or a math problem), that we accept as a given. Basically, it is something that is so basic that there is no way to prove it so we just accept it as fact. The classic example is a = a. It's pretty clear that that is true, but, mathematically, there's no way to prove it. It's like using a word to define itself.

[Which reminds me of a funny story. This one time at a “Chinese” restaurant (I say “Chinese” because, clearly, this was not just Chinese) with some friends and my brother, my brother wanted to know what curry is (because they had curry chicken, and he'd never seen curry chicken at a Chinese place), so he asked the waiter, “What's curry?” First, that question confused the waiter. I mean, it confused the waiter a lot. We spent more than a few minutes just explaining the question. Finally, once he understood that my brother wanted to know what curry is, he responded, “Curry is curry!” That's the best answer we could get from him. The only answer. a = a. It was less than helpful.]

The thing that's so insidious about these lies is that we approach them as if they are postulates. Or, to use another word, we treat them as axioms. Un-disputable facts. (Look, I know the word is “indisputable,” but that doesn't really convey the same meaning. I'll use the prefixes the way I want to use them, okay? Okay.) This <thing> is so true that all I need to do is state it and you have to accept it. Period. “The Earth is flat.” Don't look at me like that; for centuries, that fact was indisputable.

The truth is, most of these things are more like hypotheses. And there's your science lesson. A hypothesis is an idea that is then subject to experimentation. The problem with these lies, even as hypotheses, is that they have already been disproven. It's like the Church choosing to cling to the belief that the Earth was the center of the universe even after Copernicus and Galileo had shown that it wasn't. Or like Republicans continually stating that climate change isn't happening (okay, fine, I know this is a non-partisan blog, and I know it's not all Republicans, but give me a break).

So, now that you've had your introduction, next week we'll actually talk about some lies.


  1. I like this setup, especially the comparison to playing the guitar. And the curry story is funny

  2. Er, I think I'm with you and I do know what curry is.

  3. Nigel: You should have been there. My brother would say, "But what is it?" And the waiter would say, "Curry is curry." And they went around like that for at least five minutes.

    Jo: I wonder if my brother ever figured it out to his satisfaction...

  4. I didn't even watch the video, and now I have "Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies" stuck in my head. I think the lyrics are from another song, but that's just how my morning is going.

    Next week, are you going to talk about how "theory" means different things to scientists and laypeople? Just curious.

  5. Sandra: No, that's the one. As I was writing the post, it popped into my head, so I figured I should include it.

    I hadn't really considered talking about that. People usually just don't understand. I have to assume people use it because hypothesis is too long. And hard to pluralize.

  6. I'd like to see SANDRA talk about that because now I feel like I don't know what she means.

    I'm looking forward to the next post. If you tackle as many controversial subjects as you do here, we ought to be flamed by comments about five minutes in. But CAN YOU PROVE THEY LANDED ON THE MOON?

    *see evidence including film footage, rocks, live interviews*


  7. Briane: The short answer is that what most people really mean when they use the word "theory" is "hypothesis" or, even, something that is not quite a hypothesis but just an idea, which is where a hypothesis starts.

    I think my first one is controversial but, then, usually, when I think I have something controversial, no one comments.

  8. Andrew, I'm so happy! Math, geometry, science and CURRY, my favorite of all ethnic foods, all in one post. Good job, man.

    People didn't believe the earth was round until they had enough "evidence" that NOT believing made them look foolish. I don't know if that will happen with lies writers tell, but it may.

    I believe we landed on the moon.
    I believe I will be published one day.
    I believe that hanging out with published authors is a good way to make that happen. I have a lot to learn from your journeys (and sorry, but also any mistakes you make along the way).
    Besides, you are fun to hang out with. Fun is good. So is curry. The reason the waiter couldn't define it is because curry means spice. There are (as YOU probably know) many different versions...

    Tina @ Life is Good
    On the Open Road! @ Join us for the 4th Annual Post-Challenge Road Trip!

  9. ...that subscribing thing I've lost the ability to remember on the first go...

  10. Tina: yeah, I figured you'd like this post. heh
    People tend to refuse to look at the actual evidence or make excuses for it, but we'll get into that more later.
    I doubt the waiter even knew that much about curry. When I was 20, I didn't either, and that's probably about how old he was.

  11. I'll be looking forward to the rest of this series. It's amazing how quickly and obediently many newer or younger writers fall in line with these status quo postulates, and try to shame other writers who don't go along with it.

  12. Carrie-Anne: It is amazing, but that tends to be how people are.

  13. "Or like Republicans continually stating that climate change isn't happening" Sorry, for the discouraging word, but there are too many "oops" in the research that is ignored by the "The Truth is Finished" crowd for this Scientist to ignore. Incidentally, Global Warming is not capital S Science, as you cannot form a hypothesis and TEST the hypothesis.

  14. Terry: That climate change is happening is not a matter of hypothesizing; it's a matter of looking at the data. We can SEE that it's happening. It's like turning the burner on under a pot of water and watching it till it boils. Before you turn the burner on, you could form a hypothesis: I believe that heating this water will cause it to boil. But, once you're watching it happen, that part is not hypothesizing. So the data shows that the average global temperatures have been rising and that the ice caps are melting. Those are FACTS.
    Now, sure, there could be many reasons as to WHY it's happening, and those we don't know completely.
    However, we do know that man has been harming the planet pretty significantly ever since the Industrial Age started. Global Warming or not, we should be more responsible for the place we live.

  15. Great post! I'm looking forward to finding out what the "lies" are, since there are few things in life I prize above truth.

  16. Lexa: You should make sure to read the rest of the series. Parts 2-5 are already on the blog, and part 6 is in this month's Indie Writers Monthly issue.