The Three Stooges of Writing

by James Scott Bell

healthywealthyNo, that’s not a typo. I’m not talking about the three “stages” of writing. I’m talking about the Moe, Larry and Curly inside your head.

You know what I mean. You’re writing along, and then, all of a sudden, slap … poke … bam … woob woob woob! You’ve got a whole lot of Stooge noise going on.

So I thought it best to isolate these boys and deal with them once and for all, lest our writing time become a comedy of errors.

Moe is Perfectionism

Ah, Moe. He thinks he’s the boss. And he backs it up with violence. The two-finger eye poke, the basic slap, and any tool he can lay his hands on. And he’s always angry about something.

So you may be writing or editing, and suddenly you’re smacked with, That’s no good. And neither am I! Who am I kidding, trying to be a writer? 

Or you’ve finished a novel, you’ve done the very best you can, and the next step is submission. But then you get your eyes poked by your inner Moe. You knucklehead! This isn’t nearly good enough! Submit it, and you’ll get turned down and never get another shot! 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of constructive questioning. But that’s far from the ham-fisted Moe! You’ve got to stop that Stooge in his tracks How? I suggest you do it physically (that, after all, is the Stooge style). Slap your cheek (gently!) and say, Stop it! All you can do is all you can do. And all you can do is enough!

Don’t laugh. This is a little trick that actually works. You can interrupt destructive thoughts with a physical move, then replace the thought with a better one, or with some positive action. When I was just starting out I’d sometimes get a Moe in my head, and he was vicious. So one day I slapped myself and, out loud, quoted Cher from Moonstruck: “Snap out of it!”

And then immediately went back to my writing.

Do this and at the very least you’ll be getting more words down on the page. That’s a lot better than letting Moe rule your roost.

Larry is Befuddlement

Poor Larry. He smarter than Curly but dumber than Moe, and is always caught somewhere in the middle. He spends most of his time confused. He can’t do a thing with his hair. When Moe slaps him, he usually has no idea why.

Ever feel like Larry about the publishing business? Should I go for an agent? How do I query an agent? How many agents can I query at once? Should I self-publish? How do I do that and get discovered? Will it hurt my chances of getting a traditional contract someday?

And then one day you’re slapped, and you don’t know why. Why didn’t they like my novel? Why didn’t it meet their needs? Is that just a phrase or does it mean I stink?

Your inner Larry needs get some education. Make a list of the areas you’re confused about. Write them down. Define them. And then you can make a plan to study each area.

Because I was once told I couldn’t learn to write fiction, and then went out and learned, I strongly believe that anything you need to learn to move forward in your career you can learn. The information is out there.

You don’t have to live with Larry in your head.

Curly is Emotion

We love Curly. Maybe that’s because he’s the Stooge who is most like us. He does things out of raw emotion and frequently ends up getting hurt. We’ve all been there.

But remember, Curly is resilient. My favorite Stooge moment is always when Moe clobbers Curly with some nasty weapon, like a pickax. Curly hollers, “OH OH OH OH!” then he quietly goes, “Look.” And the weapon itself is in worse shape than his head. That pickax is folded up like an accordion.

This writing life will hit you over the head. Rejections, bad reviews, unfair reviews, reviews with spoilers … lots of frustration! Sometimes you just want to lie on the ground and run around in a circle, Curly-style.

So realize this: it’s okay to let out an Oh! Oh! Oh! when you get hit.

And when something good happens, to shout out a full-throated Nyuck! Nyuck! Nyuck!

But never stay there. Let something hurt for half an hour, and rejoice over good news for a day.

But then get back to your keyboard!

If you do that, I guarantee you won’t get a pie in the face. You will get better as a writer.

What about you? Is there a Stooge who overstays his welcome in your writer’s mind? What do you do with him?

How Make Living Writer-printed version***

And if you need further Stooge alleviation, please see my book The Mental Game of Writing

19 thoughts on “The Three Stooges of Writing

  1. I saved this quote to push back against my inner Moe.

    ‘Striving for excellence motivates. Striving for perfection demoralizes.’

  2. Moe. He’s always leaping on my back, trying to bring me down. But I’m taking taekwondo now so I’m going to learn to flip him off. I’m sure he’ll keep coming at me because he’s persistent that way (and he’s been doing it for decades), but I’ll keep practicing my moves. 😎

  3. Thanks for the post, Jim.

    Just what I needed after being “out of circulation” for about three months – moving, no easy internet access, and absolutely no time for writing. This post is just the slap in the face I needed to get back into it again.

  4. Definitely Moe and Curly in an ever tightening spiral. Great post. The title caught me. Stooges indeed. Thank you for another new perspective: like a slap in the face.

  5. You know, I always thought Shemp was underrated. I like Shemp. He makes me laugh. If we use him, too, I’d say he was the Stooge who was constantly frustrated. You can see the application!

  6. Larry lives here… I need to write that befuddlement list. Publishing has changed SO much since I started, it’s a challenge keeping up.

    And then I need to write Larry an eviction notice!

    • So true, Justine. Change Is the new normal. And it happens so fast. But there are certain fundamentals, like writing a great book, which can see us through. Tell Larry to remember that.

  7. I loved this post. We do get down and dreary with our writing at times…and Yes, I’m going to try the “Snap out of it” routine….

  8. Finally–the 3 Stooges explained in a way I can understand. Curly had hold of me for a long, long time. I finally kicked him to the curb, but sometimes he makes waggly eyebrows at me from across the street.

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