Here are ten ideas we might have about writers, including the really successful ones, that are probably just not true. Misconceptions about writers are very possible!
They write what they know.
That’s right, because J.R.R. Tolkien knew a lot of hobbits, and George Lucas encountered many a light sword in his extensive travels upon plant Earth. It’s not true. Great writers aren’t letting you escape into a world you’ve never known – they’re showing you a portal to a world that you want to know. And to do this, writers have to go beyond what they know, in some cases far beyond. Imagination tears a rift in existence, a big black hole that sucks in our eyeballs and ensures that we can’t look away. That’s the beauty of storytelling.
Writers save their great ideas for the mega-hits.
Successful writers have a vault of the best ideas, locked up until the world is ready for them. They hoard and collect them, letting them out in-between filler. Great writers don’t go for broke every time out, right? But of course they do. It takes effort and time to write, and you have to give it everything you have right from the first word through the last, on everything you write. Every piece has to be full throttle. Every piece needs to be urgent. Great writers don’t save anything for the ride back, because there may not be a ride back.
Writers spend much of their time on social media.
Of course. It’s so much more important to be in the social media arena, plugging yourself, than practicing your craft. Somehow, we think that self-promotion makes the writing, or that the success will come if you self-promote enough – that this is more important than your story, or your craft. But if you have nothing to sell, and haven’t done the hard work to get there, this apparent success is just skin-deep. Great writers work hard. They outwork themselves and others, bearing down on the storytelling, the writing. The craft. Only more writing makes your writing better, not social media fame.
Great writers don’t need to outline.
We design buildings before we build them. We do the math before sending people into space. We take our clothes off before showering (usually). But some people think they can rattle off the great novel of our age by simply sitting down and getting to it. But you could easily argue that as much work and research goes into outlining your novel as it does into writing it. You could make the same argument for editing, where, whether you like it or not, your job is to chisel at the marble block studiously and repeatedly until you reveal the statue. Plan. Design. Write. Edit. Repeat.
Writers write every single day.
I’m sure there are writers who just made it the first time out. But the rest of us have jobs. We’re museum janitors, undersea scientists, professional cuddlers, part-time politicians, ambidextrous clowns, and chocolate artisans working in the medieval style. We’re mothers and fathers on top of that. We wish there were time to write every single day. There’s nothing we would like better. But life interrupts, and sooner or later you have to replace the furnace or deal with the broken bone, or apologize for streaking the quad. But I’m sure successful writers made the best of every single moment they could find to get at their stories, even if they couldn’t write every single day, and that’s really the key. So stop feeling guilty and just use the time you have like it’s the last time you’ll ever have.
Writers all have degrees from prestigious writing programs.
And yet, many great writers didn’t go to college to study at all, let alone study English (or whatever language). Harper Lee. Charles Dickens. William Faulkner. Mark Twain. Maya Angelou. Jackie Collins. Ray Bradbury. Either didn’t go to college or flunked out. Even J.K. Rowling, who did go to college, took French. People are unlimited, and unbounded. It’s our imagination, along with the honing of the craft, that leads to wonderful storytelling, not what a professor taught you in third-year Underwater Basket Weaving (which is a real course, by the way).
Great writers don’t rewrite numerous times.
Has anyone not hated editing at some point? But it’s a funny thing. Editing sneaks up on you. It hangs out at the bus stop. Follows you home and stares at you through the window. Brings you ice cream on Sundays. Eventually, it settles in to your home and cuddles with you, suggesting that you have another look at your story. Imploring you to etch at it, even to throw out parts that you dearly love, to make the story better. Eventually, editing is a permanent resident in your home, and in this strange co-habitation arrangement, you discover a love that’s inevitable in the life of a writer.
Great writers regurgitate, because every story has been told.
We have a universe around us that we don’t understand. We’re fractional beings on a spinning rock in the middle of an existence that is so big that we can’t put our heads around it. Every day, people do things we can’t possibly understand, and that take us by surprise (for good or bad). The average person doesn’t even know why we wear underwear, and we do that every single day! There are stories everywhere, all around us, that remain untold. Now look at our lives and our own experiences, all the things we don’t know, and multiply that by infinity – that’s the number of stories out there, all the white space that’s up for grabs. It’s everywhere.
Great and successful writers adapt a commercial style.
People want to hear voices in their heads. It’s not weird. It’s what makes storytelling great, the idea that the narrative is so compelling and told in such a unique way that you can’t stop reading. The best and most successful writers stay true to their own voice, not what they think the market wants. Not even what they think readers want. It’s so easy to get trapped into writing things that are demonstrably intended for commercial appeal. It’s so easy to stray away from what makes you who you are. But the books we really remember? They have a timbre and voice that is unmistakable, because the writers who created them held to their vision.
Successful writers weren’t ignored for years.
They weren’t passed over time and time again. Rejected constantly. Endlessly. The weight of rejection didn’t hang like a cartoon anvil over their coyote snouts… well, that’s exactly what happened to them. They were smothered by the slush pile and kicked to the curb over and over again, because it’s a crowded field and there’s so much interest and love of storytelling out there. People want to tell stories, and that’s a wonderful thing. But everyone is rejected multiple times, and ignored. It’s just the truth. But if the greatest and most successful writers were all rejected at one point, you have to ask yourself something: what does that mean about you in your present existence, and where you are potentially heading?
Now, the irony of me writing this post in the context of the above points is not lost on me. This is clearly social media fodder running against the type of writing I normally do. So in the interest of balance, I present to you the favourite story I have ever published on this blog.