Writing is a challenge, there’s no question about that. But the ideas that we hold about the writing process can either help or hinder us. Today we’re talking writing misconceptions that might be holding you back from achieving your personal writing goals.
In case you’re short on time – here’s the seven.
- You must write every day.
- You need to be great at spelling and grammar.
- You need to have the whole story planned out (LOTR misconception)
- Writers are introverted
- You need an office, laptop, (pet dragon?)
- You’re no good.
- Imposter syndrome.
1. You Must Write Every Day.
Writers need to write. There’s no getting around that. As I shared in my recent post 6 Habits of Successful Writers, regular writing is important.
But regular writing, doesn’t have to mean every single day. Some people do write everyday, and they find that it works great for them.
Others try and write every day and end up exhausted with all creativity drained from them. Don’t be drained. It’s okay to take a break.
Now that I’m a full-time writer and editor, I don’t write at all on my weekends. I find I need time away from writing to rest and recharge. I need to read books, hang out with loved ones and get outside.
If I don’t do those things, it’s harder to get the words out. I get writers fatigue. (Not writers block, because I’m beginning to think that’s not so much of a thing, but that’s a post for another time)
Find what balance works for you. While I do think writing a few times a week is ideal for building up your craft, there’s no need to feel guilty for having a few days away from your project.
2. You Need To Be Great at Grammar and Spelling
While some degree of self-editing is a helpful skill to develop, you don’t need to be a pro at spelling or grammar to write.
Writing can serve many purposes, and the extent of polishing it needs varies depending on the context. If you’re just writing for your own pleasure, or even to practice – don’t let grammar and spelling fears hold you back.
Everyone makes mistakes. It’s painful sometimes when we publish something and there’s an error glaring at us from the page. Or worse, when someone else picks up on your error. (I’ve misspelled ‘grammar’ in the past on this blog! An editors nightmare really. *facepalm*) But we just need to look at these experiences as opportunities to learn. It’s embarrassing, but it’s not the end of the world.
The good news is, the more you write and read the better you’ll get.
No one needs to see early drafts.
I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.Shannon Hale
Don’t let fear hold you back. Maybe you’re writing in a language that isn’t your first, and you’re worried about the quality of what you’re producing. Or maybe this is your third or fifth (or maybe more!) manuscript and all the others have been rejected by agents. Keep practicing. No words are ever truly wasted.
3. You Need to Have Your Whole Story Planned
Nope. You don’t.
One of the most common misconceptions is that you must plan. While a rough roadmap can be helpful, many writers don’t know where their book will end up when they start.
Consider The Lord of the Rings.
While it’s tempting to view Tolkein as a literary mastermind who woke up one day with the The Lord of the Rings fully fledged in explicit detail in his mind, it’s not true.
Tolkein wasn’t born with this idea – he developed it over ten years at the behest of his publishers who told him his readers wanted to know more about Hobbits. Tolkein’s initial response? I cannot think of anything more to say about hobbits. Mr. Baggins seems to have exhibited so fully both the Took and the Baggins side of their nature (Tolkien, “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien”, p. 24).
The Return of the King wasn’t even written before The Fellowship of the Rings was in the hands of readers. In fact, Tolkien missed his deadline for the manuscript and publishing was pushed back.
Writing takes work. You might not know where your idea will lead you, and you don’t really need to. Figure out some signposts to get you on your way, and then get writing.
Don’t wait for inspiration – If Tolkein had we might never have met Samwise Gamgee, and that would have been a tragedy!
4. Writers are Introverted
People are complex. Including writers. Don’t feel the need to be put into a box of how you should act and behave.
Yes, many writers are introverted. Yes, it’s often a solitary activity. But this doesn’t mean that writers don’t like people or don’t get lonely.
Remember to stay mindful of your mental health and connect with others regularly, in ways that refresh you. If you’re the friend of a writer, check in on how they’re doing. You might be surprised to find how relieved they are to have you reach out.
5. You need an office, a lap top, a pet dragon…
I mean… a pet dragon WOULD be pretty cool. But is it necessary to the writing process? Not really. But not much is.
To write, you really just need some sort of material to document your words with. You can do this anywhere. Use what you have at hand to write when the urge strikes (this isn’t waiting for inspiration, but rather documenting those mind sparks that sometimes come on a walk or in the middle of the night).
Nor do you need an office. When the pandemic started, my husband and I had to reshuffle our working arrangements. He was working from home, and as we have very different working styles (one of us likes silence, the other is prone to delightful chattering), I voluntarily surrendered our home office. The dining table was my home for the last few months.
While I’m definitely relived now to have returned to the office, it’s shown me that you can be productive from a range of spaces.
Top tip though – if you’re going to be sitting at the dining table for a while, get a good chair or even a cushion and save your back!
Work with what you have. Take the expectation and pressure off yourself and just write for the joy of it. I journal, and that’s writing that’s purely for me. That doesn’t make it any less valuable.
We determine the worth of our own words when it comes to our writing practice.
6. You’re no good.
I mean, this isn’t a misconception in some respects. Because the truth of it is, you may not be. WAIT! Before you click away, what I mean by that is – everyone is learning.
First drafts are meant to be terrible.
Blog posts I wrote a year ago are not as good as those I work on now. Nor is the first manuscript I completed.
The fact of the matter is, over time we will get better. So it’s okay to be no good, terrible writing now. Because your future words will be better.
That’s a comfort for me, and without it, there wouldn’t be much point in going on. We’re not static, we change and grow, as does our writing.
So don’t let the fear of being bad hold you back. Let the hope of getting better drive you on.
7. Imposter Syndrome
A close cousin of ‘I’m no good’ is Imposter Syndrome. Maybe things are going well with your writing. You’ve been praised, or picked up some more clients. But it’s almost too good to be true.
Maybe everyone is just being polite?
Maybe you’re actually terrible and there’s been a mistake?
Do those thoughts sound familiar? They are to me.
It can be so easy to buy into believing that we’re bad, that we struggle to accept when we’ve actually done well.
While it’s good to view your writing humbly (see the point above), don’t discredit yourself. Accept the praise offered to you. There will be enough times for critique without you twisting the kind encouragement people offer you.
Enjoy the little wins.
My little win.
In an effort to take my own advice, I want to share a recent win of mine.
A few months ago a close friend sent me a link to an online creative writing competition being hosted by WhyNot an Australian organisation that amplifies the voices of young people. The theme was Internet Experiences.
Taking the enthusiasm of my friend on board I decided to enter. But when I sat down to write, I ended up producing something very different from my usual work.
I wrote a poem.
Wild, I know, for someone who is usually staunchly attached to prose. But I tried something different and decided to view it as a creative exercise, no matter the results of the competition.
It was a surprise, and a delight and I’m thankful to WhyNot for selecting my piece! This was a great experience for me, and a reminder to try new things without fear. To stretch my creative muscles and not discredit myself before I’ve even begun.
Read my poem Late Night Scrolling on the WhyNot website.