I’m working on a new novel, so I spent time this morning freewriting on my main character’s desire and her misbelief. The misbelief is something that Lisa Cron talks about in Story Genius. John Truby might call it the character’s initial error. Other craft writers might call it a wound or a lie or fear. No matter what you call it, it’s important. You want your character to not only have a strong desire toward something, but you also want to give her something that holds her back in some way. After defining the desire and the misbelief, Cron coaches writers to create three poignant moments in the main character’s back story when the misbelief was cemented for her.
As I was freewriting, it occurred to me that if I were a character in a book my desire and my misbelief would be obvious. What I wanted more than anything in my professional life was to publish a book. But deep inside, I didn’t believe that I was good enough. I didn’t believe it would ever happen.
There were several moments in my writing life that cemented my misbelief. (It should be noted that there were far more moments that encouraged me. For whatever reason, I tended to give the negative messages more weight). In my junior year of high school, I believed that because I was floored by some of my fellow students’ writing, that meant that my writing was no good. I didn’t realize that they simply had a different style than mine and I didn’t believe that I could improve. I thought writing was innate and either I was gifted or I was not. (For more on this error in thought, see this previous post and this talk by Carol Dweck.)
Fast forward to me as an adult. Decades later, I’d finally given myself permission to write and had graduated with an MFA from VCFA. When an editor complimented the second book I wrote but said that it wasn’t strong enough to be a debut, I took her word as fact and stopped querying that book. People told me that the querying process was very subjective, but I didn’t really get it.
More recently, after completing my third novel, I’d queried many agents and received many full requests. And yet, I received no offers of representation. I stopped querying that book. I had been encouraged to query more agents, but I believed that it wasn’t the right time for the book, so I stopped.
Fortunately, I love writing so much that I kept at it even though I didn’t believe a book deal would happen. I love creating stories and characters and figuring out what they will do next and how to make things hard on them. I love the idea of connecting with teens through my stories. Also, I have an incredible writing support system – from my family to my work colleagues to my writing peeps – all of whom remind me to keep at it even when I become discouraged.
Thanks to the fact that my desire was stronger than my misbelief, I did sell my young adult novel. One of my writing friends encouraged me to return to querying and after just and handful of new queries, I was offered representation by an agent who is a great fit for me and my writing. It turns out that I was wrong in the best possible way and that’s what a misbelief is – it’s the thing that tells you can’t, even though you can.
As I get back to freewriting on my character, I’ll keep working on creating a strong desire and a powerful misbelief. But here’s the thing – we aren’t characters in books. We are real, live human beings trying to achieve our dreams. Find your support system. Don’t buy in to your misbelief. Follow your dreams. They tend not to happen on the schedule you’d like, but they often do come true.