Tracing Back Your Writing Roots—or, How’d You Become Such A Good Liar?

So, all fiction writers are pretty damn good liars, right?  I mean, this is what we do—think up fantastic lies, write them down, and hope people will read them.  And if we’re good, really, really good, well…then people believe them.

My writing roots definitely trace back to when I was a kid.  See, my house was a bit of a rough place to grow up.  It wasn’t the worst—lots of kids have it much worse—but it was far from the best.  So when we’d come back from winter vacation and my teachers made us write those horrid essays about what we did over our break, I kind of freaked out—at least the first time. Because, I mean, I couldn’t write the truth.  I sat there, looking around, hoping the answer would come to me as I watched others busily scribbling away.  What to do? And that’s when it hit me…

Make. It. Up.

So that’s what I did.  Made up brilliant, wonderful, tv sitcom kind of shit that I wished were true. I know, I know.  TV is supposed to be like terrible for kids nowadays, but I swear I learned all about storyline through shows like The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and all those other 80’s family sitcoms that had a nice, neat combination of conflict, humor, drama and resolution.

Anyway, when I wrote these essays, I’d get lost in the “perfect” holidays I would create on the page.  By fifth grade, I could write you a freakin’ Norman Rockwell painting and teachers would smile and nod at my terrific string of lies.  I could read it up in front of the class with a big smile at the end, just to prove how fantastic it was even though it wasn’t.  Those essays eventually became fun to write and something I even looked forward to.  And yeah, they’re frowned upon now, but I’m pretty sure they’re why I started writing fiction.

I can also trace my writing roots back to the local public library and the two block walk it took to get there.  As I passed the houses on my way, I’d wonder what happened behind each closed door.  I would occupy my solitary walk by making up stories about what was going on inside.  Some of them were sweet—like my Christmas stories.   Some of them were scary—empty houses full of angry ghosts looking for revenge. And some of them were creepy—what if one of them held the body of a person trapped in a basement for fifty years and the decomposing corpse was still there, gooey and oozing and sticking to the floor (because in addition to family sitcoms, I also had an affinity for Tales From The Darkside, The Twilight Zone, and other scary movies).  These walks were the perfect pre-activity to my library visits, because when I’d finally get there I’d head straight to the kids section eager to immerse myself in imaginary worlds.

That library was a sacred, wonderful, magical kind of place, and those essays were like those teachers you kind of hate, but years later realize were actually not that bad and maybe even put you on some kind of right path.  And those walks were time I needed to come up with my own stories.  They all helped me become a writer—a damn good liar.

What can you trace your writing roots back to?

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12 Responses to Tracing Back Your Writing Roots—or, How’d You Become Such A Good Liar?

  1. sonia says:

    Good question. At first, I think it was because I didn’t like the endings to some books I read, so in my head, I rewrote them.

  2. erikamarks says:

    Hi Jenny–great thoughts…I have often tried to determine what lead me to spend so much time in my head as a kid (and a fair amount as an adult, admittedly)…I do know that TV was a huge escape for me (and this was the pre-cable, you’ll-have-four-channels-and-like-’em days) and I remember from an early age gravitating toward the structures of storytelling and certainly the more escapist fare of the time (all the super hero shows-Wonder Woman,The Hulk, Spider Man, Bionic Woman, etc–and of course the painfully predictable Love Boat/Fantasy Island/Love Boat stuff too). As I wrote in a post recently, I am still amazed at how those early “examples” of storytelling and plot structure still seep into my work–and it’s not always something I want to keep–but SOMETIMES, of course…
    Happy New Year to you!

    • Hi Erika,
      Too funny! Yes, you’re right. Those sitcoms taught me some good things, but they’re also the reason for one too many overly-sentimental, treacle moments in my stories.
      Thanks for stopping by and Happy New Year to you, too!

  3. Great post, Jenny!

    I thought I wanted to be an actress when I was 4, 5 and 6. I would stand in front of the mirror acting out commercials and my favorite shows…and later my favorite books. Like you said, making things up/lying led to my love of story-telling. At 7, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

  4. >>all fiction writers are pretty damn good liars, right?<<
    When I read this, I thought of a game I play with my young creative writing students called "Spy the Lie." The students have to write true statements about themselves interspersed with a lie, and then the rest of us have to guess which is the lie. They catch on quickly on how to make the lies sound believable. I tell them that's the first step to writing fiction. 🙂
    Great post!

  5. Stace says:

    I was a great ’embellisher’. I remember standing up in front of the class and telling everyone that the house next door had gone up in flames. (It was a mere chimney fire, which my family observed with mild interest from our dinner table the night before.) I told the class that the fireman’s hat fell down the chimney, which they relished. My teacher laughed. I was only encouraged to lie more!

    Now that I’m an adult I am brutally honest in all respects, but I guess writing is where that childhood embellishment comes out. I do wonder if all kids lie, or if it’s only the sort of kid who grows up with books and stories – those who want to create stories for ourselves. ie proto-writers. I am forever imagining things differently in my head – what if I said this instead of that to this person, or what if I wasn’t chopping carrots in this kitchen, but in a modern, designer kitchen on the other side of the world… That’s not just me though, right? I have always wondered if everyone does this, or if it’s just people who write.


    • That’s so, so, so, so, so funny! I’m cracking up right now! You know, once, I had the whole fifth grade class believing I got backstage at a Def Leppard concert and met the band and the guitarist signed his guitar and gave it to me. Um…no.

      Anyways, I’m brutally honest in all respects now, too which is kind of funny considering. And, I don’t know, I think probably all kids lie. But maybe those who eventually become writers just maybe do A LOT more of it, and tell those huge, whopper kind of lies that are just crazy. But we do it in a way that makes everyone buy into it, or want to buy into it.

  6. timkeen40 says:

    What drove me to write is not easy. I can tell you when and where (grandmother’s floor in front of her television at aged 7), but I can not explain exactly why. It is something that just burned me up inside and has ever since. Why do some taste a food and fall in love with it while others do not? I don’t know. I just know that writing is my food and always has been.

    • Hi Tim,
      I think most of us have a hard time explaining exactly why we write (especially considering the hard road to publication), so I definitely see where you’re coming from. Like you, probably most writers see writing as a basic need, something we can’t help but do. I know I do.
      Thanks for visiting!

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