Spend enough time around writers, and you’ll hear one of these common “writing myths.”
“Great writers are born, not made.”
“You need to have a degree in literature to be a great writer.”
“Writers are lonely all the time.”
Well, I’m here to tell you that they simply aren’t true.
A lot of these common writing myths are hearsay. It’s often not something they’ve experienced first hand.
And most of these myths have to do with mindset. And if there was one thing holding most writers back, that would be it.
So in this article, we’re going to bust 10 common writing myths and show you the truth behind them.
- Great Writers Are Born, Not Made
- Real Writers Think Writing Is Easy
- You Need To Be a Great Writer Before You Start
- You Need a Degree in Literature or Film School
- You Can Only Write About Original Ideas
- Great Writers Get It Right on the First Draft
- Writers Are Lonely All The Time
- You Can Only Write About “What You Know”
- You Should Only Write When Inspired
- You Can’t Make Money Writing Part Time
Writing Myth #1: Great Writers are Born, Not Made
Like any other skill in life, some people are naturally better writers than others. But only by a little bit. Remember that Michael Jordan didn’t come straight outta the womb dunking basketballs. And you aren’t gonna write a Pulitzer price winner on your first try either.
Great writers are not born – they are forged through study and practice. Any professional writer you meet has worked extremely hard to get where there are today.
The truth is that any writer, at any level, can become better at the craft of storytelling. The simple act of writing makes you better. The more you write, the better you get.
No one is born with a complete understanding of character, plot, and story structure. Storytelling is a learned skill. All writers must learn the same basics to improve.
The good news is that the rules of writing never change. Conflict and drama are what drive plots. And they have driven them since the days of Shakespeare. Learn the rules of the game and one day you’ll become a master.
Writing Myth #2: Real Writers Think Writing is Easy
Simply not true. Writing is often hard work. Although it does get easy over time. just like anything else in life.
Meaningful writing comes from concentration, effort, and a tolerance for frustration and disappointment.
What makes experienced writers so “great” isn’t that they find it easy to write 5 pages a day. It’s that they make a habit out of it.
If writing doesn’t come easy to you, the only thing you need is more practice. That’s it. If you want to be a writer, all you have to do is write.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway
Great writing is really about solving complex problems. Once you have a basic understanding of theory, all you do is solve problems.
“How do I make this character’s arc more impactful?”
“How do I make the exposition in this scene less boring?”
“What’s a good act break to get this story rolling into Act 2?”
You know what you need to do… that’s the easy part.
The challenge is doing it in an entertaining way.
Like anything else in life, practice makes perfect. And the more you practice, the easier it gets. So just keep going!
Writing Myth #3: You Need to be a Great Writer Before You Start
Some believe you already need to be a great writer before you starting writing your own stories.
That’s like saying you need to be a great swimmer before you get into the pool. You only learn how if you get in and flop around first.
You had to crawl before you could walk. And you had to scribble before you could write. The process doesn’t change.
Writing is something that is only learned on the go, not beforehand. The results come from doing the work.
You can’t teach kids how to swim on by staying on dry land. It all starts in the bathtub… then the kiddie pool… then the shallow end with floaties. Then before you know it they’re doing back flips and cannonballs all by themselves. The same is true in writing.
Even the most successful writers had no darn clue what they were doing when they started. All you have do to become a good writer is to write, write, write.
Study the craft, practice the craft… then write, write some more.
Writing Myth #4: You Need a Degree in Literature or Film School
You only need a degree if you want a job as an editor, or as a writer for newspapers of magazines. And degrees are becoming less important.
In the world of fiction, nobody cares about your education or lack thereof… the proof is in the pudding.
All anyone wants or cares about is a good story, well told.
You can have all the literary degrees on the planet, but if you can’t write well, no one is going to buy your work.
But if you can write a brilliant novel or killer screenplay, no will give a damn about your degree. All that matters is the craft. Not where or how you learned it.
As for film school, there are plenty of esteemed ones that will teach you a lot about the craft of screenwriting. But, it is not a requirement for getting into the industry. There are more ways than one to study of the craft of writing.
All that matters is that you can write. And write well.
What’s the best way to learn how to write?
Duh! Writing! So get to it!
Writing Myth #5: You Can Only Write About Original Ideas
Are you kidding? We’re talking about Hollywood here folks. A great idea is one that makes money.
Great story ideas are so overrated. I’m surprised the world hasn’t turned them into a currency yet. Ideas are a dime a dozen… they’re everywhere.
Just look under your desk, out the window, or online. There they are, staring at you… crawling up your leg… screaming in your ear – pick me! Pick me!
It’s what you do with those ideas that makes them unique.
I’ve got news for anyone who thinks they can’t come up with a completely original idea…
Nobody else can either.
I recommend you check out the book Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. You’ll find that if there’s an idea out there someone claims to be original… odds are it was already thought of it before.
Take World of Warcraft for example. The lore is full of the everyday, sword-and-shield, bash ‘em up Orc. Big green humanoid monsters with sharp teeth and black hair.
That’s because they weren’t the first to come up with them. They’ve appeared in other fantasy fiction many, many, many times before. They’re a common fantasy race, and are the creation of good ol’ J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of The Rings trilogy.
But you’ll also find term “Orke” used in many 16th century works, such as Don Quixote. So perhaps didn’t invent Orcs after all.
In fact, the monstrous green creatures stem from the Latin “Orcus”, the demonic Roman god of death. And HIS origin stems from Etruscan religion and mythology. That dates all the way back to 1,000 B.C. And who knows where they may have got it from.
(If you can’t tell, I wikipedia’ed like a mofo to find this all out.)
Tolkien took a 3,000 year old idea, put his own spin on it, and did it bigger and better than anyone else. That’s why he’s famous for it.
So much for an “original” idea.
Ask any Hollywood producer if he wants a original idea or something like a movie that came out last year. This is what he’ll tell you:
“We want something that’s the same… but different.”
Meaning that they want something that has been proven to be commercial in the past. Something they know a large audience will pay to see.
But they also want your own spin on it so it’s also new and exciting… and “original.”
Storytelling has been around for thousands of years. It uses the same ideas, characters, creatures, and plotlines over, and over, and over again…
Don’t reinvent the wheel… just put your own set of rims on it.
Writing Myth #6: Great Writers Get it Right on The First Draft
Malarkey! Most people can’t even write a grocery list without making a couple changes!
Even famous authors have to write a few rough drafts before arriving at their best work.
How do they do it?
They keep on writing until they’re satisfied that what’s on the page is what they meant to say in the first place.
Writing is a lot like sculpting. You start out with a big block of clay. You have a vision for the finished product, and begin sculpting.
First forming the major shapes, and then filling in the details where needed. As you progress, you make slight changes and rework the clay as needed. Ultimately finishing with your final vision.
Great writing requires many drafts and revisions to produce something that satisfies the writer. Great writing comes from great revision. No one gets it perfect on the first go. Nobody.
Don’t sweat over your pile of false starts, unfinished scripts or rejected novels. All writers have them. It’s part of the process.
Just keep writing.
Writing Myth #7: Writers are Lonely
It’s true that much of the actual writing takes place alone. But most writers actually have tremendous people skills.
Great writing requires other people for several reasons. They stimulate discussion, listen to pieces of your story, and provide critical feedback.
I’m sure there’s some great writers out there who like to write all along in a dark quiet closet. But many writers today enjoy busy coffee shops, college campuses, and other more social areas.
You shouldn’t isolate yourself on purpose, thinking that it’s the only way to write a great story. That’s just not true.
Remember to stay social and active. I recommended joining a local writer’s group for starters.
You can meet up with writers like you to bounce ideas off of, share stories, and provide feedback. It’s truly an awesome experience.
Writing Myth #8: You Can Only "Write What You Know"
Try telling that to Ray Bradbury, George R.R. Martin, Stephen King or any other author for that matter.
I don’t think Agatha Christie ever killed someone or solved a murder mystery. And Ray Bradbury sure didn’t colonize Mars either.
Most think “write what you know” means you can only write about what you have experienced first-hand.
But what it really means is that you can use everything you have experienced to imagine other possibilities, worlds, and outcomes.
In a sense, there are no restrictions.
Since you are the one writing the story, you can’t help but include you own personal viewpoints, experiences, and beliefs.
No matter what, your story will be “what you know.”
Let’s say you want to write a war story but you’ve never been in a war before…
So you haven’t been to war, but I’m sure you know what fighting is like. Or at least a conflict or argument. You may not have lost a close friend or family member, but you might have lost a cherished family pet.
Or maybe your Uncle was in the military, and used to tell you all sorts of stories when you were a kid. And you’re inspired to share his tales. That’s perfectly fine.
The truth is, nothing is off limits. If you follow your gut, the story you tell can’t help but by influenced by your experiences. It IS what you know.
As for lack of experience, there are plenty of interviews, research and personal stories to help you fill in the blanks.
The more you write, the more you’ll have the ability to step into other’s shoes and experience their thoughts and emotions.
And these “characters” will naturally pop up in your writing. They are now a part of what you can say to have known and experienced.
Writing Myth #9: You Should Only Write When Inspired
The truth is that if we all waited around for inspiration to strike, nothing would ever get written.
Creativity must be chased. You’ve got to start writing to catch it, and only then will it flow.
Sometimes you have to be willing to put your fingers on the keys and squeeze out a single letter. And then another. And another.
Until you have a word. Then a sentence. A paragraph. A chapter. A novel.
This is the process.
And while the process can at times feel magical, it’s mostly just putting one word after another.
Instead of waiting around for inspiration, trade it in for discipline.
Sure, sometimes it may feel formulaic, stilted, or lifeless. But that’s what rewriting is for. Writing is rewriting.
Get up on time, write out your daily word count, and hope that inspiration strikes you. If it doesn’t, still put the words on the page.
That’s what counts.
Writing Myth #10: You Can't Make Any Money Writing Part Time
If this were true, how would anyone else get started?
If you don’t know the story of J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, perhaps you should look into it.
She wrote the first Harry Potter book as a depressed, divorced, single mother living on welfare and on the verge of suicide.
But now she has sold over 500 million books worldwide, in over 80 different languages, and is worth over a billion dollars.
Now, not everyone is going to have a success story like that. But it goes to show that despite the greatest of odds, overwhelming success is quite possible.
And in today’s world it’s easier than ever.
The internet is the single biggest invention that has ever happened to the human race. And for writers, that’s because there are no gatekeepers anymore.
It used to be that you had to have your work chosen to be shared with the rest of the world. First you had to be published, and then book store owners had to be willing to give you shelf space.
But nowadays, anyone with a finished book can self-publish on the biggest book store on the planet, Amazon. No publishers can keep you out anymore.
Amanda Hocking was working two jobs and had 17 unpublished novels by 2010. They had all been rejected by book agents and publishers. To many, it seemed she’d never make it as an author.
Until one day she decide to self-publish a book on Amazon, and started selling nine copies per day. She then self-published a few more. And sales went up. And up. And up some more.
To this day, she’s sold over 1.5 million copies and made millions of dollars.
There are hundreds of writer making good money with self-published titles on Amazon. Just like Amanda.
And you can be one of them.