7 lies writers should stop believing
It hits you without warning, that thought every writer dreads: This isn't going to happen for you. Every writer I know has had this thought. That we're not the special one, the lucky one. We're not the writer who sent her first query to her first agent and heard back asking to read the full manuscript 45 minutes later. We're not that fabulous author who had six publishing houses vying for his debut novel in a highly publicized auction that also led to his book getting optioned for a film starring Jennifer Lawrence.
1. This isn't going to happen for you.
That's the first on the list of lies writers should stop believing.
It's such an easy one to believe, too, when you're sitting at your desk hitting refresh on your email and nothing's coming through. When you see yet another one of your writer friends announce they signed a new book deal, or that they have a book set to come out each year until 2018.
The truth is that nobody can tell what's going to happen in any writers career. The only formula for success that I know of is hard work + hard work + hard work + a little luck = success (probably).
2. You shouldn't call yourself a writer, at least not without modifying it with "aspiring."
Oh, that wonderful load of crap. Who says? Who says you have to say "aspiring" before "writer" only because you haven't been paid for your words yet? If you write, you're a writer. Stop believing that you have to fudge around it until you earn some sort of special badge. Writers write. If you're doing the action, you deserve the name.
3. You're the only one who feels like this.
I recently had a writer friend tell me she feels like the publishing process is shaving years off her life. Another has had her book out on submission to editors for over a year with no offers. A dear friend of mine whose debut novel comes out this summer has already received rave reviews and attention in major publications, but she's told me she still feels like an impostor.
You are not the only one who feels like this. Writing is crazy-making, but if you're willing to put the months and years and sweat and effort into churning out a novel, odds are you couldn't give it up anyway. That doesn't mean you have to go it alone. Which brings me to:
4. Writing should be done alone.
Author Jessamyn West once said, "Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking."
And while that's a nice quote and might make some authors feel better for shutting out their families and friends to whittle away at a first draft, I don't think it explains the whole picture. Yes, if you're going to write a book, you'll probably spend a significant amount of time locked away in a room somewhere, even if that significant amount of time is just whatever 15-30 minute slots you can grab throughout the day.
But writing isn't all meant to be done alone. Today was one of those days where I was believing lies 1 and 3, and I was ready to just curl up on the couch and watch TV rather than write. I had a moment of bravery and reached out to two writer friends of mine who are both further along in their careers than I am, and just poured out my heart a little.
Guess what? They didn't ignore me. They didn't even write back "That sucks :-(" and then ignore me. They both took 20 minutes out of their days to commiserate, share their own experiences of writing anxiety, and offer encouragement to get me through the day.
The actual act of writing will likely be done alone, but to keep yourself sane as a writer, I strongly recommend that you form friendships with like-minded authors and cheer each other on during those days where the lies become a bit too loud.
5. If someone doesn't like my writing, it means it's no good.
Take it from someone who spent hours in writing workshops, looking at the piles of papers with other people's scribbles and comments all over my words. Not all opinions are created equal. Just because someone makes a change doesn't mean you have to do it. And just because someone says they were bored or couldn't get through it doesn't mean it's boring. Maybe when he read it, his favorite movie was on or he was invited out to drinks with his friends and then tried to blitz through. Maybe she needs to make changes or point out grammatical errors to make herself feel better about her own writing or because she wants to impress the professor with her knowledge of All The Words.
The Guy in Your MFA Twitter is a hilarious parody of this phenomenon, and trust me when I tell you that I've legitimately heard several of the things he's said as a joke stated like fact.
6. If someone likes my writing, that means it'll get published right away.
Hate to break it to you, but the converse of Lie #5 is also a lie. The publishing industry moves at a snail's pace, and that's not necessarily a negative thing. Massive amounts of people play a part in shepherding your hard work into the world, and if you think about it, don't you want it to be that way? You wouldn't want a beginner-level designer slapping a cover on the novel that took you years to create. You wouldn't want someone whose qualifications equal scoring an A in high school English doing your proofreading.
Much like quality writing, quality publishing takes time. And because publishing houses have to work so hard and put so much up-front investment into getting your work out there, they have to be selective about what they take on. An editor may love your writing and ultimately pass on your book. It sucks, but it's the truth.
7. If I have days where I want to give up, I'm not a real writer.
Nope. Not true. LIES, I TELL YOU, LIES. Have you ever had a bad day at work and thought about quitting? If you're a parent, have you ever heard that cry at 3 a.m. and thought, "That's it, I can't do it anymore"?
Thinking about quitting doesn't make you less of an employee. Thinking about handing over your screaming child at the nearest convent and running the other direction doesn't make you less of a parent.
If you have a bad day as a writer where you want to give up, just take a break. Talk to some people that you now know because you stopped believing Lie #4. Try writing something different, like a piece of micro fiction or a poem or a song -- anything except for the Big Massive Huge Project that you're staring in the face like a jaguar ready to pounce.
Wanting to give up is one thing. Giving up is another. Stop believing the lies and keep on writing the thing that only you can write.