My Favorite Writing Myths by Deb Meredith

posedformurderThe interesting thing about being a writer is how many opinions people have about writing as a career. Maybe it’s because most people have had to write something in their life—an essay in school, a letter to get a job, an email to complain about service at a hotel—and they think they know something about the “writing life.”

Here are some of my favorite writing myths:

Writing is easy. This is one of my favorites. Although the drafting of the letter to apply for that job was hard, writing fiction must be very easy since you’re just “making stuff up.” My favorite imagined punishment for anyone who waves this myth in front of my face: taking a fiction writing class. With a brutal critique group. Hah.

One draft is enough. This is the true sign of an amateur. They think you write down something (after being “inspired” and perhaps after drinking a large strong cocktail) and then send it to your editor to be published. There’s no revising or second drafts or even third and fourth drafts in this fantasy. And I can’t tell you how many screenplays I’ve been asked to read in which the person hasn’t even bothered to run spell check. Writing is rewriting, people.

You can only get an agent if you know someone. While that is certainly true for some people, there are lots of us in the world who didn’t know anyone in publishing. But somehow we got published on the quality of our writing. It’s not totally an insiders club, but you get points for doing some research and not sending your cat humor book to a publishing house that only publishes science fiction.

Writers are transcribers. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they have a story that I need to write. I usually tell them that they should write it themselves, but this does not seem to dampen their enthusiasm. Writers actually do collect ideas, but it’s in a more creative way. We see things that interest us or hear things that make us think, and then a story starts bubbling up. We are not usually interested in writing about your Uncle Howard’s experiences in the war exactly the way he always told it.

And last but not least:

Writers make a lot of money. At this I can only roll around on the floor laughing hysterically. Although there are a few exceptions (Nora Roberts, Stephen King, James Patterson and Janet Evanovitch spring to mind), the rest of the writers out there just scrape by. But we do it because we love it, not to make lots of money. There are lots of other ways to earn lots of money fast (robbing a bank, hatching a ponzi scheme and working on Wall Street), and writing is not one of them.

What are your favorite writing myths?

19 Replies to “My Favorite Writing Myths by Deb Meredith”

  1. My gosh, I think you hit every one of my hot buttons. Thought there might be a subset to, “Writing is easy,” which goes, “There’s this book I’ve been meaning to write, as soon as I get the time.” Yeah? Well, there’s this computer program I’ve been meaning to code, and a surgical technique I’ve been meaning to demonstrate, and a house I’ve been meaning to design, and… Just as soon as I get the time.

  2. Oh, yes, you’ve got them all. I also like the variation: “I figure I’ve got a book in me.” When I hear this, I always have to force myself not to tell them to just “let it out.”

  3. I once had a woman suggest that her manicurist had a wonderful life story that I just had to write about. When I said I, ahem, didn’t have the time and that perhaps the manicurist might want to team up with another ghost writer, the woman looked aghast. She didn’t actually think I should try to SELL the manicurist’s life story — she just thought I could write about it for the manicurist and her family to enjoy.
    It does seem like everyone I know wants to write a book — and I applaud that. Up until a couple of years ago, I was one of the folks walking around dreaming about writing. But a certain point is crossed — into annoyance — when people do the kinds of things Meredith mentioned, like belittle the time and effort it takes to write a book, or suggest that they come up with the brilliant, can’t-miss idea, and I just do the easy work of making it into a book!

  4. Toni-you made me giggle with that one! I’ve certainly heard that a lot.

    Judy-I love the image of “letting out the book” in you…

    Oh, and Sarah, writing someone’s personal life story is one of my favorites. And of course the writing part is a snap!

  5. Good ones, Meredith! I’ve had many people tell me, “I’ve been meaning to write a book” and variations thereof. With certain people it does seem sincere. One of my friends has a very funny blog and she seems to understand it’s not something you just go out and do one day, write a book. I loaned her some of my favorite writing books. Other people I can tell are insincere and say it in the same tone as I might say, “Gosh, I’d like to be an actor someday. As soon as I find time to audition.”

    Have you guys seen Arrested Development much? The whole plot about Tobias becoming an actor is one of the funniest things about it.

  6. Bravo Meredith–
    Having been in screenwriting, I cannot tell you the number of times someone has said “I have this friend who dates a lot and her life would make such an awesome movie! It’s like Sex and the City!”
    Then the silence.
    Then they say “You should meet her!”
    More silence.
    Then “Isn’t that a great idea?”
    Then I tell them that I only write sci fi/fantasy and they “get it”.

    My other favorite myth is that you have to write every day. This one is hard to break because it’s a story that writers and would-be writers tell themselves.

    As someone with a demanding full time job, a business and a family, I’ll tell you that if I subscribed to that myth I’d spend more time beating myself up than writing. I write when I can. Diligently. But if I’m too tired or if I have other responsibilities that week/day/month, I just pick it up when I can. Yes it took me a year and a half to write my novel that way, but look, better 18 months than never, right?


    (say right)

  7. My favorite, from a woman I’ve known for many years after she found out I had a book deal: “It took you that long to write a book? Really?”

    Ah, doesn’t it seem like everyone in life knows a short cut to success that you don’t?

  8. I should have wrote a warning, Tiffany. Do not drink coffee while reading the following comments–they are too funny.

    Robin–if you find that short cut, please tell the rest of us. I would like to know how to write a book in just a few short weeks. It would make my life so much simpler!

  9. I love this topic, girls, thanks. I personally believe that there’s nothing wrong with being a mid-lister – that’s my goal. To be consistent. Not to be a one-hit-wonder. Of course, I suppose that I would need to get my first novel published… Is there any way around that? 😀

  10. Katie, no offense, but I think what your friend was trying to tell you was that if YOU could write a novel, then anybody can. I agree wholeheartedly. (Hardy, hardy, har) 😀

  11. Okay, I have to chime in here. Because it’s true that once you get a book deal you suddenly find out that EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD is writing a book or thinks they could write a book or should write a book. And it used to piss me off when I told someone that I’d gotten a book deal and they’d launch into “oh, I really should write a book someday!” I mean, when I meet a neurosurgeon I don’t just blurt out, “oh, I’m going to become a neurosurgeon someday!” Why oh why does everyone think what we do is so damn easy?????

  12. Someone near and dear to me has been known to say, “Oh, I’ve got such great ideas! I could write a book easily if I wanted to and everyone would love it. It’s just that fiction bores me…” Sometimes I want to scream.

  13. People who have never written and think it’s easy believe that a book is about one great idea, when in fact it is hundreds of ideas that work together, and those hundreds of ideas have been culled from the thousands that do not work.

  14. Eve–everyone would certainly like to be writing a book, but I’m not sure how many will actually finish one. It is hard work!

    Linda–I think your friend is just saying that because she’s intimidated by writing and completing a book. But I can see why it would drive you crazy.

    Christine–you are so right, as always.

  15. Hmmm…maybe it’s because I live on the island of the arts (more artists here per capita than any of the other Gulf Islands, BC), but not one person has said to me, “Oh, I want to write a book” or “It’s so easy”. Everyone here seems to be an artist of some kind so they get how difficult art can be to create. I’m feeling very lucky all of a sudden!

    I wanted to comment on the “you have to know someone” thing though. It’s funny how often you hear that from new writers and yet, I do not know a SINGLE writer who got their agent through someone they knew. Seriously. I’m sure there are some, but I don’t know any off the top of my head. Many met their agents at conferences, but even more seem to have been picked out of the slush like me. Hmmmm…I might have to post about that on my site.

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