Writing myths have been around as long as we’ve been writing—“real writers don’t get writer’s block”, “the tools maketh the story”, “writing is solitary”, and on and on—and they’re so common we often simply accept them as truth. But just how much weight do they really carry?
These are four of the most common writing myths. From tools to time to mindset, you might be surprised to find there’s less truth to them than you thought.
Myth 1) The Correct Writing Tool Makes All the Difference
“Mr. King, what pen are you currently using?”
This is the most frequently asked question to one of the most famous fiction writers of the last 50 years. But why? The short answer: many feel a correlation between a best-selling author’s pen and their output.
But the perfect pen doesn’t exist. If it did, we could all have skipped our writing courses and gone straight to Amazon!
Swap “pen” with “routine” and it’s still just as baseless. In The Myth of the Artist’s Creative Routine, Casey N. Cep writes:
“In my sanest moments, I realize how silly this all is. It is not only the routine of any of these artists that made them successful. Not many of them even follow the routines they offer. Their creative lives are all more complicated, more disordered than the bullet points or time stamps they detail in one-off interviews.”
The right routine is useful because it creates patterns and habits, but we should never lose sight of the end goal: writing. Don’t worry about what pen an author uses, worry more about finding the habits and tools that work for YOU. Find the routine that helps you get your ideas onto the page.
Because, all things considered, Stephen King could have written The Shining with a quill and cheap ink; it still would have been The Shining.
Myth 2) You Need Big Blocks of Uninterrupted Time
Many of us lead busy lifestyles – we work, have families, endure long commutes – and we sometimes lean on the idea of “not having enough time”. But the truth is, there’s almost always more time in a day than we think, it’s just a matter of using it efficiently!
It’s tempting to wait for a block of one to three hours to really get stuck in—imagine all the work you could do!—but what if we can’t easily schedule large blocks of time?
So how about this: think less about what time you don’t have; think more about what time you do have.
If you have a spare few minutes, jot down some ideas and write a few paragraphs. Maybe you’re bored on your lunch break, or waiting for a friend, or you wake up a little earlier than usual; these are good chances to do a little writing, and make a little progress. Maybe you set your alarm 10 minutes earlier every day and write before you go to work. Though 10 minutes might seem insignificant, a little writing on a regular basis will all add up.
If you can manage it, there are huge benefits to writing daily. In How a Daily Writing Habit Makes You Better, Jeff Goins talks about how it builds discipline, makes you smarter, and imbues a sense of accomplishment.
Create a habit of looking for times to write rather than waiting for times to write. If you know that you will likely have a 20-minute wait in your doctor’s waiting room, plan ahead and bring your laptop. Look for spaces in your week’s diary and figure out where you can squeeze in some writing blocks. Once they are in your calendar, it’s much easier to plan your day around them and actually make it happen.
Figure out what will work best for you: regular, consistent small writing blocks or irregular large writing blocks.
Myth 3) We Must Strive for Perfection, Right Away
Just as Katja Kaine discussed in her great article, The Drafts Your Novel Needs, nobody writes their novel on the first pass.
So it’s worth keeping in mind that perfection is unachievable, and the pursuit of it early in the writing process can sometimes be a hindrance. The following examples are ways the desire for ‘perfect’ gets in our way.
Editing while writing
Editing as you write your rough draft prolongs the process and interrupts your momentum. A draft is allowed to be messy, and it’s allowed to be imperfect. Separating the writing and editing processes is essential. It lets creativity flow while writing and will provide greater clarity when it becomes time to really knuckle down and edit later.
Fear of criticism
Sometimes we think our ideas aren’t good enough, and this prevents us from starting or sharing work. But a draft is just that; an early, messy, sketch of an idea. It’s important to keep this in mind when writing, and make sure the people we share our drafts with understand this, too. That said, criticism is important. You, as the writer, can sometimes be too close to the work to see that it doesn’t all add up. A constructive critique can help fill your plot holes, flesh out your characters and ultimately lead to a much better book.
Insisting on 100% originality
The hunt for originality is something many writers struggle with; we all long to tell a truly original story. But did you know that almost all characters follow one of just three kinds of character arcs? Or that all stories follow the same basic narrative arc? Every element in your story does not need to be original, indeed most follow the same basic path. It’s the unique voice and perspective that make your story worth telling.
You can take a well-known genre or story archetype, and put your own spin on it. As a warm-up exercise, it’s sometimes fun to take the setting and characters from your favorite stories and write them into something of your own. Disney does just that all the time!
Myth 4) Over-Preparation is Always a Good Thing
Nobody enjoys going into something unprepared, so we stress about having everything prepped and perfect before we finally sit down and kick off the first chapter. Who wants to get off on the wrong foot, right?
So we make sure we have the right tools, we scour the web for tips on how to write better, and we plan out whole story arcs before we’ve even started developing the characters.
But creativity comes from somewhere other than the logical, planning side of your brain. In her article Creativity: How Constraints Drive Genius, May Say writes:
“Think about your constraints for a moment—not as barriers to your ability to innovate, but instead as a puzzle that holds the opportunity for creativity and Great Work. Many writers choose to start writing their draft with a simple pencil and paper. Preventing them from other activities which may hinder their flow.”
Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway once bet his peers he could write a story in just 6 words. The end result is now a favorite example of writing teachers the world over:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Starting a rough draft can be intimidating, and many of us spend more time thinking about how to start instead of just starting.
Time to Bite Back!
Subscribing to these four myths is a sure-fire way to suck the ink out of writers. If you believe that you can’t write until you’ve got uninterrupted large chunks of time, you need to produce something 100% original and 100% error-free in your rough draft, and you’re planning the entire structure before your ideas have had a chance to flow, you’ll end up completely drained.
Bite back against the myths. Allow yourself to write unhindered, whether it’s typing during a block of time you’ve set aside or scribbling on the back of your shopping list as inspiration strikes in the cereal aisle. Find the levels of routine and planning that work for you. Embrace the messiness of your rough draft in the knowledge that editing will be more useful if it’s reserved for further down the line.
Hopefully, by understanding what holds us back, we can better prepare for the journey from rough draft to finished work!
If you enjoyed this post about writing a novel, you might also enjoy these articles from our archive:
- The Four Drafts Your Novel Needs (and Why You Probably Won't Use a Single Word of Your First Draft!)
- How to Construct a 3D Main Character
- Are You Ready to Draft Your Story Arc?
- How to Create Your Story’s World
- How to Create a Compelling Character Arc
- Are You Ready to Draft Your Plot?
- 4 Plot Pitfalls You Need to Avoid