Four Myths About Writing

Since it’s a subject near and dear to my heart, in this article we’ve decided take a look at myths about writing.

Popular tales and myths about writing often focus on the difficulty of the process: writer’s block, the tyranny of the blank page, the difficulty of earning a living wage. And yes, those can all be problems, especially early in a writer’s career. It’s all a part of something we call “paying your dues.”

But allow Your Humble Writer to let you in on a little secret: things aren’t always that bad. For example, having to meet a deadline can concentrate your mind wonderfully, making writer’s block a thing of the past. In addition to that obstacle, there’s these other four other myths you might be interested in.

Myth 1: Writing is a quiet, lonely pursuit.

This myth about writing can be true, but often isn’t. It depends on the writer and the circumstances. Harlan Ellison once wrote a story while sitting in the window of a bookstore, posting pages on the glass as he finished them. Stephen King listens to loud rock music as he writes.

Public libraries are good places to write, and while they’re quiet, they’re rarely solitary. A coffee shop can also be pleasant option when you’d rather not be starving alone in a garret, and they’re far from quiet. Some writers prefer to write in noisy bars; Hemingway often did.

Myth 2: Good writing is all about inspiration and talent.

Here’s another widespread myth about writing that’s not really true. While talent does play a role in good writing, and inspiration can surely spur you on to greater heights, three things are even more important: practice, perseverance, and something that writer Jane Yolen calls BIC.

If you’re willing to write daily, finish what you write, and keep trying to get published, you’ll eventually succeed even if you’re no David Mamet. And as for that BIC thing, it’s short for “Butt In Chair.” You’ll become neither good nor prolific unless you force yourself to write daily, even when you don’t want to.

Myth 3: Good writers have no trouble selling their work.

If only this myth about writing were true! For every writer who succeeds immediately, dozens more try for years before they’re published. Case in point: while sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein sold his first story, Piers Anthony — now one of the top-selling writers in the field — wrote eight novels before he sold a word!

Want more proof? Researchers have occasionally submitted existing, often classic novels to publishers in manuscript form to see what would happen. They’re almost always rejected. One especially egregious example is The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s Pulitzer winner from 1939.

Myth 4: Writing is a profitable career.

Three words in response to this myth about writing: ha, ha, and ha! You might think this would be the case for any good writer, but see Myth 3. There’s an old joke that goes like this: what’s the difference between a freelance writer and a large pepperoni pizza? The answer: The pizza can feed a family of four.

There’s a lot of truth in that old joke. Again, this myth can become true, but for the majority of us writing is just a job or hobby we enjoy. Some of us manage to do it full time, and make a decent living; many of us don’t.

Not that Your Humble Writer is complaining, mind you! Few jobs are as challenging and rewarding as writing, whether you’re working on the Great American Novel or churning out web copy. So if you’re thinking about being a writer, c’mon in — the water’s fine. Just don’t blind yourself to reality by taking those old myths about writing to heart.