I’ve tried to get Trent Lewin to join this blog. There’s even a page all ready for him should he decide to leap in. Trent writes some of the most inventive fiction I’ve found in my time blogging and reading other writers, and he is currently traveling the publishing route for a novel he recently completed. I know he has thoughts and advice for other writers.
For instance, here’s what he posted earlier today. It’s a bit of a twist on our regular conversation around here about the “rules of writing.” Trent doesn’t talk directly about the rules. Instead, he talks in his brilliantly snarky way about misperceptions people have of writers. More specifically, great writers.
I want to take a moment to respond here to his identified misconceptions about writers.
- Writing What You Know. We’ve talked about this in our video chats and it appears Trent agrees. I can’t say strongly enough how frustrated I get when I hear somebody say that writers need to write what they know. Trent even uses one of the examples I’ve used — JRR Tolkien. That’s kind of an unfair example though. The whole point of fantasy is to make up worlds and characters. But … isn’t that what all fiction is, whether set in Middle Earth or Detroit. It’s made up, it’s fictional, it is the product of the writer’s imagination. Limiting writers to “what they know” would be monumentally boring, unimaginative and not worth the effort.
- Saving Ideas for the Mega-Hits. As Trent suggests, writers don’t coast here and there, and only pull the big guns out for the big story. At least not “great writers.” No, (and before I say this, understand I don’t think I’m a great writer) we try to hit it out of the park every single time we put words together. We want each story to be better than the last in a constant search for perfection. It’s why writing can be so difficult, so emotionally draining. We want each piece to stand on its own and reach to the heavens and, more importantly, reach you and make you feel something. Whether it is to laugh or to cry, to feel anger or joy.
- Writers and Social Media. It’s the trade-off between the writing life and the promotional efforts to find readers. Trent is right. Great writers write, they care about the craft far more than they do about what’s happening on Twitter. Sadly, as I continue to struggle with my writer’s block, I spend way too much time on social media. 😉
- Great writers don’t outline. Trent suggests this is a misconception about writers. And again, I’m not claiming that I’m a great writer, but I don’t outline, except for vaguely in my head. I think it’s entirely possible to be a great writer without outlining. In fact, I’m going to push back on this a bit — part of the creative process is in the discovery. An outline, particularly one that is too detailed or too rigid, can stifle creativity and cause a writer to miss the hidden gems that show up along the way.
- Writers Write Every Day. Again, Trent says this is a misconception. I agree. But it’s interesting how many established, published authors insist that writing every day is a must. As Trent says, most writers simply cannot do that. There is far too much life going on to be able to sit down and write daily. There was a time when I wrote almost every day. Back when I first started and I was incredibly productive. No matter what was going on, I found some space in each day to write and I was happy with that. A little progress here and there was a good thing. Now, not so much. Too many distractions (see social media), too many frustrations, and likely unrealistic expectations.
6. Writers All Have Degrees From Prestigious Writing Programs. If this were true, I should put my pad and paper (laptop) away and never started. Not only do I not have any such degree, I never took any English classes after high school. I hated the topic so much and hated writing so much back then that I didn’t take any English classes in college. Not a one. The last thing I wanted to do was have to read great literature and then disect the why and wherefore of the author’s product. The last thing I wanted to do was write. And the other thing about this misconception is this — there are many ways to write a story, many styles, genres, and story types. The sneaky feeling I have when I read things that cater to the MFA world is that people who go through those programs are forced into a particular style of writing. I subscribed to Glimmer Train for a few years at one point and eventually gave it up because I was tired of reading stories written in the same wandering, rambling, deep thought vein. So, no, writers don’t need those degrees. In fact, for purposes of creativity and different ways of storytelling, I think it’s better if they don’t.
7. Great Writers Don’t Rewrite Numerous Times. This is a misconception I struggle with. Yes, great writers likely rewrite numerous times and maybe that’s why I’ll never be a great writer (and I’m okay with that, by the way). I edit as I write for the most part and once I type The End, I’m more or less done with the story. I do some tinkering and typo fixes and make sure there aren’t any glaring holes or omissions or consistenty issues, but for the most part … I never rewrite a story once I type those last words.
8. Great writers regurgitate because every story has been told. This is one that drives me crazy. The “every story has been told” criticism. I remember when I completed my first novel hearing from a beta reader that they didn’t know if the book was marketable because it’s a story that has been told over and over again, and what about my version was special. This kind of thing pretty much drives me crazy. It ties in with some of these other issues. If every story has been told, why are we bothering with any of this. Wouldn’t every writer just put their pen down and go swimming or mountain-climbing? No, because every story hasn’t been told. I guarantee that nobody told Henry Thornton’s story before I wrote The Irrepairable Past, and I guarantee nobody has written the story of Lily, Sophie, and Peter until I wrote The Dime.
9. Adapting a Commercial Style. I absolutely agree with Trent on this one. Writers should write what they want to write, in the voice they want to write in, telling the stories they want to tell. And if they do that, their love of the craft and the story will shine through and bring attention to them. Many “great writers” were horribly unpopular in their day, only to be seen as the visionaries they are now. Write what you love, not necessarily what you know, but what you love.
10. Successful Writers Didn’t Get Rejected. Yes they did. The vast, vast majority of them did. It’s an inherent part of any creative endeavor. Rejection is just as much a part of writing as the words are. It’s unfortunate, but a reality.
So … what do you think? Do you have any other favorite misconceptions about writing? Do you disagree with Trent? Agree? Share your thoughts in comments.
This is an interesting post and I do agree with a lot of what you’ve said here. I think when people say write what you know, they are more meaning don’t try, for example, to write from the POV of an entirely different culture. At least, this is what I’ve always inferred the meaning to be.
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Thank you for reading and for your comment.
I’m not sure exactly what it means, just that it seems to be an unnecessary limitation. Another way people express something similar is that writers shouldn’t write from the POV of somebody who is a different gender, or race, or culture. I write regularly from different types of POVs. It’s what makes writing more interesting for me.
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I think it’s easier to mess up if you use first person or close third person narration AND you’re adopting the persona of someone really different from you. Preparation is needed in the form of reading and research, maybe even getting advice from a member of the group you are representing. And one must be prepared for criticism and even accusations of cultural appropriation. But I agree with Mark–we shouldn’t confine ourselves narrowly to our own experience.
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