5 Writing Myths


Photo credit: Johan Larsson on Flickr
Not too long ago I wrote two posts covering ten writing truths that I thought were important to discuss broken up into bite-sized part one and part two posts.

Today I’d like to talk about the opposite end of the spectrum—the myths that many of us, especially early in our writing careers, have probably fallen for or perhaps are even still tempted to believe. These myths are created by Hollywood, by too much news coverage of the exceptions, by well-intentioned hopes, overly-optimistic dreams and inexperience.

But these myths are just that—myths—and although they sound nice on paper, the sooner we accept that they aren’t real, the better.

The Writing Myths:

1. The overnight success story. Nathan Bransford wrote a really fantastic post covering this myth much more succinctly than I could, but the overnight success stories that you hear about all so very often are largely lies. Writing a book takes time—months, sometimes years—and chances are the first book that you publish won’t be the first book you ever write (more on that later). It takes time to hone your craft, to learn the ins and outs of writing, to develop your voice and learn how to write a solid plot and then learn the proper way to market it all when you’ve finished. J.K. Rowling spent years planning out and writing Harry Potter and received dozens of rejections before getting published. Amanda Hocking also spent years building her craft and receiving rejection letters before making it big in the self-publishing world. The list goes on, but in short, don’t believe the overnight success story.

2. Your debut novel = your first novel. No.

I mentioned this in first bullet, but nine out of ten times, your first novel will not be your debut novel. Debut is a tricky word, because it sounds like it’d be your first novel ever and when publishers announce an author’s “first” novel, it often sounds like it’s the first one the author has ever written but with few exceptions, that’s largely not the case. “Debut novel” means the first novel that you’ve ever gotten published. It’s your debut into the world of published writers—it’s usually not the first novel you’ve ever written. Chances are the first and second and maybe even third and fourth novels you’ve ever written are going to be sitting in a drawer somewhere when you get your “first” book published. It varies from writer to writer, but it usually takes more than a single manuscript to really hone your novel-writing skills.

3. All the author needs to do is write a book. That’s a nice thought—but not quite. Authors write books, then edit, then rewrite, then edit more, then they market their books—whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter or tumblr or book tours or YouTube—all the while working on the next book, and reading other books, and trying not to entirely disappear from the social media world while buried under a heap of editor notes.

And that’s not even getting into just how difficult it is to write a book in the first place.

4. Authors do everything alone.  Rachelle Gardner wrote a fantastic post on the help that traditionally published authors receive, but in short, traditionally published or not, authors absolutely do not do everything alone. We get help from readers and editors and book designers and agents and marketing specialists and copyeditors because it takes a lot more than just one person to write a book and get it out there. Writers can’t do everything alone, and the great part is that we don’t need to. There are others out there willing and able to help—we just have to go out there and find them.

5. After publishing one book, money starts raining on the author. I think most of us know this isn’t true, but especially nowadays I think it’s important we accept this one.

Yes, there are always exceptions—we’ve all heard about the debut authors who start off with a bang and immediately jump into the New York Times Bestsellers list, with a very nice advance sitting in their bank account. It happens.

But by and large, it doesn’t happen. In today’s world, advances are shrinking and publishers are more careful. An author’s career (regardless of how successful they were with their debut) isn’t based on just one novel—it’s a combination of every novel they ever publish and for most of us, it’ll be a slow climb. There’s a reason so many authors have a second (and sometimes third) job, and it’s not just because they’re bored sitting at home.

Writing takes time. Publishing takes time. Making a living off of writing usually takes a lot of time.


So those are my five writing myths. What would you add to the list?

20 comments:

Joseph Eastwood said...

I love all of these, and if any writer thought that any of them were real needs to evaluate themselves. I especially liked you second point because a lot of people are writing their first novel and they are really enthusiastic about it. However, in the back of my mind I know that I had to write 3 novels, just under 250k words before I wrote or even thought of Lumen.


Great post, Ava!

-Joseph
www.josepheastwood.com

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Joe! Many of the myths are things that new, inexperienced writers are tempted to believe, and I certainly don't penalize anyone for once believing them--sometimes our optimism and enthusiasm gets the best of us. :)

SusanKayeQuinn said...

Well said!

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Susan! 

JFeijten said...

I know they're myths. However, I'm happy to forget it and hope for that life as a writer. I know that would be my dreamjob and although I know it will be very hard to get it, I like to keep believing in it. It's good to have goals in your life.

The first one is getting a book published. The second probably getting another one published. Then I would like to earn some money with it. In the end, I'm working towards that job as a writer.

Naive. But it's a great feeling to have dreams in which you can believe :-)

Ava Jae said...

I wouldn't say it's naive to hope to be able to one day make a living as a writer. It's absolutely possible, it'll just take a lot of time and dedication. 

Lori Lopez said...

New writers need to read this, all are true and all seem plausible when you first put pen to paper, or finger to keys. For me, I have no delusions about my first novel, it was fanfic, but the second, I'm tweaking and know one day it will find a home. Now back to my twelfth. As always, well said. 

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Lori! It can be difficult, especially at the beginning, to accept that these myths are indeed myths, but once you accept it, I've found it can actually bring more peace of mind than chasing after the elusive myth. 

Russell Blake said...

That the odds even favor you making a living as a writer. They don't. The overwhelming majority, as in well over 90%, don't. Ever. Regardless of how many novels they write. Something like 95% of all tradpub books fail to make money. I'd wager that self-pubbed books are even lower odds. My hunch is it's more like 99% won't ever sell more than a few copies. That's reality. Harsh reality. But reality usually is.

And my second myth is that if you are a good writer, your odds significantly improve. Not really. My bet is they improve somewhat, but not all that much. Witness the number of authors who have done well who kind of, well, suck. It's like bands. Or movies. Let's face it. Many bands that have a hit or two just aren't very good. The guitar player can barely hold a rhythm, and the singer has a two note range. Yet they hit. Or even better, they can't sing or play anything - and they still hit. People look at that and go, hey, he can't sing, and he hit, so I can't sing - maybe I can hit, too. His stories are first grade level formulaic drivel, so mine can be too.

I could go on, but then I'd be writing my own blog...

Jason Cruz said...

I totally agree with you. I'm quite happy to be writing for columns in newspapers and magazines, but a book is something that is a little too daunting for me. I read an interview online before (I believe it was Michael Crichton, before he passed on) and he mentioned something about the sheer length of time PREPARING (as compared to actually writing) a novel - and this is a guy who has dozens of books to his name! However, to those who do want to pursue the hard but noble task of being a bestselling author, my prayers and well-wishes are with you!

Sophia Chang said...

THANK YOU for this post.  I really needed the reminder (that I'm not lame or behind).  Whew.

Ava Jae said...

The truth isn't always easy to hear, but it's best to accept as early as possible. Thanks, Russell! 

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Jason! Writing a book certainly isn't easy--nor is developing the skills to write a good book, which is entirely different from just writing a manuscript. 

Ava Jae said...

Of course! Everyone goes at their own pace and as long as you continue to push yourself to improve, you're not behind at all. :)

Susan Sipal said...

All good points, Ava.  I snorted aloud when I read #5. :-)

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Susan! As for #5, well...it seems to be Hollywood's favorite. :)

Charmaine Clancy said...

You're spot on about authors not being alone - even just the online community of authors are so supportive and helpful to each other.
Wagging Tales

Ava Jae said...

That is so true! It's easily one of the best advantages of social media for writers. :)

Margaret Lynette Sharp said...

An expose of the cold, hard facts of life.

Ava Jae said...

Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for commenting! 

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