Blast from the past: Writing Myths

I’ve just crawled from the writing bunker. Draft 2 of NEW NOVEL is complete. After staggering to the kitchen and eating an entire bag of tortilla chips and a box of See’s Candy to recover, I stood on the porch with my fists in the air, howling in victory. Or maybe I turned on the Cavs-Raptors game. Somebody had their fists in the air. It was either me or LeBron.

Then, filled with energy, I sat down to blog on the topic of do’s and don’ts for writers. An hour later I was still sitting here, staring at the blank screen. Draft 2 of NEW NOVEL had drained all new words from my head. At least for today.

So here’s a blast from the blog’s past.

Writing Myths

I’ve recently encountered some misconceptions about writing. Let me dispel them.

1. Writing requires inspiration. No it doesn’t. Inspiration – a sudden brilliant idea, a flash that stimulates creativity – is wonderful and thrilling, but when you’re writing a book, constant inspiration is not necessary. And if you want to finish that book, you can’t wait for inspiration to strike. You have to sit your butt down and put your fingers on the keyboard and type. Word after word after word.

To me this seems self-evident. But at a friend’s book launch recently, a well-educated couple asked me how often I write. Every day, I said. They looked surprised. Really… every day? Yes. They looked utterly confused. Even if I don’t feel like it?

At that point I realized (a) they thought writing consisted essentially of inspiration – that it could only take place when the muse descends and sprinkles her fairy dust; and (b) they thought writing was essentially a lightweight activity, the transcription of fairy dust into frilly words. A hobby, that is. Self-indulgence.

Repeat after me: if you want to write a book, you have to treat it as a job. Because it is. It’s a fabulous job, but it’s work.

2. Anybody can write a novel. Believe it or not, the last time a friend said this to me – flipping through one of my novels before tossing it aside – I kept a smile on my face. A rigid, homicidal smile. Jurassic Park? he said. Piece of cake. Crime novels? Just kill a bunch of people, pick the killer from the surviving characters, and you’re done. Takes a couple of months, max.

Needless to say, he has never gone on to write a novel. He can’t spare the time. And I’m still smiling.

3. Reading fiction is a waste of time. I’ve written before, with frustration, about fictophobia: the refusal to read fiction. Since publishing my first book I’ve been shocked by the number of people who tell me point blank that they won’t read novels. Fiction is frivolous, they say. Or it’s not “real.” Or, horribly, it doesn’t “increase their productivity.” I hear this from people who read only self-help books.

I think such people misunderstand what story is, and what it does. Story is more than frivolity, more than escapism. Story teaches us about the world by drawing us into the lives of characters as they strive, risk, fail, and triumph, often in dire circumstances, sometimes while faced with desperate choices. Story is about morality, selflessness, maturity, dignity. It’s about humanity.

Strangely, the people who read only self-help books (in bed, with the television tuned to CNBC so that even their final moments before sleep will be “productive”… sometimes clutching a yellow highlighter so they can highlight the crucial bullet points that reveal how to lose weight, get rich, and find a mate) tend to be the same people who tell me anybody can write a novel. Though generally they don’t want to write books but screenplays. Movies take only two hours to watch, after all – could it take much longer than two hours to write a screenplay? And screenplays sell for shitloads of money… right? Writing a screenplay, that’s not a waste of time, because it will make them rich and famous. And isn’t that what counts? It must be. They highlighted that bullet-point in the self-help book.

All I can say to these folks is, good luck.

11 responses to “Blast from the past: Writing Myths

  1. Rocky Bridges said there are three things that everyone in the world thinks he can do: manage a baseball team, run a hotel, and write a book. True!

    The one question I hear all the time, which never fails to annoy me, is, “How long did it take you to write that?” As in, “Gee, you don’t have much to do, do you?”

    • I once attended a major book award ceremony in London. One of the presenters was a famous young TV actress. The emcee (also an actor) said, “I hear you’ve written a novel yourself. Was it as hard as acting?”

      She sighed and laughed. “No, it was lovely! Curling up on the sofa in my jim-jams, with a notebook and a cuppa. Such a nice break from work!”

      She didn’t seem to notice the entire ballroom of writers sitting stone faced in front of her.

  2. Woo on completing draft 2!

  3. Besides the obvious thrill at NEW NOVEL draft (all caps so you can here my excitement), it was great to see this blog post. #1 especially. I’ve always known that, and struggle to find time every day. Too many times, the struggle wins. I finally realized I need set hours, not just trying to fit words in here and there. So I’m making changes with my jobs to free up specific days and hours that will be just writing time. I’m so excited about this – and your post reminds me that I’m doing the right thing.

  4. Stacy McKitrick

    Yay to finishing draft of NEW NOVEL (can’t wait to read it!!). And Yay to celebrating with See’s! I miss See’s. Although there is a See’s store in Columbus. I’m afraid to go there, though. I may never come out. 🙂

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