Tag Archives: good writing

Five writing myths – and why they’re crap

The writing business is full of advice, some good, some bad and some plain bullshit. I guess I’ve heard one story too many today, so this rant is my response.

1. You’ll never make money from your first novel

Have a look at this list of ‘first novels’. Admittedly, some of these people will have other manuscripts that have never seen the light of day, tucked away in desk drawers and the like. But one hears so often about the number of rejection slips. This is, if you wish, the other side of the coin. No one is saying all those first novels were necessarily an overnight success. We’ve all heard about how many of those were rejected multiple times. But they’re still ‘first novels’. Sometimes, indeed, only novels.

2. Your first novel will be crap

Really? Please see above. I’ve actually read advice along the lines of “write four novels, throw them away, then write your ‘first novel'”. Hello? Throw away four books? Throw away? Don’t do it, folks. Revise your little heart out. I’m here to tell you that the first versions of the first two books I ever wrote don’t look a lot like their published versions. But that’s editing, which isn’t the same as throwing away. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of editing, be careful whose advice you take. I had a little rant about that.

3. Shucks. My muse did it for me

Before I start, I’ll make the point that this one is just my (humble) opinion. I see it so often, writers extolling the virtues of their ‘muse’. I remember watching a presentation by a very successful author who claimed the words just kinda “came out” of their own accord. She was very humble about it, telling her audience some other hand had written through her. To that I say, bullshit. The muses were a bunch of minor Greek goddesses. I don’t believe in some sort of higher entity which works through me. I make up my stories in my head, undoubtedly building upon the stories I have heard or read or seen during my life. But they’re my words, they’re my plots and I take responsibility for them. If I write a load of universally panned rubbish, can I also claim that it wasn’t me, I didn’t do it? Point my finger at… oops, there’s no muse for space opera. Maybe that’s my mistake? If you have to take responsibility for your mistakes, why can’t you glory in your successes? But I’m not here to judge. If you’re a muse supporter, you go for it.

4. Aaaaargh – writer’s block!

This one isn’t just from the ‘muse’ supporters. “The word’s aren’t lining up in my head and pouring out my fingertips,” the writers complain. Did you guys watch The Jewel of the Nile, with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas? Turner played Joan Wilder, successful writer of romantic action-adventure. In the opening part of the film, there’s a ludicrous chain of events with a bunch of impossible characters, doing unlikely things. That was Wilder suffering ‘writer’s block’. And that, dear reader, is how to solve ‘writer’s block’. Go and write. Something. Anything. Yes, it might be crap, but you can edit crap. Writer’s block is really

  • I can’t be bothered
  • I’m not in the mood
  • I have other things tying up my brain cells right now
  • What if I can’t do this anymore?
  • It won’t sell anyway, so what’s the point?

And other bits of negative and/or non-productive nonsense. If you want to write… write. If you don’t, do something else. It’s your choice.

5. Good writing will rise to the top

Er… no. Writing isn’t a bottle of milk, and ‘good writing’ isn’t cream. What is ‘good writing’? I’m not talking about grammar and spelling here. To me, they are tools of the trade and if you don’t know how to use them, you have no business in this profession.

Let’s name a few names which are often included in the ‘bad writing’ lists. JK Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, EL James. And some people touted as ‘good’ writers. James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway. I loved Harry Potter, wouldn’t touch Twilight with the proverbial barge pole, ditto for EL James, and I blew a resounding raspberry at the da Vinci Code – but in each case, not because of the writing. To me, Joyce is incomprehensible, Dickens is overwritten pompousness, Jane Austen is dated and Hemingway is just not very interesting. Sorry. Okay, actually, I’m not sorry. These are my opinions and they have as much validity as anybody else’s. And therein lies the point. ‘Good’ writing is relative. It depends on you the reader. I’ve mentioned before today that I persevered with a piece of fan fiction which was full of grammatical errors, because I enjoyed the story. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

So there you go. Rant over. Anything you’d like to add? Any other writing myths that are sure to get your goat?

Writing as paint-by-numbers

Creative Commons Wikipedia

Creative Commons Wikipedia

Everybody’s got a novel in them, so they say. And as I’ve mentioned before, the novel writing business has become an industry in its own right. Everywhere you look you’ll find another course on how to come up with plots, write convincing characters, create a scene that ‘hooks’, edit your book so that every word counts. Writers blog about ‘how to’, things you should do, things you shouldn’t. What your novel must have to sell. Books have been written on how to market, how to sell, how to use the internet to create your ‘brand’. And so it goes. I wouldn’t say all of this is useless; far from it. I’ve done quite a few courses, read a few ‘how to’ books. But you know, I think the danger is that a novel can become over-engineered.

I wonder if Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Jules Verne or more modern well-known authors like McCaffrey, Asimov, Stephanie Meyers and J.K. Rowling ever took much notice of ‘theme’ or ending every scene with the MC worse off. I don’t have to ask about Tolkien. He made his position very clear – he wanted to try his hand at writing a very long story that would entertain.

Let me give you an analogy. I would have loved to have been good at painting. I had a certain limited talent but (let’s face it) I wasn’t very good. That’s okay. I’m good at lots of other stuff. In the art world, though, I resorted to a few ‘paint by number’ kits. You know what I mean. A ‘real’ artist has created a painting of something (let’s say a horse) and the kit you buy shows the outline of the horse and its surroundings on a canvas and then various shapes are drawn, each with a number in them. You get a couple of paint brushes and little jars of paint, each with a number corresponding to the numbers on the canvas. And away you go. You carefully colour in each little shape and end up with a recognisable horse. But it isn’t art. Sure, you could improve your input by mixing the colours and blending them together, so it’s not so obviously a colour-in. That’s what it is, though – a colour-in.

I did one year of English at university. I’d always enjoyed writing and reading and I thought I’d enjoy English lit. But I very soon discovered that the profs weren’t interested in MY opinion of the books we were given to read. I was supposed to go off and regurgitate what other learned folk had to say about them. I walked away because I didn’t care. I don’t analyse books I read. I read for entertainment. And nobody can tell me I have to read Dickens if I don’t want to, if I find his style overblown, if I can’t relate to his characters. On the other hand, I LOVED Tolkien, even if his style was narrative and he went off into tangents that didn’t relate to the overall story.

I’d take a guess that among those hugely successful authors it wasn’t only Tolkien who ‘just wanted to write a story’. I fear that if we all go along with the ‘template for novels’ approach we’ll lose our spontaneity, even our creativity. Yes, I guess this is yet another rant about the Rules of Writing. Follow them slavishly and you have a paint by numbers kit.

I’m very interested to know what others think.