If you’re new to writing, you’ll encounter plenty of advice from well-meaning scribes, especially if you hang out in writer forums or with your local critique group.
But not all advice is created equal. Unfortunately, even in this enlightened age, plenty of writing myths persist—myths that can discourage new writers or lead them down the wrong path.
So let’s set the record straight and bust some of the biggest myths for good.
Myth #1: Good writers are born, not made. While some folks are born with natural talent—e.g. an innate sense of story or way with words—plenty of other people (including this writer right here) have learned the craft over time. If you’re willing to put in the time, you can pick up mechanics, structure, and so forth.
Myth #2. If you can’t spell, you can’t write. Here’s a list of great thinkers who supposedly couldn’t spell. You’ll notice the list includes many famous authors. My point: while you should certainly strive to spell correctly, you won’t be doomed if spelling is your weakness. Telling a good story has nothing to do with knowing how many S’s are in Mississippi. That said, if you know spelling isn’t your thing, make sure you have someone proofread your work before you send it out into the world. (And remember that spell-check is your friend!)
Myth #3. Great writers get it right the first time. Ha. I wish. No writer gets it right the first time. And most of us don’t get it right the second or third time, either. Great writing is all about great rewriting. The writers who make the craft look effortless are the ones who embrace the revision process.
Myth #4. You need to write every day. If you look online, you’ll find plenty of advice regarding how and when you should write, including the notion that you should write every day. First, be careful of any advice that uses the word “should.” Second, when it comes to writing, there are no absolutes. Some writers write every day, including holidays and birthdays (Stephen King comes to mind). Some writers work a Monday-to-Friday schedule. Others consider themselves weekend warriors. The key is learning what works best for you and your process.
Myth #5. Don’t start writing until you know exactly what you want to say. Remember, you can’t revise a blank page. And if you think the muse will rescue you by whispering sweet nothings in your ear, well—you’re going to end up sorely disappointed.
Myth #6. The writing life is a solitary life. OK, so here’s the thing. Writing can be solitary, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m an extreme introvert and relish my solitude, but I know plenty of writers who love engaging with their fellow scribblers. Think conferences, expos, meetups, or coffee dates with a fellow novelist pal. Bottom line: you decide how solitary you want your writing life to be.
Myth #7. Writers can’t make a living. I’ve been a professional writer since 2002. I pay the rent. I buy groceries. I put money away for a rainy day. In other words, I make a living as a writer.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Will you be able to make a living as a fiction writer? Possibly. You have a better chance now than ever before, thanks to self-publishing (which is something I also do; and yes, I make money from my self-pubbed fiction). Like any other endeavor, it won’t happen overnight, and you will need to work at it. But it can happen.
Myth #8. You need an English degree or graduate degree to write. Nope. And this is coming from someone who earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. The only things you need: your imagination, your willingness to get your story down on paper, and your desire to improve.
You can learn grammar, punctuation, structure, and anything else through books, the Internet, critique groups, and so forth. In other words, you don’t need the degree. That said, there are good reasons to pursue a writing degree (for example, if you want to teach at the college level in the US, you’ll more than likely need an MFA, at the very least). But a degree is not the be-all, end-all for writing a book, short story, or ad copy.
Myth #9. You must read in order to be a good writer. This is tricky, because I do believe all good writers are avid readers. The two go hand-in-hand. But being an avid reader alone won’t make you a good writer. You need to take what you’ve learned from reading and write, rewrite, write, and rewrite some more. This, over time, is what it takes to become a competent writer.
Bottom line: get writing.