Hello and welcome back to the blog! On the last post, I listed ten truths about writing. At the end of that post I promised to tackle lies next. The thought is the same, though I have decided misconceptions about writing is more appropriate. Some of these are perpetuated by famous writers, while others are the result of popular opinion. Either way these commonly held beliefs aren’t true. Speaking of opinions and beliefs, the following list was formulated using my own.
- Write what you know. These are in no specific order, yet I think this to be the biggest misconception most nonwriters and beginning writers believe to be true. If you’re a lawyer or a doctor, yes, feel free to write what you know. The rest of us should feel free to expand our horizons. That doesn’t mean that proper research and preparedness go out the window, but you don’t need to be a retired police officer to write a gripping crime thriller.
- You’ll get rich writing the great American novel. When I was a newly married young man, I confided in our church’s life group that I was an aspiring writer. The leader of the group waxed poetically for several minutes about the great American novel. I have no doubt that many people think penning a book will make them rich or at the very least insanely comfortable. It’s just not true. Go ahead, write that book; just do it knowing you’ll be lucky to make enough money to quit your day job.
- You can’t take a break from writing. When I’m working on a novel or a short story, I write a mandatory six days a week, maybe seven if I can spare it. I do this until the story is done. Then I take a break for a week or two. By that time, the laptop is beckoning my return to the dungeon (my office is in our basement). When necessary this break has been longer than two weeks, but that’s rare. Writing can be a taxing and lonesome venture. Taking a break is fine. Just remember the longer the break, the more rust you’ll have to shake off before returning to a serious project.
- You need to be prodigious with your output. In On Writing Stephen King talks about new writers setting a goal of one thousand to one thousand five hundred words per day, with the eventual goal of hitting the two-thousand-word mark. Well, Stephen King is a fulltime writer and has that kind of time. Most of my writing sessions have come while children nap or watch cartoons in the hazy midafternoon. My time is limited. Most days I write around fifteen hundred words and am perfectly fine with the output. One day a week I only write around five hundred words. This is to keep the story in my head while having a lighter workload for the day. In my younger days, many novels went unfinished if I took too many days off from a story. This prevents that from happening. Remember, it’s about not losing the story.
- Stay in your genre. Many writers stay in a genre because they have developed a relationship with the readership. Perhaps there is a fear of alienating the fans by trying a new genre. However, I’m a fan of Stephen King, as I’m sure you have guessed, and have followed him to other genres. Once I develop a fondness for a writer, I’ll read anything they write, within reason, of course. Plus, this lets new writers discover you as a writer.
- All it takes is a competent writing ability. I have read books that were well written that didn’t hold my attention long enough to finish (I’m looking at you, The Historian). Also, if it were only about writing ability, I wouldn’t be getting rejection slips regarding the two novels I have written.
- All it takes is a good idea. While some writers can get away with having a good idea held up by poor writing ability (I’m looking at you, Stephanie Meyer). Most of us will have to combine good writing with a good idea to get published for the first time.
- You must enter into writing with a plan. In my opinion, writing is about feeling out the best way to tell a story. In truth, some writers are plotters, some are pantsers, and some are a hybrid. I have tried all three of these and can tell you, personally, I prefer a hybrid approach. A detailed itinerary isn’t necessary, though a few ideas of landmarks to visit along the way is recommended.
- Fancy eloquent language is necessary. Some writers like to dazzle us with their prose. For instance, Dean Koontz can develop a brilliant plot, yet has spent several pages describing the Santa Ana wind unnecessarily. There are times when less is more. I had a short story published last year in which the editor complimented my use of simple language to weave a complex story. Putting an image into the reader’s head, that’s the important thing, and sometimes big words need to be left behind.
- You should listen to published writer’s advice as if they were a sage from the promised land. Look, every writer’s journey is different, and they all have opinions. If you listened to them all, well, you would never get anything done. Now, literary agents, on the other hand, are another matter.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth