18 Myths About Writing a Book

18 Myths About Writing a Book

note: this article is specific to fiction-writing, but there are plenty of tips in here that are applicable to non-fiction writers as well!

(1) You must write every day.

I heard this one a lot when I was first starting out. Probably because a lot of famous writers subscribe to this philosophy. And honestly? It’s a good piece of advice. I’ll be the first to say that I'm happier, more productive, and more creative when I write every day. But you don’t have to. I wrote my first book by writing only on weekends. And when my career started to take off, and I got busy with interviews/signings/conferences, I would have writing binges, interspersed with days where I didn’t even open the laptop. Writing every day is a great method—but it’s not the only method. If it doesn’t work for your schedule/brain, don’t assume that you can’t be a good writer or finish a book! 


(2) You should tell someone you’re writing a book so that you’re accountable to finish it.

I like the theory that by telling someone you’re writing a book, you’ll be more inclined to actually write it. I understand the idea that once the intention of writing a book is out there in the world, you might be more inclined to put some words on a page, so that you won’t have to give a sheepish “haven’t started” response when friends inquire about your progress. And there's probably some psychology or brain study on the power of accountability. I'm not trying to counteract those studies. But I am saying that it's okay to write just for you. When I took my first wobbly steps into writing, I didn’t tell a soul. Eventually, when I got serious about writing a book, I told my husband, but mostly out of necessity so he knew what I was doing for hours at a time hunched over my laptop. I am not a social person. I don’t do my best works in group, I don't think well by talking things out, and I don't really enjoy outside influences on my creativity or motivation. Trust your instincts on this one. If you know yourself, and know you’ll be more likely to see it through if you post your intentions on Facebook, go for it. Just know that quiet and 100% under the radar is also a fine option.


(3) Only people with talent should/can write a book.

Practice and willpower have a hell of a lot more to do with writing than talent does. Hell, when it comes to writing, I’m not even sure talent’s a thing. I think it's far more likely that some of us got started in storytelling/word-obsessesion earlier in life than others, and people call that talent, when really it's just experience. And guess what, anyone can gain experience, at any time in their life. Who cares if you weren’t a creative writing prodigy in childhood. Or if your favorite class was PE instead of English. You’ve still got what it takes if you’ve got the motivation to keep showing up to your story time and time again.


(4) Anyone can write.

Now, you’re probably thinking that’s contradictory to what I just said in #3. But not everybody is a writer. Who’s in the “not” category? Quitters. People who don’t like hard things. People who get distracted by the next shiny opportunity or hobby. People who think that writing is all about being creative. And sure, writing has plenty of creativity!  But far more important is dedication. Writing is hard. Writing an entire novel is even harder. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Writing is for disciplined, motivated workers only. Slackers need not apply.


(5) If the writing is hard, it means something is wrong with the story.

I fell into this trap a lot when I was starting out. I’d be inspired for a page or so. Maybe a chapter. Maybe three chapters. An then the fun would wear off, the words would get harder and harder, and I’d assume it was because the book was no good, the story was crap. I’d give up, start again, thinking that I needed a fresh new story that wouldn’t quit on me. Only to have the same process repeat itself every time. Turns out? I was quitting on the story. Not the other way around. I’d stop writing a particular story, telling myself it was because I didn’t have the outlining done right, or the characters were bland, or the idea was dull, my setting generic, and so on. WRONG. Twenty-something books later, I can tell you this: Every book will hit a point where you don’t really want to work on it. Even my quickest, favorites, most-easily-written books had a point where I was like, “Eh, do I have to?” It’s not the story. It’s you. And it’s natural. Push through. We all deal with it.


(6) Those who struggle with grammar/spelling aren’t good writers.

What nonsense. I mean, yes. If you have horrendous grammar and can’t be bothered to learn the difference between your/you’re, I’m enough of a grammar snob to suggest you take the time to learn. But that’s not what writing is about. All of that stuff can be fixed during the proofreading process. If grammar or spelling is your hold-up, get over it. Simply slop it down on the page, typos and all. You can fix it later, along with the help of a proofreader. (I still struggle with the difference between lay/lie, and I’m doing just fine.)


(7) If your writing is grammatically correct and your sentence structure perfect, you’ve got a good book.

The flip side to #6 is also true. If you’re a grammar nazi, a spelling bee superstar, and can diagram a sentence better than your seventh grade English teacher, congratulations. But it doesn’t automatically make you a good novelist. An encyclopedia is correct. A text book on flora is correct. Doesn’t make it a page turner! (See, I skipped the subject in the last sentence, but I'm betting some of you will still stick with me!) 


(8) You should join a writer’s group.

Oh man. I see this one all the time. In the romance world (which is my world) it’s RWA (Romance Writers of America), that is pimped the Holy Grail of Writers Groups. The number one piece of advice I saw when starting out is that you must join RWA if you were serious about writing. I call BS. I wrote multiple books, got an agent and multiple books deals all without being a member. Now, mind you, I've been a member off and on a couple of times, mainly so that I could honor speaking commitments at their annual conference that I’d committed to. But both times my membership is up for renewal ... I let it lapse. To be clear, I have nothing against RWA. Many authors cite it as a huge influence in their path to publication, and I think that's great. But it wasn’t for me. I found myself more distracted by the magazine, the forums, the chapters, the conferences, when what I really needed to be doing was writing. Get in touch with yourself for a moment. Are you invigorated by the thought of being surrounded by like-minded people with similar aspirations to you? Then absolutely, join a writer’s group. Are you a lone wolf who prefers to find his/her own way? Do that.


(9) A good book is all about excellent writing.

This isn’t intended to be a repeat of #7. I’m not talking about perfect grammar, in this section, I’m talking about writing skillz. Every now and then I run across an ar-teeeest of a writer who’s in love with the written word. This is great. A beautifully composed sentence can be transcendent. I have this experience with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s A Great Gatsby; even out of context, Fitzgerald's sentences are breathtakingly lovely. But as with perfect grammar, gorgeous writing alone doesn’t make something interesting. Compelling fiction is first and foremost about story. If you’re looking to make a living from writing, you need your readers desperate to find out what happens next, not think, “my what a fabulous metaphor.”


(10) You need quiet/dedicated office/uninterrupted time/a mountain retreat to write a book.

Another trap I fell into! I first got the writing bug at age 22. Did I start writing then? No. I was commuting 3 hours each day to my entry-level job, and it simply wasn’t conducive to my art, you guys! My fiancé suggested I write on the train write from Tacoma to Seattle (Washington), and I scoffed in his face. I couldn’t find the muse on stinky, crowded public transportation! So I didn’t. I didn’t write a single word. Oh how I changed my tune (eventually). A couple years passed, my commute had barely improved, and I was increasingly realize that writers don't find a time or space to write. They make it. I wrote my first book on weekends, from an airplane hanger in Puyallup, Washington, in the middle of winter, wearing a down coat and fingerless gloves and trying not to freeze as I typed. I wrote frantically all day Saturday and Sunday, went back to my day job on Monday, exhausted, but soul-happy. Because you can write from anywhere. At any time.


(11) You need a brand new MacBook Pro to write a book.

In the same vein as #10, storytelling isn’t about having the right space or the right tools. All you need is imagination and commitment. Is a computer handy for fast typers? Sure. But it’s not essential. Some of the best books in history have been written the old-fashioned way: with a pen and paper.


(12) You have to wait for inspiration (THE MUSE) to show up.

I don’t know if the muse is a thing. Every now and then I get powerful whispers of inspiration on a story idea, or a bit of dialog, or a character motivation. Mostly though? Writing is about putting words on papers even when you’re not inspired. Still not convinced? Think of it this way: Maybe your muse doesn’t show up during the first draft—maybe she’s a revisions/second draft sort of muse. Give her something to work with!


(13) Good books aren’t written quickly.

A good book doesn’t necessarily mean years of toiling. Nobody but the author gets to determine the right amount of time to write a story, and he or she is allowed to change his mind with every single book. Good books are written quickly all the time, so if you’re finding your page/word-count is a bit ahead of schedule compared to “expert input,” ignore it. It means you’ve got a fast-writing book, not a lesser book.


(14) Good books shouldn't take X amount of years to finish.

Similarly, don't freak out if your book isn’t moving along as quickly as your favorite author finishes his/her book. The first Harry Potter book reportedly took 6 years to write. Catcher in the Rye took 10. Each book is different. Roll with it.


(15) You need to know how the story ends before you begin.

There are lots of thoughts on whether or not a writer should outline a book, and I’m not going to touch that topic here because it’s huge, and rather spicy. I’ll say only this: You can be an outliner, and still not know the ending. I’m in this category. I outline most of my books, but very rarely do I know the ending scene until I’m there. The worst thing you can do is delay the actual writing because you don’t know the final destination. Sometimes you have to start walking before you know where you’re going!


(16) You must read a lot to be a great writer.

I’m going to piss off a lot of people with this one, but it’s probably the most frequent bit of advice I hear, and … I’m not 100% convinced. Yes, there is undoubtedly some learning that goes on when a writer reads. There’s definitely (hopefully!) a shared passion for a good story between readers/writers. And yet, they’re inherently different. Readers are consumers. Writers are creators. The skillsets are different. The purpose is different. I would never tell a writer not to read, but neither would I tell an aspiring writer that me must read more if he has a story to tell and a desire to write. I would tell him to write, not read! 


(17) A book is done after you type The End and check for typos.

Another newbie mistake committed by yours truly? I thought that editing and proofreading were the same thing. I thought when agents said they accepted edited manuscripts, they meant manuscripts that had been read through (hopefully professionally) for typos. And they do mean that. But edits are about so much more the commas and grammar. Most books require developmental revisions of the story before they even get to the typos part. Sometimes this is major rewrites of the entire story, other times it’s thematic elements that need to be drawn out, or character motivations that need to be clarified. But know that very rarely does any bestselling novel go from finished first draft, straight to proofreading, to publication. There are generally many re-reads, revisions, rewrites along the way. Sometimes months/years worth! . But don’t be discouraged—edits, whether they’re self or third-party suggestions are often where the magic happens. It’s where your writing starts to sparkle.


(18) A story must be a one-of-a-kind idea to be any good.

My least favorite accolade for a book idea is, “it’s so unique!” Unique alone does not make a good story. The story telling must be good. There’s a reason there are countless high-fantasy books, but only one Lord of the Rings. There’s a reason there are plenty of sci-fi/fantasy movies, but only one Star Wars. Same goes for Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Gray, Gone Girl, Along Came a Spider, Jason Bourne, or {insert favorite book here.} Any one of those stories has an analog story, if not dozens of similar books. A familiar story can be just as good as a unique story, if the writer makes it fresh. Should you write an exact copy of your favorite book? Clearly not. But neither should you disregard a story idea simply because you can think of something else that’s similar. A good writer knows that a twist on the familiar can be just as captivating as an “original.” (Source: every superhero story ever).

Happy writing!

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