Busting the Five Myths of Writing

At the start of December, Caroline Donahue released a series of private emails to her newsletter subscribers dispelling five of the most common myths she and her clients have encountered.

I love the idea and devoured the series, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Caroline should be very flattered! Below is my own take on five writing myths that desperately need busting.

While I know these myths to be false, they are lessons I easily forget, and this post is here for whenever I–or you!–need a reminder.  

1/ Create a routine and stick to it.

When the routines in our lives change (hello, 2020) then our creative routine must change too.

Taking on extra clients, picking up night work, getting a dog, moving out of the office (or choosing to hire one) are all things that will upend the routine, not to mention major adjustments like having a baby or moving.

Writing for an hour before work may no longer be possible, now that you have a dog that needs daily walks. Working after dinner but before bed may go down the sink if you start a new relationship. Writing sessions with a ‘sprint buddy’ may vanish if you move towns.

And sometimes, nothing external changes, and yet the old routine stops working. 

Routines can be tremendously supportive, but they can also become stale and prison-like.

A routine is only useful if it works.

Adapting our routines to our external and internal needs is essential if we’re to keep producing.

Flexibility means that we don’t have to abandon a manuscript if the boss wants us to start at 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. or if our weekly critique group no longer feel useful.

Ritual is lovely, but ultimately the fewer parameters we can have around our writing the better.

Keep thing simple.

For example, to write I need a computer, a bit of time, and a cup of tea.

Writing needn’t be lonely.

2/ Writing is Lonely

Writing needn’t be lonely, and good writing is rarely done alone.

Most writers receive a whole host of support, whether it be personally from loved ones (a partner that makes you a cup of tea; kids that make their own lunch; parents or friends that ask how the work is going), or professionally (beta readers, writing groups, editors, literary agent).

The author’s name may appear on the cover, but the acknowledgements page exists for a reason because it takes a lot of people to make a book happen.

Speaking from my own experience, some of my best ideas and work have come about when I’ve invited others into my process.

Sometimes this looks like brainstorming a new idea with a friend (why limit yourself to only the experiences you have had?).

It can mean emailing my manuscript to beta readers and critique partners.

Often it is reading books and thinking, ‘how did they do that?’

And occasionally, it’s hour-long conversations with someone who is far more skilled than me, better read than me, and with expertise different from my own (i.e. mentor, supervisors, coaches, editors).

Good writing is the result of collaboration.

3/ You’ll feel like a ‘real writer’ after releasing your first book.

Imposter syndrome never goes away, at least that’s what my experience has been like and that of the writers I know (and those I do not).

Every project is different, and you are different, making every book feel like the first book.

Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration…

You’ll likely understand sentence structure, plot, characterisation and other such elements better than before you wrote your first book, and you’ll likely carry these fundamentals into your second book; however, the plot should be different, the characters too, and maybe this time you’ll want to experiment with a different style or voice or challenge yourself to use language differently.

If you’re trying to stretch your abilities, you will be plagued by self-doubt.

This is the perils of being a creative because the inner critic loves to point out all the way we are coming up short, however true or not true its points may be.

As writers, we know that we can’t be objective about our own work. We can’t always tell if a scene is boring, interesting, subtle, or confusing–a point that underscores the above myth: writers need others to help them see their work clearly.

Sharing our work with others only heightens our vulnerability.

It is a unique fear that we don’t experience when carrying out other activities, like hanging out the laundry, because we care about it and it is–in some ways and not in others–a representation of ourselves. 

Writing isn’t just writing, it’s thinking, reading, talking, living…

4/ The only thing that counts are words on the page.

Or put another way: writing is writing. 

I used to think this way too, that writing only happened during writing sessions; that the only thing that counted as writing was words on the page.

This is a hard and ungenerous way to view your creativity, and as time goes on, I feel that it is distinctly untrue.

Fingers flying over keyboards is not writing, that is typing.

Of course, I also acknowledge that some realisations only happen in the act of writing, but just as many occur away from the keyboard.

Writing is thinking, reading, daydreaming, coffee with a friend, watching a movie, doing the dishes; writing is paying attention to your life while holding the story close.

It’s looking for links between the fantasy of your novel and the reality of everyday existence.

It’s bouncing ideas off friends and writing buddies.

Writing sessions are the distillation of all these creative miracles, manifested onto the page as an unravelling tale with inevitable conclusions.  

Additionally, not all writing is equal; different stages require different skills, mindsets, and approaches.

The way you complete the first draft is very different from how you begin the revision process and later the final proofread. First drafts are about the story, i.e.: plot, and maybe characterisation (though this varies between writers).

Revision is critical analysis: what isn’t working and how can you fix it?

Proofreading is checking for consistency and repetitions (making sure the character doesn’t make the same point in chapter five as they did in chapter two) and nuts and bolts elements such as grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.

5 / Writing is either fun or torture

Most days are nestled somewhere in between.

On bad days, writing can feel like any other task on the to-do list, but usually, it feels like a friendlier appointment, like having coffee with a mate that you see often.

While part of you would secretly like to cancel, stay home, and watch Netflix (you saw each other just last week, after all), you also know you’ll enjoy yourself once you get there.

Writing often feels … okay, fine … though it is often bookended by dread before beginning and prideful relief upon finishing.  

Now I’d love to hear from you. What are some writing myths you’d like to bust? Share your response in the comments!

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