1. Writing is a solitary activity
Just because we sit in front of the computer a lot doesn’t mean we’re isolated. Sure, once upon a time when writers had only pen and paper, or typewriters if they milked their family for money, they were alone when they labored away at their works of literary art. But nowadays, sitting in front of the computer doesn’t isolate you. Quite the opposite.
The writer of today doesn’t battle solitude, he battles emails, blog comments and newsletter subscriptions. There are thousands of writers out there, flocking in forums and on writing platforms, chatting away and making friends, beta-reading and reviewing hell for leather. And don’t get me started on social media and the lovely new concepts of hyperfiction and interactive fiction.
As a modern writer you also make a lot of new friends in the ‘real’ world, especially if you stalk people, draw fantasy maps on the latest iPad in the coffee shop, or go to Renaissance fairs to enact your latest plot. And for sci-fi die-hards there’s always the next Comicon.
2. Real writers find writing easy
Not if they’re doing it right, they don’t. Writing doesn’t get any easier with time, it just gets faster. Meaningful writing comes from ruthless introspection and unbiased observation, and those are never easy. What makes experienced writers so prolific is not that they find it easy to turn themselves inside out, it’s that they make a habit of it.
If writing doesn’t come easy to you and you struggle to put your imagination into words, there are only two possible explanations: you just need more practice, or you need to choose another means to express yourself, like mural painting or singing in the shower.
3. A debut novel is a writer’s first novel
Rabbit raisins! Every true work of art needs a rough draft, that’s why writers usually write several drafts before a novel is finished, and several novels before they write a publishable debut novel. There are exceptions of course, but those exceptions are based on either one of the following:
– having experience writing something else than novels (short stories, novellas, etc.),
– having the right connections beforehand,
– self-publishing as soon as typing “The End”,
– or suffering from incurable selective amnesia.
Don’t sweat over your pile of false starts, unfinished novels or rejected manuscripts. All writers have them. It’s called practice.
4. You need to be a good writer before you write professionally
That’s like saying you must be a good swimmer before you get into the water. Writing is something that is only learned on the go, not beforehand, and results only come from doing the work. All you must do to become a good writer is to write, write, write, study the craft, practice the craft, then write some more.
Besides, even the most successful writers you admire had no darn clue what they were doing until they did it.
5. Writing is a compulsion
I bet you’ve heard it before: “I just have to write, otherwise I’ll go crazy!”
Aspiring writers love to hear themselves say that, it makes them sound like naturals. Because they assume true artists are somehow misteriously remote controlled by their compulsive talent.
Meadow muffins! If writers were so driven to write, why doesn’t a lot more writing get done?! Feeling a desire to claim you’re writing but not actually writing much has nothing to do with compulsive, irresistible talent.
6. The characters control the writer
Schizophrenia has never before been so popular. Saying that characters decide where the story goes is saying they’re real human beings, with free will and strong personalities, and that implies the writer must be some freakin genius! Isn’t that flattering? Saying your characters are so real they write the story themselves?
Realistic and well rounded characters are every writer’s ambition, and many work very hard to create such beasts. But the writer is always in control, even when, in the dead of night after 3’000 bloody words, you feel as though the characters are the ones giving orders. But who ultimately takes the decision is the writer, not some figment of his imagination.
When it seems as though a character comes up with a surprising, wonderful twist that takes the plot to a whole new level, it’s in fact the writer who comes up with the juicy bits, while wearing said character’s personality as a mask. Wearing a character costume, that’s what I’m saying; a chara-guise. That crazy shine in the writer’s eye when he’s submersed into his character’s strap-on life? a charasuit! Mon dieu!
But seriously, you always have yourself to thank for the inspiration, not some quiestionable personality split. If you still believe your characters command you, go see a doctor, not a publisher.
7. Worthy ideas are special and unique
Good story ideas are so overrated, I’m astonished the world hasn’t turned them into currency yet. Really, ideas are like dust bunnies, or tree lice, or Justin Bieber groupies—they’re everywhere! Just look under your desk, out the window or in the search engine of your choice, and there they are. Staring at you. Crawling up your leg. Screaming in your ear—pick me! Pick me!
What you do with those ideas in the many weeks of hard writerly labor is what’s special and unique.
8. Reading a lot will make you a better writer
No. Reading a lot only makes you a better reader. Reading critically and analyzing what you read makes you a better critic. Only writing makes you a better writer. Writing. It’s even in the name: writer. Go figure! They don’t call them carpenter because they read books about trees, do they.
9. If you’re good, you’ll make it
Actually, hell is paved with the starry eyes of brilliant writers whose works never saw the light of day. It’s not enough to write a brilliant work of staggering genius if you can’t sell it. Oh come on, don’t give me that look, if you’ve been out of the cave for more than a day you must have realized that a good writer must be able to pitch his work and market it if he wants to succeed. If not to the audience, then at the very least to an agent or publisher. And querying takes some mad skill.
10. Brilliant writing doesn’t need a spellcheck
Suuure. That’s because brilliance makes you immune to intelligent scrutiny, and drooling zombie groupies are far better than a smart audience. Zombies rule the world, you know, when they win the war and survive the Apocalypse and everything. Like cockroaches.
11. All writers are Grammar Nazis
This myth is actually true, except for one little correction: the real Nazis lost the war, but grammar will always get you.
12. If it’s correct and tight, it’s good
Just because a story complies to each and every rule of grammar, respects classic story structure, has the right amount of description and characterization and action and what-not, doesn’t mean it’ll be a good story. Reading is a subjective experience, and if a story doesn’t rip the reader out of her socks and throws her straight into your storyworld, it’s not going to matter if it’s “correct” or “artsy” from a theoretical point of view.
Storytelling has little to do with dry technical skill, and there are plenty of famous books out there which absolutely lack skill and technique, and break about as many “hard” rules as I can count on a mutant’s third hand, but they’re awesome stories and have touched millions of people. You know which ones I’m talking about.
Instead of worrying about improving your technical skills by force and dry, emotionless exercises, you’d be far better off trying to improve your storytelling skills. Readers overlook poor craft if the story grabs them by the throat, but won’t give a rat’s fart on a work of literary art that feels like nothing.
And now for the grand finale, the ugliest, stinkiest myth of all:
13. Writer’s block
That infectious disease that causes inspirational blockage and has you trying to paper-cut your veins open. All non-writers are in awe of it, all wannabe writers claim they have it, and all working writers have supposedly overcome it. But a relapse is always around the corner, waiting to ruin you.
*gasp of horror*
Here’s the truth: writer’s block, that condition you supposedly get when you’ve written your mind dry, is an elaborate hoax. A scham. A conspiracy concocted by “love-to-have-written-hate-to-do-the-actual-fucking-work” lazybones. It’s a pile of buffalo steam-pies.
Or, how Roz Morris puts it, “if you’re the kind of person who believes that block will stop you, you’re the type to get it.”
So here’s the thing.
Are you out of inspiration and lacking enthusiasm? Are you eating your pencil and typing suicide poems with the butt of your uncle’s gun? Then you’ve got yourself a case of absolutely normal and un-artistic take-your-pick ailment:
– burnout syndrome, if you’ve actually worked your ass off before this,
– depression, if you wish you would have worked before this, or believe your hard work is worth half a zilch,
– narcissistic fit, if you’re convinced you shouldn’t work at all and still get a Pulizer,
– or an actual case of the loonies if you’ve got nothing to do with writing in the first place. Then you should see a doctor. Seriously. Stop hitting the keyboard. Stop. S-stop. There… easy does it… breathe in, breathe out.
This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2012