Writing Myths: 3 Most Common Misconceptions
Writing Myth 1 – Great Writers Are Born
This is the first of a series of articles that examine three of the myths surrounding writing:
- Good writers are born writers
- Good writers wait to be inspired
- Good writers get it right first time
Whilst the series and this site are intended for writers of nonfiction, I hope writers of fiction may find some benefit in them too.
When we talk about writers being born, not made, what we are really saying is that writer x seems to make it so effortless whilst we have to struggle to put together more than 10 words. Many experts from top essay writing service thought so as well.
There may be a few writers for whom this is true, but the majority of them have to work at it. Which, if you think about it, is great news as it means that if we put in the same effort, we can improve our writing to a level where people enjoy reading it.
Creative Writing Prompts
- Patience. Like most skills, writing takes time. Most of us start from a good base, having learned the basics as part of our education; some have not been so fortunate. Young people are graduating from Universities across England with degrees in English without ever having taken a single grammar lesson whilst at school or university! Be patient and practice. In addition, do not beat yourself up when you make mistakes or you will quickly become dispirited.
- Redraft. Do not be concerned if you have to edit, rewrite and rework your output. It is normal and, incidentally, has little to do with the length of the piece you are writing. Indeed, it often takes longer, and requires more rework, when writing a short piece, than it does when we have the luxury of developing our ideas in full. Why? Because we have to work hard to make the precise point, we are trying to in a small, tightly prescribed space.
- Read Other Writers. Find out what they do, how they manage their workflow. There are a number of good blogs that give great writing tips; I have listed some of them in the links section on the right of the screen. Post comments on their articles; ask questions – you will find that most are very helpful.
- Ask for Feedback. Reader response is invaluable to a writer. Ask people you trust for feedback about both your style and content. This will help you to check that you are conveying the message you intend and give you the chance to work on weaknesses. However, remember – never become defensive! You asked for the feedback so be prepared to take it on the chin!
- Read Material in Your Field. Look at the way writers in your field present their ideas. See if there is anything, you can take from their styles. This is a tricky area because, at the same time, you do not want to become a clone of someone else! Sing your song with your voice!
- Use Google Reader. Google Reader saves me so much time, I would be prepared to pay quite a lot for it; yet it is free! With Google Reader, you can ‘subscribe’ to all of your favorite blogs and have them fed into the one reader. It saves you having to visit each site individually; whenever a new article is posted on one of the sites you subscribe to, it will appear in Reader. You can scan it and then decide whether to read it later. You can give it a “Gold Star” and all starred items appear in one folder. It really is a wonderful application.
- Create A Swipe File. Swipe files are so called because in the old days of paper files, creative people would ‘swipe’ a copy of an article that contained a good idea, or a picture they thought they might use in the future and place these items into a swipe file. It is a repository of things you might find useful in the future for articles, books etc. I use Google Documents; whilst it is not the most sophisticated application of its type, it comes as part of the same package as Google Reader, so I can work from one centralized suite of apps.
- Be warned, however, that at the time of writing this article, Google had not found a foolproof way of reading the contents of Google Reader or Google Documents offline. This can be a pain if you travel a lot, as you cannot access their contents whilst travelling. It requires a little planning, cut, and paste if you think you may want to use some of your Cloud-based resources while offline. I am sure it will not be long before Google addresses the problem.
Writing Myth 2 – Wait to be inspired
This idea is based in the past with the idea that writers have muses that are the source of their inspiration. It was believed that writers would sit around, waiting for their muse to be on-line and bring them their latest inspiration. Others would have a particular person whose presence inspired them.
The notion might be a romantic one, but all I can say is that waiting to be “inspired by my muse” is vesting my ability to write in some other being and that is a concept with which I am very uncomfortable.
Which then begs the question, where can you get your ideas?
- Free writing – just write whatever comes to mind
- Make a List of key points related to an issue
- Brainstorming – use mind mapping as a tool to structure your output
- Raid your Swipe File
- Create a questionnaire, survey people and write about your findings
- Imagine you were explaining a concept to a friend – record your ‘conversation’ and then write what you ‘dictated’
- Surf the internet, find some news in your niche area and write about it in your own words. Don’t just regurgitate the news, add some commentary and your opinion
- Find an article someone has already written that has sparked many comments, which include a variety of opinions. Write a piece looking at the original topic from different angles
- Alternatively, find an article where someone of the “Ten Top Tips for xxx” and write an in depth article about one or two of the tips
- Re-work and old article to include updates new ideas etc.
- Take a famous quote and write an article arguing for or against it, perhaps showing an unusual modern day ‘proof’
- Take your spouse/partner/friend out for a meal and discuss the topic you want to write about. Ask questions and soon you will have many fresh ideas to use
- Go for a walk – you will be amazed at the ideas that will come into your mind when you are away from the pressures of keyboard and an empty screen.
Writing Myth 3 – Get it Right First Time
I wish! Sometimes, it is true, the words flow and the piece is good after one draft. However, this is not the norm, by any means.
More often, it is the opposite and the words just will not come. Tom Evans has written a useful book called “Blocks” that gives many ideas about how to deal with writer’s block and I strongly recommend that all authors and writers read it.
Let us look at a few practical issues:
- Are you a good screener? Some people can screen out all background distractions and write wherever they find themselves. Others are put off by the slightest sound. You’ll know which is true for you but if you are not a good screener, make it easy for yourself; eliminate as many distractions as possible. Moreover, if there are still unavoidable distractions such as street noises outside, the neighbors children playing next-door etc., see whether music helps. I use classical or modern instrumental music as anything with lyrics may provide distraction of their own.
- Set yourself a schedule and intermediate goals. Again, self-knowledge is very useful here: do you write best when you have a deadline to meet or when you have all of the time you need? Whichever it is, write daily and use this little trick I picked up a while ago: write for a set time each day rather than for a set number of words.
- Write then re-work. Editing as you go, except to correct obvious spelling mistakes, is an attractive but inefficient way to work. You can polish each phrase, each sentence only to discover that as you have developed your theme, a more logical structure has emerged. This will then require some cutting, pasting, and re-working of work you have already reworked. What can then happen is, because of the time already invested in polishing the earlier work; we end up not bothering to do the re-structuring!
- What does the reader want to know? If you find yourself stuck, rather than asking yourself what you want to write, ask yourself what does the reader need to be able to read in order for you to meet your and their goals?
- Use Your Natural Style. You may often find that things flow better if you set yourself the aim of writing with the same style you would use if verbally explaining the subject to a good friend. I often am stuck if I try writing in any tone other than my natural one. This can be a challenge if your output has to conform to a particular house style.