Tuesday 27 February 2018

7 myths that can hold new #writers back

1. Your writing community is all important

Um.... yes, and no.  It's good to have writer friends, online or otherwise, for support and advice (particularly the practical, like how to get beta readers, and which promotional practices are worth spending money on), but writing itself is a solitary activity.  In order to produce a good novel, you have to spend hours and hours alone, motivated only by your will to write it.  Yes, it's lovely to mull over plot points with other scribes you meet via the internet; the writing/blogging community on Twitter is particularly friendly and supportive, but essentially you're on your own.  

All those lovely people who retweet your angst about your 'imposter syndrome', send you gifs to show you that yes, their first draft is rubbish, too, and give you advice on how long a chapter should be (the answer: as long as it needs to be) aren't going to get your novel finished; writing isn't about being in a fun social media club.

As Zadie Smith said, don't rely on gangs, groups and cliques.  The presence of a crowd won't make your writing any better than it is.

2.  Motivational quotes make it happen!

Related to the above, I recently saw a tweeter asking for inspirational memes and quotes to motivate her to get on with with her novel.  

In order to be a prolific writer you will sometimes have to open that Word doc when you would rather watch telly or scroll through Twitter, when you have reached a plot point that isn't working, or are scared that you've just written 10K words of total garbage, but if the desire to write is strong enough, you'll do it.  If it's not, all the motivational quotes in the world won't get your novel finished.  That's okay.  You don't have to write.  You might want to go back to it five years time, instead; maybe now isn't the right time.

Which brings me to...

3.  You have to really, really want to be a writer.

In author interviews I am often asked if I have a good piece of advice for would-be writers.  Maybe too often, I say that they need to make sure they want to write, rather than be a writer.  If you fantasise about seeing a new Netflix series based on your (as yet) rather sketchy first draft ... if you tell everyone you're an author as soon as you've completed chapter one of your first novel and love sitting in cafés with your laptop because it makes you feel writer-ish, if you've spent the morning thinking up a fun #WritingCommunity poll for Twitter but haven't actually added any words to your story, it's possible you want to 'be a writer' more than you want 'to write'.

Let me illustrate this further.  Mary (not her real name) says her goal is to be a best-selling author, and describes herself on social media as a writer.  She has a huge following on Instagram, where she posts daily photos of herself in gorgeous clothes surrounded by books, typewriters and clever word pictures.  They're beautiful, creative, and she gets thousands of 'likes' on each one; well-deserved, as she clearly puts a great deal of work and thought into them.  But writing?  She spent three years co-writing a 60K word novel, self-published three years ago.  She has published nothing since, aside from the odd half-hearted short story on her blog.  She says she wants to be a writer.  She does not yet realise that what she really wants to do is take wonderful photos and become a social media star; at this, she works very hard and is successful.  Mary likes the image of herself as a writer.  She does not actually want to write.

Zadie Smith again:

Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

4. Getting that 'yes' from a publisher means you've arrived. 

Not necessarily.  Publishers range from the Big 5 (HarperCollins, MacMillan, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and all their offshoots/imprints), to large independents, to smaller independents, to mainly e-publishers, to two guys working out of their spare room, to vanity publishers who advertise themselves as 'hybrid' in order to kid the author that paying to be published does not mean it's a vanity press.  Big 5 book deals are incredibly hard to get, but some smaller publishers have no clout with retail outlets, are not that fussy about what they take, or indeed about how they produce your book ~ or pay your royalties.  I've written more about this HERE.

5. Once you've got a publisher, you can forget all that marketing stuff and just write.

No, you can't.  

Recently, I've seen a few tweets by 'aspiring' authors declaring that they're going to look for a publisher rather than self-publish because they don't think they'll be any good at self-promotion.  

Bad new, folks.  Unless you're a major publisher's next big thing (which will still mean interviews, book tours, etc.), most of the marketing will still be on you.  One Big 5 published author told me that signing her contract was when the work started.  She is required to have profiles on all social media sites (not just idly chat on FB writers groups, as before!), and use them on a regular basis; it's part of her working day.  Many small publishers do next to no promo.  Vanity presses do none at all, because they've already made their money from you.

6.  You can ignore legalities and the laws of physics, etc.; readers will suspend their disbelief because it's fiction.

A lot of them won't.  Yes, we know that zombies don't exist (one day, one day...!), but we don't want to feel that the writer thinks we're stupid.  If X would not explode at Y temperature, we don't want to be told it will.  If professional bodies would not be legally allowed to do Z, we won't be convinced by the story.  Similarly, it rarely works to change a character's personality in order to fit the plot, or to suddenly shoe-horn in a couple of unlikely revelations in order to construct the end twist you've just thought of.  Readers notice.  Part of the skill of writing a novel is working out ways to make your plot work within feasible boundaries.

7. Reviewers should give constructive criticism.

Sorry, but they're not obliged to.  It's lovely when you get sensitive, tactful, balanced reviews that help you with your future writing, but it is not a reader's job to tell you how to write.  The time for a full, constructive critique is before you publish.  Once your book is out there it is an article for sale, and if the reader doesn't like what he's bought, and wants to say nothing more than 'It was a bit boring', it's entirely up to him.  Take heart; a few less than brilliant reviews won't stop your book selling.  

Feb 28
I'd like to just add 3 more myths, suggested by Barb Taub, below.

You will achieve immortality through your writing.
Yeah, your book will still be around when you're dead.  So will millions of others... and, sadly, these days, if you don't publish frequent new titles, that book of yours will soon get pushed back onto a dusty bottom shelf of the vast, ten hangar-sized book store that is Amazon, and forgotten.

Writing classes, blog posts, books and online courses can teach you how to be a great writer
Um, no, they can't.  They can teach how not to be a bad writer, and how to structure a novel, but the talent needs to be there in the first place.

Everyone has a book inside them.
This may be partly true, but, sadly, many of them should stay where they are.  Doesn't mean you can't get better ~ most people's first novels are a bit rubbish; I'm talking the first ones they write, not the first ones they publish.  I'll expand on this in a future list.

Good luck!


  1. Love this, Terry. Totally agree with the 'want to write' or 'writer' example as I see so many aspiring authors talking about their books but never getting any further with a manuscript. Great post.

    1. Oh yes! Many #writerslife tweets and 'pain of writing' blog posts are written by people who never actually get round to publishing a book.

  2. Lovely to read a bit of sensible straight talking facts.

  3. Yes, yes, yes - now to get back to the writing!

    1. ha ha!!! Having just finished my 17th to be published, I think I can give myself a little leeway!! x

  4. A well written piece of writing from a writer who does write...a lot! Thumbs up TT!

  5. Words of wisdom that should be carved on stone tablets!

    (Here are a few more in case you want to bring it up to the traditional 10.)

    Myth #8–You’ll achieve immortality through your writing. Reality? “She hasn’t published in almost a year. She must be dead.”
    Myth #9–X can teach you to be a good writer. Reality? They can only teach you how to not be such a bad one.
    Myth #10–Everyone has one book inside them. Reality? It should probably stay there.

    1. I love it! I am going to add them later. Thanks, B. I particularly like 9!

  6. Written with all the passion you show in your own writing. This has come for a good time for me. Mind if I print bit off to show to my classes? A brilliant post from all angles. Thanks, terry.

    1. Ah, I never write 'filler' blog posts, J; I only write them when I feel I have stuff that needs saying! Of course, you can always use anything I write in your classes, if you think it will help them; you don't have to ask. x

  7. This interesting post had me reflecting on my perception of my own status. To my relief, it would seem that I want to write after all. Good to know!

    1. Ha ha - I usually find that 'real' writers don't do this 'I'm a writer' stuff, because they simply don't have the time or inclination; they're too busy writing.

  8. Great post Terry, I agree with all of your points, they make perfect sense.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Marcia, glad you liked it! x

  9. well, that about covers it ... hope this does get read by the people it should be read by!!!!

    1. That's the problem, isn't it ~ though I've just had someone contact me on twitter after reading my 'beware of small/vanity publishers' article on Rosie, who asked me what I knew about Austin Macauley.... I always think, if each article can save one person from making the mistakes then my work is done.