When Write Goes Wrong: Blame Murphy

So I wrote this post for Chicks a few years ago. But it seems wildly appropriate for our current times, so I thought I’d bring ol’ Murphy back for a spin. He’s hard to get rid of, as it turns out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

As a kid, I loved to visit my Aunt Beth. The walls of her tiny kitchen were covered with cheerful things: painted shamrocks, family photos, palm crosses, hanging mugs. I was especially fascinated by all the little wooden plaques with silly quotes, bar jokes, and household “rules.” One of them, though—from some guy named Murphy—wasn’t quite as funny. It said, “Murphy’s Law: If it Can Go Wrong, It will!”

“Who’s Murphy?” I asked my aunt. “Don’t know,” she said. “But we’re related to him.”

I’d never heard of anyone in our family named Murphy. Maybe my aunt meant we were related somehow because we were Irish. He probably looked like one of those cartoonish characters on the signs—tweed cap, happy-go-lucky, maybe a bit of a schemer. But being a kid, I quickly forgot about Mr. Murphy and his law—until I graduated from college and headed to New York to become an editor.

I got to work with amazing writers who worked in all different genres. Quite a few of them, I soon learned, knew my alleged relative Murphy—very well. Crashed computers, emergency surgeries, visiting in-laws, sick pets, sick kids, files that wouldn’t open, revision emails that never arrived, fabulous safaris to Africa that couldn’t be canceled—you get the idea. I sympathized, I really did, but (insert eyeroll here).

And then, when I became an author myself, all of these disasters (well, not the surgeries or safaris) circled back to me—like the heat-seeking missiles in Top Gun. I missed my first major deadline, by a mile.  Now was one of Those Authors. Curses on you, Murphy!

After I finally handed in my opus, I did a little research on our family tree. Aunt Beth was wrong. We’re not related to any Murphys, unless you go way, way back. But the first official reference to Murphy’s Law (yes, there really was a Capt. Edward Murphy, Jr.) was in a 1950s scientific journal. The story involved a bunch of bickering aerospace engineers at what later became Edwards Air Force Base. Seems the engineers were testing how much gravitational force a human being could withstand, using a rocket sled and sensors that were incorrectly attached (backwards) by Capt. Murphy’s assistant. (Side note: The Mercury 2 astronauts made Murphy’s Law famous in the early 60s, explaining why their pre-mission testing and double-checks took so long.)

If you’re an author, these variations of Murphy’s Law may sound familiar:

*Everything takes longer than you expect.

*Nothing is as easy as it looks.

*If there is a worst possible time for something to go wrong, that’s when it will go wrong.

*If something could have gone wrong but didn’t, in the long run it would have been better if it had gone wrong.

*If you criticize a typo in someone else’s work, one will show up in yours. (This is actually Muphry’s Law, and yes, it’s misspelled on purpose!)

*Murphy was an optimist.

So all writers have to do is plan ahead, right? Wrong. There’s another law of Murphy’s I didn’t mention yet:

*If only 10 things can go wrong and you prepare for them, an 11th will show up and go wrong.

It’s weeks past New Year’s now (ta-ta, resolutions!), and maybe this topic would have been more appropriate in, say, March. But this way I can hedge my bets I’ll be on time for Saint Patrick’s Day. Aunt Beth is in heaven now, and I bet she’s having a drink with that ne’er-do-well Murphy right now. But I’ve asked her to let him know I’ve got your number, boyo.

Happy 2021 a bit late, Everyone!!!

Readers, any idea how to outwit this Murphy guy for good–especially in the time managment and deadline departments?

18 thoughts on “When Write Goes Wrong: Blame Murphy

  1. Funny, it never occurred to me that there was an actual person named Murphy who inspired Murphy’s Laws. Better looking than I would have expected.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t know how to outwit Murphy, but I’d like to. I was supposed to depart The Boy’s college campus by 1pm yesterday, putting me at home in Pittsburgh before it got dark. Well, enter Murphy. Due to not getting up on Sunday morning until 9am (he was up with pain in his teeth the previous night) I didn’t ARRIVE on campus until 1pm. And then I had to turn around when I was 40 miles away from campus because he’d forgotten his post-surgical prescription ibuprofen, so I didn’t get home until almost 8pm.

    And the Bills lost to KC on top of it all. Blah!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Liz, I am so sorry you had to deal with Murphy this weekend. I hope he is not zipping through my contact lists. And I am also sorry about the Bills. Things could be worse. You could be a Pats fan whose star quarterback is going to the Superbowl without them. Sigh.


  3. I haven’t figured out how to outwit Murphy yet. Case in point, my most recent “oh, this should take five minutes” website update took four hours. Let’s hope someone else knows!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. What a coincidence, Murphy is related to my family as well. My favorite is, if you have an estimate of how long you think something will take, double and use the next highest unit. So a 15 minute task? It will really take 30 hours.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Mark, what a great tip! I’d already been doubling the time, but upping to the next highest unit is much more accurate.


  5. Ha! So glad to learn the history of Murphy’s Law–thanks for that tidbit of information, Lisa!

    I guess my life’s mantra, in an effort to avoid Murphy dictating his law to me, is “Measure twice, cut once.” Or rather, in my case, “Measure about twenty times, then, after angsting for several hours, finally cut…”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Ah, Murphy’s Law. I’ve translated it my own way: expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed. According to my therapist as “catastrophic thinking.” I’ve tried to rid myself of living my life this way, but it ain’t easy!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Current tech horror: I can’t get into Facebook! (Which, I know is sometimes a blessing in disguise, but still annoying.)
    But, if aerospace engineers couldn’t get around Murphy’s Law, what chance do I have?!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hilarious, Lisa, and so fun to read about good ol’ Murph’s background!

    I have no sage words about how to avoid him. I’ve come to accept him like the annoying neighbor who always seems to come to the door when I’m on a conference call or just getting out of the shower.

    Liked by 2 people

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