The Myths of Writing

Many myths surround the endeavor of creative writing. I will try to dispel some of them for you.

Myth No. 1: Authors go it alone.

This is one of the biggest myths of novel writing, and it’s created because you only see the author’s name on the book cover. Pick up a book by your favorite author and read the acknowledgements. They’re thanking beta readers, critique partners, their agent and the editor(s) at the publishing house. All these people took turns reading the manuscript and providing feedback.

Myth No. 2: All I have to do to write a best seller is get a fancy cover and market it to death.

Writing a best-seller is not about marketing, it’s about the story, the characters, the writing. Fancy gimmicks and an eye-catching cover might get people to click on the Look Inside feature on your Amazon book, but if the opening few pages aren’t polished and your story doesn’t hook them right away, they’ll stop before they reach the end of the free preview and move on to one of the “Customers Also Viewed” options at the bottom of the page. You didn’t spend hundreds of bucks on a cover design and Facebook or Amazon ads to drive traffic to someone else’s book.

Myth No. 3: My best friend/sibling/spouse read it for me and said it was great.

Best friends, siblings and spouses are not going to tell you the 140,000-word fantasy epic you’ve slaved over for two years is a pile of stinking garbage. But chances are it is, especially if you haven’t enlisted the aid of someone who knows what they’re doing. Why? Because no one gets it right the first time. First drafts are also called rough drafts for that very reason. Somewhere in that mess is a novel, and you’re going to need a lot of help to extract it from the pile of steaming word vomit.

Myth No. 4: Using Microsoft Word is the same as using an editor.

Microsoft Word can help with spelling and basic grammar, but it can’t tell you if your character reading the newspaper in a coffee shop picked up the New York Times on p. 2 and put down the New York Post on p. 4. It can’t tell you if your main character’s blazing brown eyes in the first chapter had changed to sizzling blue eyes in the fourth chapter. They can’t tell you the demons who run faster than horses took seven hours to make a 12-mile journey. A good editor will catch those mistakes along with your dangling participles, misplaced modifiers and mixed up POV.

Myth No. 5: I’m not a good enough writer.

All you need to be a successful writer is an imagination, basic writing skills and, to paraphrase Bill Murray in Stripes, a willingness to learn. Creative writing is a skill like anything else. And like all other skills, the more you work at it and study it, the better you’ll be.

Myth No. 6: I don’t know the rules of writing.

I believe creative writing has one rule: You can do whatever you want, as long as you do it well. That’s it. Well-meaning people will tell you there are all sorts of rules when it comes to writing a novel: You can’t head hop, you can’t use passive voice, you can’t use adverbs, you can’t switch tense, you can’t use omniscient POV. Ignore them.

That doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to do all those things. It just means that if you try one of those styles of writing, you better do it very well. And if you’re a new or inexperienced writer, chances are your skill is not up to that level yet.

Myth No. 7: Self-publishing is for people who couldn’t get an agent

It is true that lots of writers who self-publish tried to get an agent and failed, but that doesn’t mean their writing is sub-standard. Agents are stretched thin, receiving hundreds of queries a week. Hooking an agent’s attention in the ten seconds she skims your query at the end of a long day is difficult.

It’s easy to see why many writers turn to self-publishing. More control over their writing. They design their own covers. They decide when the book is released and create their own promotions. They set their price and get higher commissions to boot.

Why go through the agony of querying, revising, submitting and editing that can take three or four years to bring a book to market when you can skip all that and get your work out in the world within days?

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