Wednesday, July 29, 2009

5 Misconceptions About Writing and Writers

If you've been pursuing writing seriously for any length of time, chances are you've heard (and dispelled) at least one of these myths. You may even be finding out the harsh truth yourself. Below are a few of the common misconceptions about writers and the writing life:

1. Writing isn't really work. Remember those days in high school or college, when you would pull an all-nighter to slave over that research paper, trying to find the best way to describe something or put a new twist on a topic that's been covered over and over again? Try doing that all the time. Try coming up with an endless stream of ideas for articles, essays or stories, never mind coming up with text that can be clearly understood by a larger audience. Worse yet, trying to find possible sources for a story and tracking them down for interviews. Oh, and then following up (often more than once) about payment.

2. There's a magic formula to getting published. Anyone who's been trying to break into certain publications, and certainly anyone who's been tirelessly shopping a manuscript around will tell you that this is not true. For some reason, people don't want to believe this. I know that in my writer's group, getting published is one of the topics most frequently requested by our members. I guess it's intimidating to hear that getting published--much like the actual writing itself--is a process. It can be a very loooong process. But, also like the writing itself, with enough talent, perseverance, endless rounds of edits, and plain old hard work, it can be done.

3. You can't support yourself on writing alone. You can if you mix up your offerings enough and don't limit yourself to one genre. Granted, I'm still a part-time freelancer, but I make a nice extra income from writing, and that's solely from writing features and my online column. I wish I had more time to spend on pursuing clients or working on my fiction. When people hear "writer", most assume we all write fiction and come up with fanciful stories or complex characters. Maybe most of us would like to, in our heart of hearts. But as I've said to more than one person, "The nonfiction is bringing in some bucks", so that's my main focus right now.

4. The editors and clients will come to you. They will if you're lucky. If you're like the rest of us, you have to do your share of pounding the pavement and burning up your keyboard looking for work and contacting potential clients and editors. I've only recently learned the value of following up with editors--these days, it's very easy for your email to slip through the cracks, so it's important to persist (but not harrass) and keep your name out there, particularly if you have an angle for a story that you feel strongly about.

5. Isn't writing the easy part? This ties in closely with #1. Writing, especially if you plan to make it any major part of your career, is one of the most difficult parts of the whole process. It's no small thing to make yourself sit in the chair and churn out text that's both compelling and concise. I often think of one writing conference I attended a few years ago. A gentleman asked our keynote speaker, a New York Times-bestselling author, about his writing process--"Do you practice yoga or existential meditation [I'm paraphrasing here] before you sit down and start writing?", to which the author responded, "I just sit down and write." It's amazing how many ways there are to procrastinate and make excuses--in the time it takes to "prepare" to write, we could be at least a few pages into the project.

What are a few other common misconceptions about this crazy writing life?

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