On Mendacious Self-Images

I think mendacious might be my word of the moment.  Not because I am being mendacious, but I keep using it stories.  I love how it sounds, as if it might mean something lovely, and then . . . it doesn’t.  It means someone or something is lying, untrue to appearances.  A mendacious word in itself.

Apart from mendacious characters in my novel, I’ve been fighting a trough in my self-image as a writer.  That is to say, the part of me that (totally unhelpfully, it has to be said) thinks about whether I am any good at the work I want to accomplish in life currently thinks the answer to that is no.

You know, the voice that either says you are the most awesome thing ever, or the one that says you are so bad you should just hide all your writing from the light of day, let alone anyone else’s eyes, and go off and do something else that doesn’t involve words.  Anne Lammott calls this Radio K-FCKD.  When it comes to that fear common to many academics that they are actually frauds, my dad calls it the PhD police.

I don’t worry so much about this in gardening.  I know I can weed.

But writing, oh, writing.  I literally cannot judge whether my writing is any good when I’m at either peak or trough of the oscillation.  Sometimes in the middle I can look clearly on my writing, or at least I think I can, at which point I make edits that usually work later on as well.  I’ve learned just to ride it out, to keep plugging away at the project regardless of the inner voice suggesting it is brilliant or absolute drek.  Eventually work silences the criticisms, and you come out with something . . . good or bad is hard to say, but it’s done.

And I’ve realised I am improving.  When I was at my parents’ house over Christmas I was looking through some old boxes and found early versions of my novel.  Some of them are from ten or eleven years ago, and I was both embarrassed and pleased to see how bad they were.  Embarrassed, because I thought they were good at the time.  Pleased, because I could see that no matter how bad I think my current stuff is at times, it’s certainly better than that.

The PhD police aren’t coming to take my degree away.  My writing is not as good as I dream it is in the heights of my follies, but it’s not as bad as I fear it is, either.  Like the novel that I started writing thirteen years ago and am still not quite finished, it is a work-in-progress.  I’m nearly done this stage — the novel is nearly really truly done, regardless of its eventual merit, which I’ll only ever be able to see in retrospect.  And I can tell the mendacious self-image is just an image, a reflection, not me.  I can laugh at myself for it even as I feel as if I should just give up and do something else.  The trick is to not give up, and to laugh.  It is pretty funny how totally outrageous the lies we tell ourselves are.

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4 thoughts on “On Mendacious Self-Images

  1. This is an impressively honest discussion of mendacity, Victoria. 🙂
    The thing that jumped out at me here is your comment about how this kind of self-doubt doesn’t afflict you when it comes to gardening. That makes sense, and it’s a fascinating example, because gardening is literally about cultivation, not creation. I’m betting you can see where I’m going with that…

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  2. It’s true! I do feel the doubt slightly more with the more creative aspects of gardening — moving plants around, planning a bed, pruning for shape as well as health. I think I like gardening partly because the cultivation parts are so clear: you weed, and amend the soil, and things grow. It’s harder with writing to see where the grunt work is, the stuff that can be done no matter what the lying voices are saying . . .

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  3. The only writing-related task that I can think of that would actually classify as grunt work would be proofreading. And certain types of research, but only the kind where you know roughly where to find the answer to your question, it just takes a while to get to it.

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