In order to write creatively, we need to exercise our free-spirited and impulsive right brain. It might take a while to “liberate” this side of the brain especially if we have worked in fields that are linear, concrete, and require rationale thought. This is what happened to me many years ago when I switched from a career in teaching and publishing to full-time writing. As I began my apprenticeship in the creative arts, I had to dispel several myths about the writing process and writers.
1. Myth: Writers Are Strange.
There is an element of truth to this! Writers (and other creative people) must be willing to look below the surface of everyday life and explore the world and relationships like a curious outsider. This perspective sets us apart, but at the same time, it allows us to dig deep and communicate what we’ve learned to others.
2. Myth: Writing Is Predictable and Can Follow a Timetable.
Writing a book isn’t like planning a trip. You can’t buy tickets in advance and expect that you will take off and land on a specific date and tour 10 cities in 10 days. My experience has taught me that writing a book is an adventure, with unexpected stops and detours. It is not linear and predictable and doesn’t follow a schedule. But that’s the fun of it. If the writing is solid and true, our characters “take over” the story and take us where we’d never expect to go.
3. Myth: Writing is neat and tidy. It follows an outline.
I tried to write this way, but it just didn’t work. Instead, I had to embrace the chaos of creativity. In truth, the writing process can be messy and ugly and sometimes it involves tramping through the mud. It is a journey…like life. But after we muddle through the first draft, we begin to see a path. If we follow it, we have our story.
4. Myth: Writers always write about themselves and people they know.
This simply is not true. First of all, it would be far too boring to write about myself. To be honest, sometimes, as I create a character, I am thinking of a “real” person, but in the course of writing the book, he or she will change and evolve. More likely, they are an amalgam of several people. Sometimes, however, they are totally fictional. A few of my favorite characters popped unannounced into the scene as I was writing.
5. Myth: Good writing is effortless.
This is totally false. It takes a lot of pick-and-shovel work—and many rewrites.
6. Myth: Good writers have always been good writers.
Not true. Writing is a skill that needs to be practiced. Every creative person should expect to spend time as an apprentice while mastering his art.
7. Myth: Writing is romantic and can be done at Starbucks.
Not true. In fact, writing can be sweaty and ugly. It should be done in private. Perhaps when you are in the final stages, like the editing phase, you can risk doing it in public.
8. Myth: Characters are obedient like good children. They listen to their creator and do what they say.
How many of you have children? Is this ever true?
9. Myth: Writing is inspired and magical.
This may be true at times. Sometimes it feels like Glinda the Good Witch is sprinkling fairy dust on us. But most of time, it is pick and shovel work. Writing is like panning for gold by sifting through a lot of grit. By the end of the process, however, we hope that all our hard work transports the writer into the fictional world we have created with characters that seem to live and breathe on the page. If we succeed, we have perpetuated the myth that writing was effortless.
10. Myth: I can quit my day job and write full-time.
The sad truth is that we aren’t living in Renaissance Italy where artists have wealthy patrons. Many writers must squeeze their writing time into days filled with 9 to 5 responsibilities. Others writers, like Wally Lamb, used his summer vacations to write. But good creative work can be done with persistence and determination.
How many of these myths about writing do you believe? After reading this, do you still believe them?