We’ve seen many variations of this list. Some are good. Some are plain wrong.
Here’s our version of 10 Myths About Writing:
1. Writing is A Natural Thing – You Either Have It Or Not
I hear this one all the time. ‘I don’t need to edit because I’m a naturally good writer.’ ‘Writing is a talent – if you’ve got it the words just flow from you.’ ‘Real writers don’t need to look for inspiration – it just comes to you…’
Whenever I hear any of these phrases come out of a writer’s mouth, I can think of only one thing:
That writer is lazy.
It’s an excuse. We pretend we are great so we don’t have to go through the boring editing process. We announce that inspiration comes to us like a bolt of lightning so we don’t have to do the hard work and go looking for it ourselves.
But the truth is writing is a craft. It takes hours and days and weeks and months and years of practice to get it right. So if you’ve sat down and written the first draft of your first ever novel and you think it’s brilliant – think again. Nothing about writing is natural. It’s hard graft and if you’re not prepared to put the work in now, you won’t get the pay off later.
2. There’s No Point Writing A Story If It Isn’t Original
Let’s get one thing straight. There are NO original stories. All stories, no matter how complex and intricate boil down to one of seven basic plots. What makes each story different is how the writer engages with that plot. What characters are they going to create? Where is the setting? When does it happen? Why does it happen?
These are the questions that will make one story seem different to another, but rest assured that does not make them original. As a writer, you will frequently find that someone has made the story you had in mind before you – sometimes even hundreds of years before you. It doesn’t matter. You just concentrate on making your story yours and – more importantly – good.
3. Reading Makes The Writer
This one is a bit of a yes and no myth. Yes, reading more books focuses your mind to the task of writing, but it is not the be all and end all. Writing is a delicate balance: you need to read so that you can learn how others do it (both the successes and the failures) but you will only get better at writing by – you guessed it – writing. Reading develops your knowledge. Writing develops your practical skills. No one skill is better than the other – both are just as valuable.
4. If You Follow The Rules You Can’t Go Wrong
Yes, you can. Following the rules does not guarantee a bestseller. Some of the best books ever written break the rules and some the worst follow them to the letter. Always remember, rules were made by people who like to put the world into some sort of order. It is not nature’s way of asserting itself on the art of writing. It is simply a way of expressing how a large number of writer’s find success. If you ever hear anyone say the words, ‘Break the rules at your peril,’ ignore everything else that person has to say.
Breaking rules is not a sin. It’s only by breaking rules that we can evolve as writers. Sometimes you have to take risks – sometimes you have to play safe. The trick is learning which is which…
Besides – they’re more like guidelines anyway…
5. Writing Is A Compulsion
No. This goes back to the idea of being a natural. And it is the biggest way to tell the difference between a serious writer and all the rest. A serious writer will never tell you that it’s about kicking back in front of the telly and waiting for inspiration to pour over you. They will say it’s about hard graft, getting up early on your writing days, keeping to a set routine and writing through the good times and bad.
Everyone likes to think it’s easy being a writer. But, in all honesty, it’s the hardest job I’ve ever done.
6. I Have No Time To Write
There is always time. It might seem a little tight and you might knacker yourself out, but the time is there. It is all about discipline. You have to be willing to use that hour when your wife is out at the gym to grab a quick session at the writing desk instead of going down to the pub or watching trashy telly. That twenty minute period before the kids get home from school is the perfect time to get a few paragraphs down. Got an hour long commute? Take a notebook and jot down some ideas – better yet, take a laptop with you and write something more fluid.
If you train yourself to get into a routine and it’s important enough, you will find the time to write.
Because otherwise you are basically presenting the world with a book that you could only be bothered to write when you had nothing else to do…
Now tell me honestly.
Would you read that book?
7. The Perfect Story
Not everyone is going to enjoy your writing. Accept it now. Not every agent will like it or want it. Not every publisher will give it so much as a second glance. There will even be readers out there who despise it and paint the internet with their bad reviews of it.
Do not take a bad review or a rejection as a sign that the story is rubbish. There has never been a book in the history of humanity that has been universally loved, so don’t expect yours to be that story. You will only lead yourself to disappointment.
8. Only Professional Writers Should Write
Ask yourself this, what makes a professional? Being paid? If I write a load of tosh on the back of a napkin and manage to sell it on eBay does that make me a professional writer? What if I convince a thousand people to buy a book that I bashed out in two or three days and is full of spelling errors, am I a professional then? Let’s say I write the best book ever written and it doesn’t sell to more than half a dozen people – professional yet?
Professionalism is what you make it. If you consider being a professional as having sold twenty thousand copies of a book, then that’s what you’re aiming for. But always remember, all professionals started somewhere. All of them were rubbish at some point…
Some have become bestsellers and are still rubbish…
If you want to write, then write. That’s all there is to it.
9. Published Authors Don’t Get Rejected
When I say published, I mean traditionally published. But the same is obviously true of self-published authors as well. Just because your book did a nice bit of business, it doesn’t mean your next one will. True, it puts you in a much better position than you were with your debut, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Each book is judged by its own merit and – if it’s rubbish – publishers will not hesitate to put it in the reject pile.
After all, they are running a business.
10. Writer’s Block
The most fantastic myth of all. Writer’s block is to writers as the plague was to Europeans in the Middle Ages. It stalks us throughout our careers, just waiting to pounce. And when it does…
It rips our world apart…
Unfortunately, the real explanation is so boring that it’s a wonder that writer’s block gets any press at all. You see, I haven’t had writer’s block since I was twenty – that’s nearly ten years. And it’s not because I’ve overcome it with some supernatural power within myself (although that would be kind of cool). It’s because I started recognising writer’s block for what it really was.
Burning out. Depression. A hint of narcissism. And a splash of actual illness.
Boring. Regular. Everyday. Problems.
It’s the same problem that stop regular workers from getting out of bed – the only difference is that many of them still do because they have a boss to answer to. But you? You only have to answer to yourself.
So do yourself a favour. Stop blaming this unseen force and start accepting it for what it really is. And always remember, there is no shame in needing a break. After all, we all have time off from work in the outside world, so why should writing be any different?
Just make sure you get back on that horse afterwards.