Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Busting Writing Myths

There’s a lot of writing advice floating around on the Internet, and not all of it necessarily good — at least, not necessarily good for everyone. Even one of my favorite authors has lately been spouting something that I find to be not true at all for me, but saying it as though it’s an absolute. So I thought I’d address some common myths about being a writer that can be detrimental to you if you treat them as absolutes rather than figuring out what works for you.

1) A “real” writer writes every day — I noticed this in an interview recently, with a writer comparing writing to a bodily function and saying that it would be impossible not to do it every day. I guess you’re not a real writer if you write on days you have time to write or treat it like a job and take weekends off. If you let yourself fall into this way of thinking, you might become discouraged or wonder if you’re meant to write if you aren’t driven to do it absolutely every day.

It may be more accurate that a writer thinks about writing every day. Bits and pieces of the story you’re working on or a future story that you’re still developing may float in and out of your brain all the time, even if you aren’t actually physically writing. However, it may be unwise to go too far in the other direction and use this as an excuse to procrastinate, telling yourself that if you’re thinking about writing, you’re okay.

Bottom line: A writer writes. Writers may write every day or they may schedule their writing sessions when they have the time to write. They’re probably thinking about their writing every day, but as long as they actually write something, they can call themselves writers.

2) “Real” writing is done with a pen and paper — this one’s been going around lately (and severely mocked). I don’t even know where that’s coming from. I know very successful writers who write by hand and then do their editing as they transcribe. I know very successful writers who type on their computers. I know people who record dictation and transcribe. I know people who write on their phones. I know people who use real typewriters and then transcribe into their computers. As long as the result is words, you’re writing.

That said, there has been research about the mind-body connection being different when typing as opposed to writing by hand. Most of that has been about memory — you’re more likely to retain information you write by hand than information you type — but switching to writing by hand might be an idea to try if you’re stuck. It can be good for brainstorming or even composing if you find yourself staring at the screen and drawing a blank. There’s nothing wrong with giving writing by hand a try, but it won’t make you any more of a real writer.

3) Talking about an idea will kill it — This is definitely something that varies by individual, and it is apparently true for some people. I just don’t think it’s true for everyone or in every circumstance. I first heard this when I was in college, and it’s been going around the writer clusters on Twitter lately, thanks to a very successful author repeating it. The idea is that you expend most of your enthusiasm and creative energy for an idea in telling it to someone, and you may not have any enthusiasm or energy left to actually write it. There’s also a concern that discussing an idea with someone will mean you’ve been influenced by others, so it’s no longer purely your idea.

This may be true for some people, or even a lot of people. It’s not at all my experience. I find that my ideas bloom when I talk about them with others. I like brainstorming out loud. I’m not necessarily getting input from anyone (my mother will joke about whether she actually needs to stay on the phone or whether she can put it down and go do something else while I talk about my story), but sometimes their questions really help me develop my idea. I came up with a lot of the elements in the idea that became my Enchanted, Inc. series when I was chatting with an editor about it at a party and she asked me questions. It was an idea still in its infancy, so I didn’t have answers to her questions, and I was making things up on the fly. It ended up working like a good brainstorming session. She didn’t add any input, just the questions that made me dig deeper into the idea and develop it. Obviously, eight books later, I didn’t lose interest in writing that idea, and talking about it before I had a single word written didn’t kill it. I tend to find that if talking about an idea kills my enthusiasm for writing it, I probably didn’t have enough enthusiasm to go through with writing it, whether or not I talked about it.

However, it really depends on how you work, how strong you are in holding onto your ideas, how developed the idea is, and who you talk to. This is where you have to know yourself. I may have a very different approach because I have a background in working at an advertising agency, where we had big brainstorming sessions for a lot of our work. That may have trained me to think in that way, getting more and more excited by an idea the more it was discussed. I think it also makes a difference that I live and work alone, so by the time I get around to talking with someone about a story, I’ve done a lot of development in my head already, and I’m ready to get outside input. If you’ve noticed that you’re always coming up with great ideas and then losing interest in them, look at whether you’ve discussed them, and then try writing without talking about it. If you find that you get excited about your ideas and rush to write them, then end up with stories that seem half-baked or underdeveloped, try discussing your ideas with someone.

Is there any other bit of writing advice that you’ve heard and wondered about?

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