Dispelling 10 Myths about Creative Writing - dummies

Dispelling 10 Myths about Creative Writing

By Maggie Hamand

You hear a lot of potentially damaging misconceptions about writing. Here are ten common myths and a toss toward where they belong – in the waste bin. Don’t let them get in the way of your creativity!

Wait for inspiration before you begin

If you have to wait for inspiration before you sit down to write, you’ll probably be waiting for a long, long time. If you put off beginning until that day when the muse descends and fills you with a burning desire to put pen to paper to let the words pour forth – well, those days are very rare in a writer’s life.

Thomas Edison wrote in the September 1932 edition of Harper’s Monthly that ‘Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration’ – in other words, success is almost entirely down to hard work. If you think of your writing as a task that has to be done, you’re much more likely to get to your desk and start.

Even if you do feel that itch to write, inspiration can fade away as soon as you’re confronted with the blank page or screen! For most writers, writing is a question of sitting down at the desk or in a café and just getting some words on the page. Do this regularly, several times a week, and you’ll make progress. Don’t wait to be inspired – just write.

You need to be born with the talent

Some people believe that writers are born, not made. Writers may be mostly people who love books and read a lot. They start out more confidently and assuredly than other people who start to write, simply because they’ve already learnt a lot about creative writing from all their reading.

It’s possible that everybody can become a writer if they work hard enough at it. That means reading a lot and writing a lot, and being prepared to develop the necessary techniques that writers use. The process may take years, but if you persevere, you’ll end up a good writer.

Writing is always fun

Writing can be fun or enjoyable – sometimes. At other times, it’s sheer hard work. The more serious you are about your writing, the less likely it is to seem like fun. Developing a piece of writing requires an enormous amount of effort and concentration.

When you’re truly absorbed in your writing, however, you can experience that buzz of creativity of being ‘in the zone’. Psychologists call this mental state flow – when you’re fully immersed in a task and feel a sense of energy, focus and complete involvement. You lose all sense of time and space outside the activity of writing. In this state, you lose all sense of self-consciousness – and you usually lose that critical voice in your head as well that tells you you’re no good!

You can only write what you know

If writers only wrote about what they knew already, half the books in the world wouldn’t exist! Many writers are driven to write precisely because they don’t know about or understand something, and they want to find out. Many books start with a ‘what if’ question: what would happen if this or that happened? The book is written to explore that question and find the answer.

You’d find writing only what you know about incredibly restrictive. Ultimately, yes, you have to understand a subject in order to write about it well, but that understanding often comes much later. Many writers research extensively before and while writing in order to fill the gaps in their knowledge.

Don’t be held back by worrying about having to write what you know: write what you want to and then fill in any gaps in your knowledge.

You have to write on your own

The claim that all writers are introverts who sit on their own all day bashing at their keyboards simply isn’t true. If you’re more extrovert, you have lots of ways to make writing a more sociable activity:

  • Write in libraries and cafés surrounded by people.

  • Join a writing group or writing circle and meet other writers regularly to discuss your work and get help with problems you’re facing.

  • Keep in touch with other writers to spur you on and keep you focused (competition isn’t always a bad thing!).

  • Find a mentor or professional reader to help you develop your work.

Ultimately, though, the myth contains a grain of truth: however much help you get along the way, no one else can write your book except you.

When you know how to write, the result is perfect first time

Creative writers say that writing doesn’t get any easier. They still face the same struggle to get down to work every day, fear the blank-page syndrome, doubt themselves and wonder how they’re ever going to get the book finished (which can feel even worse if you have a publisher’s deadline looming!). At no point do writers feel that they know how to write and that they can write easily.

Unless you’re writing very formulaic books – basically, the same story with the same characters and similar plots – every book brings new challenges. Each time, you need to tackle new problems and face new difficulties. Also, writers are only as good as their last book, and so the pressure is on to make each book even better than the one before.

Many people think that when you publish your first book, you’ve ‘made it’. Nothing is farther from the truth – that’s only the beginning of a writing career. Writing’s all about the journey, and that nobody ever gets to a point where it’s easy.

Getting published is easy

Conventional publishing has become more and more difficult in recent years. The costs of paper and printing have gone up, while the cover prices of books have gone down, partly because of more promotions and discounts. Sales of hardbacks have plummeted, and recently ebook sales have started to take over from those of paperbacks. As a result, the publishing industry is going through a period of soul-searching and reflection, which makes breaking through as a new writer harder than ever.

On the other hand, the same technology that’s making life difficult for conventional publishers is opening up new avenues for writers. You can now publish an ebook easily and inexpensively, and many publishers are picking up books that were directly published this way and that found an audience.

Always try the conventional route first. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, employ a professional editor to make sure that your book’s as good as it can be before you put it out into the world.

Publishers nurture your talent and knock your book into shape

In the old days, literary editors used to do an enormous amount of editing. But editing creative work is a highly skilled, time-consuming task, and so highly expensive. Modern publishers seldom have the time or money for this kind of input, and they tend to take on books that are already in a polished state.

Therefore, literary agents increasingly work with authors to ensure that the typescript is in a state where it can be submitted. But even literary agents don’t pick up raw talent: again, they expect you to have done a huge amount of work yourself before you submit to them.

These days, unfortunately, no publishers are likely to respond to your submission and say that they recognise your raw talent and would like to take you on and help you develop your book. You’re likely simply to receive a standard rejection letter, get depressed and then give up.

Never submit your work to an agent or publisher before you’re totally convinced that the book is as good as it can possibly be. And in particular, never submit the first (or even second or third) draft.

Writing will make you rich

Most writers don’t make enough from their writing to live on. Even quite well-known and successful writers have to take other jobs as well. Only a handful of bestselling authors get rich from writing. Most novels and narrative non-fiction books sell in modest quantities, and only a tiny number are reviewed or win prizes.

You have many better options available to amass a fortune than writing! If money is your motivation, you may want to stop now.

Writing will make you famous

Writing is unlikely to make you famous: only a small number of authors become household names. Go to a large bookshop or browse an online bookstore and look at the huge number of titles you’ve never heard of. Think of all the writers in the past whose books are out of print and whose names are unknown today.

One reason so many people want to write these days is because, in an increasingly secular world where people don’t believe in an afterlife, having a book published means that some part of them will remain beyond their death. Certainly, if you write a book and get it published, it sits in copyright libraries until the end of human civilisation. The possibility exists that someone will read it far into the future and find that it speaks to them in a way no other book has. That’s a form of immortality.