Friday, 5 June 2009

10 Myths About Writers



1. A writer is born not made. I believe rather that we become writers. However, all the writers I know are usually people who start life with a love of words and who also love reading. They generally prefer to observe life rather than participate in it too. Actually, all writers suffer from arrested development, very likely. Well, I do. I’d much rather play with my imaginary friends than go and work in an office with a lot of nasty grown ups.

If a love of words was all there was to it, though, there’d be far more writers than there already are – and that’s saying something. Only call yourself a writer after you’ve put in a good few years of practice, can paper your smallest room with rejection letters and then, even after you’ve put your last ounce of strength into your novel or story only to have it rejected again, you are willing to dig even deeper inside yourself to find more strength to unpick it and put the pieces together one more time. Or however many more times it takes to get it right. (See below: 7)

2. Writers are sensitive souls. No. It’s been said before but while others are trying to take in the broadcast of a piece of tragic news, like the one that’s come to light this week about the couple who threw themselves off Beachy Head because they couldn’t cope with the tragedy of losing their son, you are the one already writing their final dialogue. (See below: 3)

3. Writers are blessed with vivid imaginations. Tell that to Shakespeare, who pinched pretty well every plot he set down. Or all those writers who find themselves in court, charged with plagiarising someone else’s work. Or the ones who never get to court but whose story you feel you’ve read before. Writers famously steal and recycle. After all there are only seven basic plots in existence, right?

4. Writers make a lot of money. Ha! I believe the average income for a full-time, published writer is about £10000 last time I read an article on the subject. There was a brief window in the evolution of fiction writing, when there was money to be had by all, but writers have always, in the main, had to combine writing with another job if they want a decent salary. And you’d even need a mortgage for a garret these days!

5. Writers are glamorous creatures for whom the quotidian is so far beneath them it doesn’t even register on their radar. Much as I’d love to lie on a chaise longue, dictating “How many pages?” to my secretary while I eat my way through a box of champagne truffles, I have to go to Sainsbury’s, put the milk bottles out and make sure my kids have enough funds in their paperless dinner money accounts, just like anyone else.

6. To be a proper writer you need an M.A. in Creative Writing these days. It certainly seems to be the case that more and more people are arming themselves with M.A.’s year on year. But not everyone benefits from such a course and many actually find it stifles their creativity. I’m wondering if I’ve got the right temperament. I fear that I would quickly lose self-confidence when in the company of gifted writers and deep down would hate to have to read stuff that was far more brilliant than my own muddled efforts. I’m much better on my own, where the only stories I need to compare my story to are the ones I’ve written before.

7. Once you have written “the end” you have finished your WIP. Ha! That’s only the start. Only non-writers are surprised when they hear that a novel went through 17 drafts before finally reaching the publishable stage. We know the truth!

8. Writers can only write when the muse strikes. If that were true our reading matter would be restricted to the back of cornflake packets, the libraries would be empty and no one would be arguing about who should win the Booker. Writers write. That’s what they do. One per cent inspiration and ninety nine per cent perspiration, as someone said.

9. Anyone can write. This is along the lines of “Everyone has a novel in them.” Maybe, but not everyone would want to read it.

10. Writers are all slightly mad. Nonsense! Now, pass me my Napoleon’s hat. I am off to take my chimpanzee for a stroll up Mount Everest.

15 comments:

Olivia Ryan said...

All so very, very true, Geraldine! Like you, I couldn't bear the thought of doing a BA in creative writing, or any sort of writing class. I'd be terrified I'd find out all sorts of things I'm doing 'wrong' and would never be able to write another word. The only point I disagree with is the last one. We ARE all mad!! We must be! Look at all the odds against us, and still we say we love what we're doing! We're completely barking!

Julie P said...

Hi, Geraldine. Loved the post and it all rings so true with me. I did a creative writing course in 2007/2008 and for a while it did stifle my creativity dreadfully. I did the course really to gauge if someone else, who knew what they were taking about, thought my writing was any good or not,

After getting initially embarrassingly low marks I was all for jacking it in and never writing again. My marks improved, but I felt I wasn't writing what I wanted and it became an exercise in writing something just to please the tutor. I know this is essentially what for we do for editors, but it was clear my tutor's and my opinions were very different, and my writing wasn't to her taste. I think it wasn't 'literary' enough for her. Well I'm not a highbow, literary writer - so that would be why!

But I didn't give up. I thought *** you tutor and just soldiered on regardless! I don't think that some of these courses are as good as they are cracked up to be. I think people think if they have a couple of writing or English qualifications behind them, somehow their writing will be tons better and looked at first by editors/publishers over someone who hasn't got the qualifications.

Although courses can help us pick up good advice and writing techniques/devices, the writing will always speak for iself. Writing courses aren't for everyone!

But a sense on insanity is!

Julie xx

Samantha Tonge said...

Whaddaya mean we aren't glamorous??:)

You are absolutely bang on with these, Geri - although i think we are born to write. Sounds pretentious, doesn't it? But i always knew that one day i would get around to being a writer, it just took me several decades to actually do it.

I'm sure it does stem from an intense love of reading in childhood, but what makes some of us read like that and others not...?

Great post (and possibly the smallest picture we have ever had on SW:))

CarolineG said...

You stole that Napolean hat...give it back! Me and my chimp need it!

Great stuff, Geri, and so many of these resonated with me.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Sam, I was shocked when I saw how small Napoleon had come up! But they say he was a little man, don't they?

Olivia, I think my last remark makes it clear that I'm not really taking issue with number 10!

Susannah Rickards said...

Great stuff Geri.

Ouch to number 2. How true. Already today I've nicked two ghastly stories from the news delighting in their dramatic possibilities.

Caroline R said...

All so true, Geri!

I hope your Napoleonic hat is lined with tinfoil, otherwise I'm afraid it will offer no protection at all from the alien thought rays.

Fionnuala Kearney said...

"I’d much rather play with my imaginary friends than go and work in an office with a lot of nasty grown ups."

Oh me too!

All of these things resonated with me but especially the one that implies we all have to be mad as a box of frogs to put purselves through this.

I've often wondered about the writing 'qualifications'? There seem to be so many people around who have MAs and more in creative writing that sometimes I do feel a little daunted by it. In the end though the best writer is the one who keeps writing. And I've never been very good at writing to order. So I think I'll sat on my DIY learning curve.

Fionnuala Kearney said...

What the hell? "I think I'll stick to my DIY learning curve." WHere did that 'sat' come from?!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

So true, Geri.
I do think that everyone has a book in them. Just that in some cases it would take a ghost writer to actually get it on the page.
Susiex

Lydia said...

Lots to identify with here, Geri. I think that we're "born" in that we feel a need to set stuff down. Not everyone feels this need to capture in words whatever it is. However, we can learn our craft and in particular how to make it marketable. We are definitely all several cans short of a six pack though. This month's Writing Mag says Woman's Weekly receives 14,000 stories per year and only publishes 300 - if you're not mad why would you set yourself up against those odds? And the stats for novels are even worse. Don't even think about it - I'm going to play with my imaginary friends!

Sarah Fox said...

Fantastic post!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Lydia, those statistics from WW are staggering! It's a huge boost to my confidence to read the figures as I sell most of my stories to that particular magazine!

I think I knew too that writing was the thing I would always get into, but no one comes out of the womb a fully-fledged writer, is what I should have said. It's only by practice and by having a thick hide that you will eventually get there, wherever "there" is.

I have come across people far more talented than me during the years I've been writing, in writing classes and writers' groups etc. But they've either lacked the perseverance or they've been unable/unwilling to cope with failure and have given up, if not at the first hurdle, then certainly a few jumps round.

Derek Thompson said...

Great to see those myths held up to scrutiny and nailed once and for all!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Thanks, Derek!