We writers know about myths. Either because we’ve read them, or written something based on them or even written our own.
But what do we know about the kinds of myths that affect us every single time we sit down to write?
Myths about writing haunt us, and can make it difficult for us to get to the page, or difficult to get the words down even if we manage to get our butt-in-chair.
If we know about these myths, though, we can learn how to deal with each one. That’s why I’m breaking down three common writing myths for you in today’s episode.
[01:44] They're just in the ether, and so we absorb them and then we think there's something wrong with us when our writing life doesn't line up in accordance with these myths.
[02:42] The last one I saw was “write a book in a weekend” and I just wanted to reach out across the internet and strangle this person.
[04:54] It just takes time, people, it takes time and you want it to take time because you want to become the kind of writer that is capable of finishing this book and the next book.
[07:34] We say “revision,” but we really mean “revisions.”
[11:17] Having other writers in your community to do that with is so valuable. That's why I created the Writer’s Flow Studio and the First Book Finish program.
[13:04] Let's say that you are a tennis player and you're out playing tennis regularly. You are going to win some games. You are going to lose some games.
[13:43] Why are you expecting your writing life to be perfect, and then blaming yourself when it's not?
[15:47] You can trust your own story and you can trust yourself as a writer. That builds up over time and it builds up by not giving up on ourselves when we have a bad day.
Well, hey there, writer. Welcome to The Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm your host, Rhonda Douglas, and this is the podcast for writers who want to create and sustain a writing life they love.
Because—let's face it—the writing life has its ups and downs, and we wanna not just write, but also to be able to enjoy the process so that we'll spend more time with our butt-in-chair getting those words on the page.
This podcast is for writers who love books, and everything that goes into the making of them. For writers who wanna learn and grow in their craft, and improve their writing skills. Writers who want to finish their books, and get them out into the world so their ideal readers can enjoy them, writers who wanna spend more time in that flow state, writers who want to connect with other writers to celebrate and be in community in this crazy roller coaster ride we call “the writing life.”
We are resilient writers. We're writing for the rest of our lives, and we're having a good time doing it. So welcome, writer, I'm so glad you're here. Let's jump right into today's show.
Well, hey there, writer. Welcome back to another episode of The Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm so glad you're here. Today I want to talk about some of the myths that I think are out there in popular culture, sometimes within the writing community itself, and I think these are myths that are really dangerous.
They're just in the ether, and so we absorb them and then we think there's something wrong with us when our writing life doesn't line up in accordance with these myths. I think they can be really dangerous for our understanding of ourselves as writers, and for what we think the writing process should really be like and what it's like in particular to finish a book. So, let's get into it. I've got three of them I'll do today. There are certainly more than three out there, so I'll probably do another one on this later on as well.
The first myth I want to talk about is the idea that writing a book is quick and easy. I don't know what happened with this. This must come from the rise of advertising on social media, but if I see one more ad for, “finish your book in 30 days” or, the last one I saw was “write a book in a weekend” and I just wanted to reach out across the internet and strangle this person.
I mean, can you do a really sketchy outline? Sure. There's a Muskoka Novel Marathon event that happens here in Canada, I think it's in September. And the idea is that you write a book in a weekend. Come on. That is night and day writing, and it is often the case that the books that come out of this are frankly either a) not finished, or b) not very good.
They're very sketchy, there's a lot more exposition than there is showing, than there is deep scene work. There's plot problems like you wouldn't believe. I don't know that it's a great idea to tell yourself you're going to write a novel in a weekend as a way to spend time enjoying what you like to do, assuming you enjoy the writing process, then awesome.
But overall, I don't think it's a great idea and I think it's misleading. I think it's very misleading. And if you have participated in Nanowrimo at any point, then you know that the books that come out of Nanowrimo—well first of all, only about 20% of people who do Nanowrimo actually win it or complete the book—need a lot of revision. So, the truth of it is that, to my view, there are six different phases of a book.
The first phase is just you having the idea. Maybe you do some character sketches, maybe you have some notes on plot. The second phase is finishing the first draft, the third phase is revision, and then there's three more phases after that because guess what? It takes time.
And by the point you get it accepted for publication, if you're going the traditional publishing route, there’s still proofreading. Maybe your editor at the press once has some comments and they want to send you back for another round of edits. That's standard.
And then you've got line edits, copy edits, fact checking, all of that. It just takes time, people, it takes time and you want it to take time because you want to become the kind of writer that is capable of finishing this book and the next book. That doesn't happen overnight. You just can't pull a book out of your rear end. It doesn't work like that. It just doesn't.
I know that in this world, we like all our meals microwavable and we like instant results and we'd rather take a pill than do the hard work for something. But creative effort and artistic effort does not work like that. And I'm just going to straight up say that if you think that a book can be written in a weekend, run through a spellchecker and put it up on Amazon, I don't even know why you're listening to me ‘cause I’m so not your person. I don't know how to help someone who thinks that that's the case.
So, that's the first myth, that it's quick and easy to write a book, and that one's gotten a lot worse recently. I just wanted to get that one out of the way right off the bat. Most writers I know spend—and I'm thinking about my own program—spend, I would say, in First Book Finish, 12 weeks to do the draft, you can get a draft done. Some people do it in eight, some people do it in 10, but you can get a draft done with some concentration in two to three months. That does take time.
It still takes time, but that's a draft. That's what I call a fast draft, a scrappy first draft, a shitty first draft, a developmental draft, a skeleton draft, and then you have to revise. I see revision taking writers anywhere from three to four months, and again, that's deep time. That's someone who's really giving it everything, setting a lot of other things in life aside. So, three to four months to six months to a year, to even beyond a year, depending on how many revisions you do.
I think in three to four months, you can do your first revision. That's the revision where you are revisioning the book as a whole and making sure the structure is more or less working, there are no big holes and the story is more or less down on paper as you want it to be. And at that point, you are ready to send it for feedback either to beta readers or to an editor, and then you're going to do more work on it. We say “revision,” but we really mean “revisions.” It ain't so quick and easy.
That's myth number one. That books are just not quick and easy to write, and a lot of people think, “okay, I finished the book, let me get it out into the world.” If you're going to go the traditional publication route and you're going to seek an agent, that can take six months, a year, even longer, then the agent may want you to edit the book and you're back into it again, and then they send it out and that takes a while. Things are slow these days in the publishing world.
Then it gets accepted. Yay, you've got a signed contract for your book. Guess what? It's probably coming out two years from now for traditional publication. If you're self-publishing or you're in the indie publishing world, it's quicker. You can compress these timelines. There are fewer hands on the book. You're not in a big marketing schedule with 80 other books.
Typically, though, it will still take four to six months to get it done, laid out, proofread the cover, done with your marketing ready to back it up, right? So let's just not pretend. Let's stop pretending that writing a book is quick and easy. Now, some of you are thinking, “I never thought writing a book was quick and easy.” Good for you. You've got your head screwed on right and you know what you're doing.
Okay, myth number two. Myth number two is something that we pick up a lot from Hollywood movies. Picture Jo from Little Women. She is writing her novel. She's up in her freezing attic, she's wearing those fingerless gloves and she's got a shawl on, and she's working away, working away, and her fingers are ink stained, and she's laying down pages, go Jo, and she's alone.
The myth is that books are written alone, and it is true that you've got to put your butt in the chair and lay down some words in order to write your book. There are no elves coming, like the shoemaker's elves, the novelist's elves. Wouldn't that be nice? You start in the morning and then the elves come in overnight and they finish the novel. I don't know. Would it be good? Not sure. You can use AI for that now, and trust me when I say that doesn't work out so well.
So, there's this myth that we go it alone and that we should be going it alone, and I just think that is total B.S. I believe that books are born in community. I was talking to Jane Baird Warren this morning, shout to Jane, hey Jane. And we were talking about this, that it can be so lonely.
There you are sitting at your desk day after day after day after day after day, working on this long project, and you're there by yourself, necessarily by yourself. But there's something, even though other writers can't write your book for you, there's definitely something about you knowing that you're in it with others and that you have people to talk to in your life who know what it's like when you get that rejection from a literary magazine, or when today's session didn't go as well as you hoped it would, or when the progress is slow or when the progress is great and you feel really good about it. Or you've got a new idea, you're thinking about restructuring it. Having other writers in your community to do that with is so valuable. That's why I created the Writer’s Flow Studio and the First Book Finish program.
It is just central to both of those programs that we are working in community. We do co-writing sessions in community, we do workshops together, and it's that sense of just having a group of people who know what it's like, who get it, when maybe the rest of your folks in your life don't quite get it so much.
I remember my aunt wanted to know why I hadn't sent my poetry book to Oprah. Did I not believe in myself enough to send my poetry book to Oprah? You know what I'm saying? Or the people who keep asking, “how's your book going? How's your book going? How's your book going?” As though they expected you to finish it in a weekend. So that's myth number two, that the writer is a lone wolf and has to go it alone, and that's not true. Books are born in community.
The third myth, and this is the last one I'll deal with today, this one is particularly pernicious, I think, in that it eats away at our sense of ourselves as writers, and at our belief that we kind of sort of know what we're doing here and our ability to really enjoy our own process.
And that's the idea that every time you sit down to write, it should feel good. Really, when I talk to writers, one of the most persistent things I hear is, when they have a bad writing session, they think there's something wrong with them or wrong with the book. Some writing sessions just don't go so well, right? It's like anything else in life. Let's say that you are a tennis player and you're out playing tennis regularly. You are going to win some games. You are going to lose some games.
You're going to have some good sessions. You're going to have some poor sessions. I've been going to the gym recently, which is mind blowing for me, working out with a trainer, and I know that I have some sessions where I'm like, “this is amazing. I feel so strong.” And then I have some sessions where I think, “why am I doing this to myself? This is torture,” and it's got to do with how much sleep I got and how well I've been eating and the mood that I'm in.
Why are you expecting your writing life to be perfect, and then blaming yourself when it's not? All you're doing is increasing the likelihood that you'll end up with some creative resistance or writer's block or otherwise just perpetuate a sense of ongoing anxiety for you in your writing life, which is completely unnecessary. over the course of your life.
Over the course of your life you're going to have many wonderful writing sessions and they are going to feel good. Some days you feel like you're taking dictation from the gods, and some days you feel like you are vomiting up the worst words in the world, in the wrong order. It's bad. It's just a bad session.
If you find yourself in that kind of a space, when you're in that kind of a session, take a break and reset. Go get a cup of coffee, go for a quick walk, and then come back. Clear your head. I find music as a really good way to shift my mood. Get up and do some salsa dancing, do some salsa dancing for three minutes, and then come back to it and you'll have completely shifted how you feel in your body and therefore how you feel in your head about things. If that's not working, take a nap. Take a break, come back to it tomorrow. Know that every session is a little different and some sessions are great, and some sessions are just kind of meh.
You get down, it's going okay, you're getting down say 200, 500 words, but you look at it and you think, “I'm going to have to rewrite all of those words.” It happens. Some sessions are fabulous. Some sessions are meh, and some sessions are just downright ugly. They don't feel good. That's okay. Who promised you that every writing session had to feel good in order for you to feel like you are a quote-unquote real writer who knows what she's doing?
You do know what you're doing. The story knows what it's doing. You can trust your own story and you can trust yourself as a writer. That builds up over time and it builds up by not giving up on ourselves when we have a bad day.
That is myth number three. The idea that all writing sessions should be good writing sessions, or there's something wrong with you or there's something wrong with the work that you're working on, and that's just not true. It's just not true.
I think this is related to the idea of fast drafting. I love a fast draft, but let me tell you, as someone who's fast drafted for most of her writing life, when it comes to fiction and creative nonfiction, I do a lot of work on the backend of that fast draft. So even though the words are flowing and I'm getting stuff down, I know I've got to fix it later.
If you are a writer who writes more slowly, sometimes we can judge ourselves because we hear other writers laying down 1500 words, 2000 words a day, 10 pages a day for Nanowrimo, and that's just not realistic for many writers.
Some writers are slower than others to get the words down on the page, but they don't necessarily have to do the same kind of revision work as others do. They are good, thoughtful words on the page as opposed to my vomited skeletal first draft.
Stop expecting that all of your writing sessions are going to feel great, and definitely when you have a bad session, don't wear that as a piece of your identity as a writer. It's just a bad session. Bad sessions happen. So what? Get up and do another session tomorrow.
All right. Those are the three myths for today. I definitely am going to do more on this, ‘cause, you know, I've got opinions. I'm an opinionated woman when it comes to some of the stupid ass things people say or believe when it comes to writing, and when you can look at something and think, “oh, that's such B.S.,” then it's not affecting you. It's the ones that kind of get under our skin, like the idea of the writer as a lone wolf who has to just do it all on their own. That kind of stuff is really dangerous because we don't even think to question it.
We'll definitely do another session on this later on. But in the meantime, I hope that today was really helpful for you in your writing life, and I'm so glad you're here. I'll look forward to seeing you again in our next episode of The Resilient Writers Radio Show.
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