“A dog ate my novel.” Q: What is the definition of “rationalizing?”

The good book doesn't lie

A:   Attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate (Merriam -Webster Dictionary)

OK, we have to talk about this. Rationalizing. Explaining to yourself or others why you didn’t write. We’ve all been there: “I had food poisoning” or “I’m still grieving my hamster’s death” or “At least I did some solid conceptual work on the project” or “My computer wouldn’t let me switch out of the Facebook application” or “I couldn’t write because I was waiting for the cable guy to show up all day” or “If only my parents had encouraged me, I would have written something” or the ever popular “A dog ate my novel.”

Notice in the dictionary definition above there is the phrase “even if these are not true or appropriate.” Sounds kind of like lying….. or maybe exactly like that, but hey – rationalizing is an integral part of the human condition, so let’s not feel too bad about it. After all, it’s hard enough just trying to make it through the day on this confusing planet, much less trying to write something at the same time. So sometimes you fail to meet your daily word count goal, and it doesn’t feel good. You make up a story about it that softens the harsh bite of the truth a bit.

A good rationalization is a seemingly-solid conceptual bulwark designed to fend off self-condemnation and/or public criticism or embarrassment. Of course writers do this, and creative writerly minds are expert at generating these stories. They don’t need to be perfectly airtight, just good enough ease the pain and prevent us from plummeting into a black pit of despair, self loathing and hopelessness. That’s a good thing, right?

Yes, and yet, if you get too proficient at churning out effective rationalizations, it may lock you even tighter into a pattern of avoidance. You might start convincing yourself that you really can’t get to the writing, when actually, you could. You might keep others  in the dark who are in a position to encourage or prod you, and therefore not have access to their support. Eventually, through disuse of your writing muscle, you may lose confidence in yourself and your abilities as a writer.

The truth will set your writing free. But writers are complicated and sensitive mammals, and it’s also OK to walk the line between excessively harsh self- judgement and self-serving rationalizing with the aid of a compassionate heart and an occasional “helpful” story. Especially if it helps you sit down to write that next page.

I actually wanted to write quite a bit more on this subject, but my dog just threw up on my keyboard.

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About David Arnot Rasch

Author, psychologist, speaker, workshop leader
This entry was posted in Tips for overcoming writer's block and procrastination. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “A dog ate my novel.” Q: What is the definition of “rationalizing?”

  1. Fakewomen says:

    If you have a secret wish to actually own a dog that would willingly throw up on your keyboard – Atticus is for hire

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