Myths abound in the world of the arts, and writers are not immune to them. Many of us succumb to the fallacies that are floating around about what it means to be a writer or what it takes to become a writer.
So what’s the matter with falling for myths about writing?
Myths about writing lead to unrealistic expectations. Some of us end up believing that becoming a writer is easy. Others believe it’s impossible. We think writers are poor, drunk, or living in a state of perpetual despair. After all, one must struggle to become an artist, right?
Myths About Writing
Expectations are important. When we set realistic expectations, we can plan accordingly, and our chances for success increase exponentially. Conversely, when our expectations are incorrect, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and failure.
So let’s debunk some of the most notorious myths about writing:
Myth: You shouldn’t read much, because other writers’ styles might leak into your work and it won’t be original.
Truth: That’s like saying you shouldn’t interact with other people because you might adopt their personalities. Trust that your own unique style will emerge, even if it is influenced by other writers. You’ll never become a good or great writer if you don’t study the work of writers who have gone before you. You’ll also be ignorant about the craft and the marketplace, and it will show in your work.
Myth: Good grammar is unnecessary if you want your writing to be raw and edgy.
Truth: Writing is raw and edgy because of what it communicates, not because it’s peppered with typos and constructed with poorly structured sentences. Bad grammar and weak sentences are not interesting or original; shoddy writing signals a lack of professionalism, laziness, and the absence of skill.
Myth: We should only write when we’re inspired.
Truth: Writers must learn how to get inspired and stay inspired. And we also need to learn how to get our work done even when we’re not feeling inspired. Otherwise, we’ll produce a whole lot of nothing.
Myth: Artistic success is borne of pure talent.
Truth: Talent is a booster, not the foundation upon which a successful artistic career is built. There’s no single ingredient that leads to success. Talent helps, but hard work, commitment, and self-discipline help a lot more.
Myth: You don’t need to hone your creative writing skills because you have natural talent.
Truth: No matter how talented you are, you are not born knowing how to read and write. There is work to be done!
Myth: Writers are poor.
This is another one that affects artists from all walks of life. Are there poor writers? Sure, of course there are. But there are also wealthy writers. Some have earned their wealth; others inherited it. There are middle-class writers too. In fact, did you know that some writers actually work day jobs while building their writing careers, as a way to keep themselves out of poverty? Imagine that.
Dispel Those Myths About Creative Writing
Sadly, many of these myths about writing come from actual writers, but falling for these misconceptions can lead you down the wrong road.
Have you ever fallen prey to any of these myths about writing? Are there other myths about writing that you’ve encountered? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Great points, Melissa. Far too many people (especially those who hate their work but don’t have the courage to change it) feel that no one else should enjoy their work.
Yeah, writing’s hard sometimes, but it’s also wonderful, and you CAN make a living at it, if you’re willing to learn how to work and play simultaneously and accept the fact that they’re not mutually exclusive.
You’re right on all counts, Devon.
Hi Melissa: I just posted about creative insights I found on the worldwide web and one of them was a Ted.com talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love”. She addresses what you say here and concludes that creativity is a collaboration between the artist–who has to show up and do the work–and a divine entity who appears out of nowhere and begins to help the artist. However, you have to show up everyday and do your part, even if on some days the divine spirit fails to keep up his or her end of the bargain and doesn’t show up.
Hi Marelisa. I saw that video too, though not on your site, and it actually inspired this post! It’s a fantastic video, isn’t it?
This is the number one thing I’ve learned over the past year and a half — that creativity thrives with discipline. It seemed so counter-intuitive at first, but now I understand that pushing yourself and having high expectations bring your creative work from the “hobby” level to the level of seriously producing.
Zoe, it’s bizarre at first, but it kind of makes sense that the more you work at being creative, the more creative you become.
Thank you for the encouragement!
I am blogger (sort of creative writer) – many think it is even less than hobby. I think it is much more than that. I treat it is my personal business. I invest in it dedicated pre-defined amount of time and energy (part of my life) so i think it is pretty serious. I think it is all about hard work. I hardly believe (actually, I do not) creative is a synonym to spontaneous. Love Edison’s “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” I am on my quest for creative blogging opportunity 😉
Thank you for inspiring post.
Thanks, Alik! There’s no reason that hard work can’t be fun too. Of course, there are always those tasks that we find less enjoyable, but I think that’s unavoidable in any career or pursuit. Blogging is being taken more and more seriously as it becomes rooted into our culture, and it’s definitely both fun and lots of hard work! Keep it up; you’re doing a great job.
Hi Melissa – I used to read a great novel, then look at my own work and feel inadequate. Looking back, I had no idea just how much rewriting and editing went into those amazing novels.
You mentioned folk who worry that if they read to much, their writing will be influenced by those they read. It’s not just young people who think like that. I went on a writing course last year and a few of the students felt the same.
It’s incredible that folk think they could read a couple of amazing novels, then sit down and write exactly the same as the author. It’s just not going to happen.
Cath, I find it’s best not to compare oneself to the literary greats (it’s a good way to deflate your ambition). I remember when I realized all those novels and stories were heavily edited and proofread — by the author, the agent, a copyeditor, proofreaders, etc. And still, mistakes occasionally slip through! It’s amazing when you think about it. I must be backwards, because I was really more worried that I would copy another writer inadvertently — tell a similar tale or use a similar character — so I was always trying to read more and more to ensure I wouldn’t do that. And you’re right: you can’t read a couple of novels, and then just easily mimic that author’s style. It sounds pretty funny when you put it that way.
I really have trouble with a lot of writer’s mentalities. For years I wrote for fun in little spurts, and I loved it when I did it, and when I didn’t it didn’t really matter. I dreamed about getting published (still do), but it wasn’t the be all and end all of my life, and I was happy that way.
Then I started looking at all these writer’s things on the Internet, and it was like… I got tired. I tried NaNoWriMo (do you know about that?) and it made everything worse — I was putting all this effort into something I didn’t WANT to write, every day, and I hated the story, and all of it… it was too much. I did finish, though… but it didn’t make me happy.
I realized I had become influenced by the sorts of things people are “supposed” to be writing — “beautiful” works of literature, deep things, with unusual metaphors and no adverbs and all that sort of thing. I realized I couldn’t do that; I just couldn’t write that way; and I realized I might never be published, and that was really hard.
So… now I’m back to the drawing board. I’ve had a work-through-able case of writer’s block for several months now, after NaNoWriMo, and have been fiddling around with things, mostly collecting strange words and names and writing a page or so. I’ve almost completely stopped writing on the computer, favoring notebooks, and have trouble even considering myself a “writer” anymore, because I feel as though people are going to start pointing fingers at me and going “LIAR! Real writers don’t feel that way!”
I don’t think you should feel obligated to partake in certain writing activities or styles just because someone else says that’s the thing to do. You just posted four paragraphs here, and I think your style is fine. You should write whatever moves you! Stick with topics that ignite your passion.
One thing you have to remember when collecting writing tips and ideas — it’s all someone else’s experience and opinion. Just because one person promotes NaNoWriMo or another says you should write beautiful literature doesn’t mean those are your only options. Do what you love and you’ll find your way. And don’t worry about metaphors and adverbs unless you want to include them in your work. Just do your thing and find your audience. Or just do your thing and do it for yourself. Basically, do what makes you happy. Unless you want to be a career writer, there’s really no need to put all this pressure on yourself.
Having said that, I think it’s good that you’ve been trying your hand at different styles and activities. That’s how you will learn what’s right (and wrong) for you. Best of luck to you! And whatever you do or however you do it, I do hope you’ll keep writing.
One thing I’ve learned over the years I’ve been writing, is that for every person who says, “You should (or shouldn’t) do this, or that,” there is another who says the opposite.
Take mailing lists. Nearly everyone says it’s essential. I have one that has been more or less static for years. (34 subscribers) I get around 35% opens, but I don’t think it’s driven any ravening fans to hang on to every word I write, or to be gasping for the next book.
I read Anne R. Allen’s book, The Writer’s Blog. (An excellent book, by the way.) She says a mailing list is not essential. A blog is more important.
Adverbs (and adjectives) are not the enemy that is claimed, in my opinion. If there isn’t a better way of describing what you want to say, then use an adverb or adjective.
Write as you want, but don’t ignore the basic rules of grammar and, as important, syntax.
And if you don’t feel like writing, don’t. One day of not writing isn’t going to stall you.
As to that last point; it took me ages to realise that this didn’t mean “write more of your WIP every day.” It can mean anything, from a journal, an answer to a post, a poem, a letter etc.
Hi, I was googling about creative writing and I happened to stumble upon your website. I’m 15 and I’ve been writing I was about 11. It’s my favorite thing to do and I loved the insight you gave. I want to make it my career and I know it’s really hard work, but I think it’s worth it. It’s kind of like marching band. It’s really hard (painful at times) but the reward and feeling of accomplishment is amazing. That’s why I love it so much.
That’s wonderful, Asia! Thanks so much for sharing your passion for writing with all of us. Comments like yours are inspiring and meaningful for the rest of the writing community.
Hey there! I realize this is kind of off-topic however I needed to ask. Does managing a well-established website such as yours take a lot of work? I’m completely new to writing a blog however I do write in my journal every day. I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share my experience and views online. Please let me know if you have any kind of suggestions or tips for new aspiring bloggers. Appreciate it!
Managing a website works like anything else: the more you put in, the more you get out. If you want to run a successful website, then it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time. The first couple of years after I started Writing Forward, I had little time to work on other projects like fiction and poetry. But it was worth it.
The best tip I can offer is to approach blogging with a professional attitude. A lot of bloggers just launch a blog and start writing. I recommend getting into the nuts and bolts. Check out the “For Beginners” section on Problogger.net (at the bottom of the home page), and treat your blog like a job. Pick up a couple of books on blogging and study it.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with blogging as a hobby, in which case you could work on your blog as much or as little as you want. Good luck to you!
What can I do to become more motivated to write? I’ve been working on 5 books and only two are finished I don’t know what to do next. I was going to write a quarry letter but I fear the results. Can you help me, please?
The simple answer is that what you should do next is finish the other three books. You have to find what motivates you and then make it a regular part of your life. Since you already finished two books, I suspect you already know how to motivate yourself. I can say that for me, watching interviews with other authors, joining writing communities, and reading a lot are the things that keep me most motivated. Different things might work better for you. Good luck!
Thank you for debunking those myths for us. Great post.
You’re welcome, and thank you for the compliment.
I agree with pretty much everything you said though I prefer to do things as I wish rather than stick to a structure. If I’m on a roll it is not unusual for me to write for ten or twenty hours straight. Lol- though I do not suggest that’s the way to go for anyone else. It is good for neither your disposition nor back.
But as I sit here in my freezing attic, the wind howling through the gaps in the windows, typing in my fingerless gloves, teeth chattering, frost forming on my forehead, poor as a church mouse, finishing off my last bottle of whisky whilst phoning the Samaritans because of my depression I know that is just the way things should be.