First and foremost, I need to offer an apology for my absence. I have been hard at work on my new comic book series, Time Traders of Elegius in conjunction with WP comics, which has been fascinating but also demanding in terms of time. The final script is complete and I’ll be blogging more about my experiences in the weeks to come. For now, I’d like to mark my return to the blog with a look at some common misconceptions about writers and writing.
The instant you reveal that you’re a writer, you make yourself a target for all kinds of things – petty comments, financial advice, jokes about your perceived lifestyle and, perhaps most amusingly, tips about writing. The latter, for reasons unknown, is most freely offered by people who have never picked up a book for pleasure in their lives, never mind a pen. Join me as I debunk some of the more popular writing myths. Let’s get started…
Writing Myth 1: Writing a short story is easier than writing a novel because it has a much lower word count.
You don’t think you have the stamina to write a novel so you start with short stories, thinking they will prepare you. The problem is that short stories and novels are very different in nature and becoming a master of one won’t necessarily help you with the other. Structurally, they operate in similar ways but in terms of settings, characters, dialogue, exposition, themes and subplots, shorter works can be very restrictive. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a go. You simply need to understand that whilst novels can be challenging, short fiction poses obstacles of its own.
Writing Myth 2: Certain genres aren’t worth bothering with.
Everybody has a genre or two that they don’t particularly love. I’m not a huge fan of Science Fiction, Paranormal Romance or even regular old fashioned romance, but I wouldn’t dream of ruling them out completely. I try to write as widely as I read and I’ve had a go at writing lots of different genres. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is important in order to test yourself as a writer. You aren’t going to love everything you read and you certainly aren’t going to love (or even like) everything you write but you should challenge yourself as much as you can and that means embracing things you don’t like, understanding why you don’t like them and exploring ways to make them more appealing.
Writing Myth 3: Having a great idea for a book and actually writing a book is the same thing.
Lots of people have ideas. Some people have great ideas. Some of these ideas might make a good book. However, unless you put your backside in a chair and get those words on paper, you have diddly squat. Writers write. Aspiring writers waste a lot of time and energy just talking about it.
Writing Myth 4: Anyone could write a book if they only had the time.
This makes me mad. Not only does it make the assumption that writers exist in some kind of magical time zone where they’re practically drowning in extra days, weeks, months etc, it also encourages the idea that there is no skill involved, no passion, no devotion, no art. I take exception to that; I have a job. I get up at 6am and I get ready for work. I drop into a coffee shop before the office opens and I write for forty five minutes to an hour every day. I have a family, I have a social life, I have bills to pay, appointments to keep and a million things I want to cram in– just like everybody else. If I want to write, I have to find the time to do it. Sometimes it’s a struggle and some days I wonder if it’s worth it but the pen always finds its way back to my hand. I make sacrifices so that I can do the thing that I love – that shouldn’t be mocked or dismissed, it should be applauded.
Writing Myth 5: All stories are meant to be told.
I often have an idea that I love but when it comes to writing it down, I find it won’t live on paper. Some stories survive only in the realm of the spoken word. Others exist merely as a stepping stone en route to the real story that’s lurking inside you. Whilst I don’t advocate giving up at the first hurdle, I think it’s important to know when to draw the line and move on.
Writing Myth 6: You need to be the next [INSERT BIG NAME AUTHOR HERE] and you need to write the next [INSERT BESTSELLING AWARD WINNING FRANCHISE HERE]…
In the early days, it is quite natural to emulate the writers you admire and it’s an excellent way to learn. Through examining, exploring and emulating their technique you’ll be able to better understand yourself as both writer and reader. That kind of understanding gives you a solid foundation from which you can experiment with your own unique voice, which is exactly what writing is all about. Tell the stories only you can tell. Don’t waste your time trying to be a second rate version of somebody else. You’re the only you and that is an opportunity you can’t afford to ignore.
Writing Myth 7: Creative Writing courses are a waste of time; writing can’t be taught.
This is part of a much larger debate that has been going on in the literary world for some time. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that these courses can be useful for those who already have the urge to tell stories. If you lack enthusiasm for the written word and for storytelling in general, then no course in the world is going to turn you into a writer. If you don’t have anything to say, why on earth would you spend your life committing ink to paper? Technique can be taught. Passion cannot.
Writing Myth 8: You should only write what you know.
I doubt J K Rowling has much firsthand experience of witchcraft and wizardry, or that Stephen King has hobbled many people trying to escape his company. There’s much to be said for writing a story that uses knowledge you already have – look at Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell. That said, there are lots of talented writers out there with dodgy internet search histories, tirelessly researching the weird and the wonderful in pursuit of their art. Writing is as much about learning as it is about doing. If the story is in you, you’ll find a way to write it regardless of how little knowledge you have on the subject.
Writing Myth 9: If writing doesn’t pay your bills, you aren’t successful.
The truth is that there are few writers who can earn a comfortable living from writing alone. It all hinges on how you define success. For some people, success is a complete first draft, for others it’s publication or payment on publication. I didn’t feel justified in calling myself a writer until I had my story These Thunderous Hours published in Firewords Quarterly. I can’t tell you why; I had already won a few competitions and been published both online and in print. I think it’s important to define success on your own terms; don’t worry about what anybody else thinks.
Writing Myth 10: Writing is going to make you filthy rich.
Money is a bad reason to write. In fact, it’s just about the worst reason to do anything. Writing for love makes you a dreamer. Writing for money makes you a fool.
Until next time...