We repeat what worked for us, but we often make the mistake of overemphasizing, as if what worked for us is the only way to be a successful writer.
The trick, if you’re an aspiring author, is to not let the conflicting advice be a source of confusion. Take it for what it’s worth…a statement of what worked for that particular writer.
Learn to separate the craft from the art. Art is often presented as craft, and that’s where the confusion begins. The craft is the craft. I can say a lot of objective things about the craft of writing (grammar, usage, story structure, pacing, characterization, setting, plot, theme, symbolism, and on and on…) But the art is in how you express those crafty bits.
If it works for you, that’s awesome. If not, you’ll eventually find your own awesome way of being awesome.
Let’s take a look at a handful of common writing myths you’ll run into.
Show Don’t Tell
You can’t so much as express the desire to become a writer without someone regurgitating this chestnut. Even people who aren’t writers have heard this, though they have no idea what it actually entails. Make no mistake, it is usually better to show the reader the action as opposed to telling them what happened. But you must make the decision based on the context of the situation, not whether or not there’s some golden rule you have to live up to. [Or should I have said “up to which you must live”? Yeah, the subject of grammar has a lot of these “rules” too.]
A couple of quick examples:
Jim felt depressed.
Sure, it gets the point across. The reader now knows how Jim feels. Because you told the reader how Jim feels.
Jim had nothing left. He wanted to move, to speak, to do something, but he stood paralyzed.
In this version, we’re showing the reader how Jim feels by pulling in tighter on Jim’s PoV. Which version is better? Who knows? There was a time I would have said “definitively the second”. I’ve since found there are as many successful writers who will tell you the first as will tell you the second.
Why? Because one of the two is actually, objectively better? No, it’s because their own personal style cries out for one or the other. But only you can know which is better within the context of your prose. Imagine a scenario in which you need to quickly cover 8 weeks of a character’s life in order to get from one story element to the next story element. Are you going to show that 8 weeks? Egads, I hope not! No, you’re probably going to write one or two quick paragraphs that summarizes what took place during that 8 week period.
That’s telling. And it’s perfectly okay.
Know when to tell and when to show.
Writer’s Must Write Every Day
Sure, I could write every day. And I’d end up with the following:
- A divorce
- No day job to supply me with a living wage
- No meaningful relationships outside of the writing world
- Drafts of work that are shittier than shit and will require months of rework
- An all-encompassing hatred of everything writing-related
But that’s me. Not you. I know very successful authors who manage to write every single day and not end up with any of the above. In fact, some of these writers would be less successful if they didn’t write every day.
I don’t write every day. I take 3-4 months off between books, and so far each of my books are Amazon bestsellers. Moreover, with a full-time day job, it’s simply not possible for me to write every day.
Could I get up a couple extra hours early and write something?
No. Because I go to bed at midnight and wake up at 8am. Period. That’s my life. It works for me and I don’t want to change it. I need 8 hours of sleep. My body is so well-tuned to this schedule that I don’t need an alarm clock. Shifting my sleep time ahead 2 hours means less quality time with the family. That’s a sacrifice I’m not willing to make.
Writer’s Can’t Not Write
Well…I’m a writer, and I know how to pull off a solid day of not writing.
Look, a lot of these mythical rules (this section and the one above) comes from an egotistical place. Many writers want to believe that they “have something special”, or they’ve been “blessed by the universe” or some deity shoved the “Mystical Fountain Pen Of Writerlisciousness” up their ass at the last winter solstice.
It’s all bullshit. They have an obsession. Sure, many of them are very good. But you don’t have to have a writing obsession to be a good or even great writer.
Want to be successful? Let writing become a part of your life in the most organic way possible. No one knows your daily challenges better than you do. Certainly not some lottery winner in an ivory tower.
Never Use An Adv… Nah… Screw it.
I was going to continue this bullet list, but it’s just not necessary. You get the point.
YOU define what it means to be a writer.
YOU define what it means to be successful.
YOU must fit writing into YOUR life in such a way that you successfully navigate all of your challenges and obligations. Neil Gaiman can’t help you with that.
Sure, use the “common knowledge” advice as a great launching point when you’re a beginner. It’s always best to at least try what has worked for those who have come before you. But don’t think that just because you can’t work Stephen King’s habits into your routine that you’ll never be a good writer!
You’re still here? Go! Write!
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