Top 10 Misconceptions about Writers

Like many artistic professions, writers often encounter challenges as we pursue our careers. It seems as if every time I touch base with another writer we all seem to be facing the same, exact issues at one point or another in our lives. One of my friends joked that we should all have punch cards to mark off these trouble spots. What are they? Well, if you’re a writer, too, you’ll probably laugh (or cry) when you read this list of the top ten misconceptions other people have about writers.

    1. Anyone can be a writer – Everyone has the ability to learn how to write, but that isn’t the same thing as learning how to be someone who specializes in writing. Often, this misconception pops up because writing is probably “the” lowest cost and most accessible art form that’s out there. Yes, there is such a thing as natural talent and whatnot, but when you learn how to be a writer, you’ll quickly learn that putting words down on paper is simply one component of what you need to do.

    2. Writers get paid too much – Sadly, in some areas writers are getting paid less than they did over 100 years ago. Often, writers are not only asked to write for free, but they’re often asked to do this as a favor or as an expectation. The truth is, most professional writers typically work an ungodly amount of hours because writing is a time-intensive activity. When you add up everything that we’re required to do on top of writing, in most cases we lose money. On the flipside, there’s also some writers who think that offering free work will somehow benefit them in the long run. While there’s a time and place for publishing a free article or story, writers who don’t expect payment for their work can’t make a career out of what they’re doing. There’s a big difference between writing as a hobby and writing professionally.

    3. Writers are machines – I can’t think of one professional writer that I’ve talked to that hasn’t encountered this misconception. Simply put, a writer can’t just sit down at a computer and type every single minute of every single day and produce a publishable work. Sometimes, we need to research and visit cute, kitten sites to allow our minds to mull over what we’re working on. The more flexibility and creativity we have when we’re working on a project, the better the “output” will be. Why? Well, this comes back to the fact that writing isn’t just about putting the words down on a page. It’s about writing that first draft, sure, but then it’s about taking a break and revisiting those drafts after we’ve had a chance to move on to something else. Writers rarely get something right on the first try.

    4. Writers never improve – Learning how to write is a lot like learning how to draw. Regardless of how much natural talent you have, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Writers always have room for improvement, but often the areas that they can improve in vary depending on what they’re focusing on. A good example is my recent experiences with short fiction. I wrote a couple of stories that sucked. They got rejected, which was the right call. So, because I have other opportunities on that front, I realized I needed to practice writing and editing more short stories so they didn’t suck. Does a few rejected stories mean that I’m a crappy writer? No. It just means that I wrote crappy stories. Big difference between the two.

    5. Writers can’t write “X” if they write “Y” – In order to be a writer who puts food on the table, we are required to have a high amount of flexibility. That means that we often seek out publishing opportunities in areas that we aren’t familiar with. Then, we read and research a particular subject so we can write about it. That old adage “write what you know” doesn’t necessary apply to a modern writer. Yes, it’s a lot easier to write what you know, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a writer “can’t” write something if they’re not familiar with it. It just takes them more time to do it.

    6. Writers write for themselves – Most professional writers do not write because they want to see their name in print; they write because that is the career they chose. Truly, the major difference between a professional and an amateur writer is who they’re writing “for.” Pros understand that, in order to continue to get paid for our efforts, we need to reach readers who may be interested in following their work. The larger the publishing house (or the more reputable the publication), the better the chance we have of reaching more eyeballs.

    7. Writers should edit while they write – There is nothing more damaging to a writer than introducing an element of insecurity during their writing process. Editing while we write adds in a layer of second-guessing that hurts whatever we’re working on. The best thing a writer can do is to either a) ask the right questions and research everything they need to before they write the first draft or b) write the first draft and then go through a longer revision process. Again, just because a writer needs to change terms or the message of what they’re writing doesn’t mean that we’re terrible writers. It means that we’re working on delivering a “product” (e.g. article, novel, short story, essay, etc.) that meets an editor’s or reader’s expectations.

    8. Writers “only” write – Writers also: market, research, budget, invoice, query, negotiate, revise, read, promote, sell, learn, sign, wait, follow-up, think, schedule, print, mail, design, network, meet, critique, etc. Every skill that I just listed is part and parcel to having a professional writing career. While some skills take more time than others to complete, writing is not just about sitting down at a computer and tap, tapping away. Additionally, these activities are part of the reason why it’s important for writers to get paid for what we do. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to afford to write in the first place.

    9. Writers should offer free help to anyone who asks for it – Hey, if that were true, then a doctor I know should give me a free check up anytime I ask for it. Maybe I should ask one of my artist friends for a free image anytime I want one. No? Well, then why would a professional writer offer free help to anyone who asks for it? Writing, for us, is a career. It’s not something that we do when we get around to it. This is our job. While I do believe in helping new writers, I also think there is a difference between providing a free service and offering some advice. If you spend a few minutes to search for them, you can find a ton of other places online that offer great insight for a budding writer.

    10. Writers have issues and are very needy – To the first part of that statement, everyone has issues. To the second part, writers do need something. We need feedback. In many cases, our writing process doesn’t occur in a bubble. Typically, we collaborate with an editor, reader or publisher. A good editor will open a dialog with a writer and have a conversation about their writing from a conceptual standpoint. What do they like? What don’t they like? Good editors also understand that there’s a big difference between voice, style, grammar, punctuation, etc. An editor who gets hung up on the placement of a comma or a typo probably isn’t going to help you with your work. On the flipside, an editor who only focuses on what they love about your work probably won’t help you either. While a balance of positive and negative works best, it’s better to have constructive feedback that will help you remain enthusiastic about your writing than to get overly critical comments.

What’s really interesting to me about this list, is that it always seems to be really complicated when we have to either explain, retort or debunk these misconceptions. It’s nigh impossible not to sound whiny or defensive. After all, our work is our reputation and even though we don’t always want to admit it — a professional writer will guard their work with their life.

What about you? Do you have any experiences or links to share?

My Schedule at the GenCon 2010 Writer’s Symposium

The GenCon Writer’s Symposium offers aspiring writers, editors and game designers the ability to get in touch with professionals that hail from all corners of the publishing industry. Organized by Jean Rabe, this series of panels is designed to help aspiring professionals kickstart their career.

Here are the panels that I will be speaking on. The person moderating will have a star next to their name.

Thursday, August 5th

    3:00 p.m. Writing and Editing for Online Publications – Track A – Jennifer Brozek*, Monica Valentinelli – There’s a difference in on-line versus paper markets… how to write for them, how to submit, how to find the best publications and rates out there. Join our panelists for a look at the digital marketplace.
    4:00 p.m. Bring Out Your Dead – Track B – Richard Lee Byers*, Anton Strout, Wes Nicholson, Tim Waggoner, Monica Valentinelli – Vampires, ghosts, and zombies, oh my! Breathe life—so to speak—into your undead characters. Discover what rules apply and what should be ignored when writing about the undead.

Friday, August 5th

    1:00 p.m. Building Your Online Reputation – Track B – Monica Valentinelli*, Anton Strout, Kelly Swails – Your Online Reputation: When is it appropriate to work for free? How can you cater to the readers who visit your website? What do you need to watch out for so you don’t “spam” your fans with content? Our panelists tackle these topics and more, including how to promote your writing via the Internet.
    2:00 p.m. Pick My Brain – Track C – Monica Valentinelli – These types of sessions allow you to come visit with individual authors in a one-on-one pow-wow. If you’re stuck and my expertise can help you, this is the place to be.
    3:00 p.m. Women Writing Men – Track A – Elizabeth Vaughn*, Kerrie Hughes, Kelly Swails, Linda Baker, Monica Valentinelli – So you want to create a main character that doesn’t match your gender. You want the woman believable, and you want to avoid stereotypes and clichés. How do you get into such a character’s head? How can a guy “write” a convincing gal? Our panelists are adept at doing just that and are chomping at the proverbial bit to share their expertise.

Saturday, August 6th

    1:00 p.m. Pros and Cons of the Small and Large Press – Track B – Dylan Birtolo*, Donald Bingle, Monica Valentinelli – Small and Large Press: We’ve been published by major New York houses as well as small press companies and have had varying degrees of success with both. We’ll discuss the differences between writing for a large publisher versus a small one, and the advantages and disadvantages of both.
    2:00 p.m. Pay It Forward – Track A – Monica Valentinelli*, Kerrie Hughes, Marc Tassin, Tim Waggoner – Help other writers, and you’ll end up helping yourself. Topics we’ll tackle include mentoring, managing expectations of other writers, when it’s appropriate to pitch ideas to other professionals, the downside of too much shameless self-promotion, and building a writer’s community for support.

I hope that you will be able to join me and the other experienced professionals at GenCon. There are a lot of really interesting panels this year, and with the size of these panels I feel you’ll be able to benefit from the knowledge that everyone has to offer you.

Dare I say that I wrote Fan Fiction for a Charity Contest? Read it here.

For anyone who has gotten to know me, there’s probably a few things that stand out in your mind. One, I tell pretty awful jokes. So bad, in fact, that I have earned the nickname “humor vacuum.” I assure you, this is not intentional and has amounted to lots of therapy in the form of darn, good coffee. Second, I hate clowns. Well, I guess “hate” really isn’t a strong enough word for them. I despise/loathe/detest clowns. Unlike many of you who might find them innocent or cheerful; they freak me out in a way that I cannot even begin to explain. Apparently there is a word for this. It’s called “coulrophobia.”

While I take small consolation in the fact that I’m not alone in my fear of clowns, I realize that there are people who find them quite entertaining. Apparently, even famous people like Wil Wheaton who happens to not only own a clown sweater, but proudly wears it from time to time.

I had first heard about the contest that authors John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton were sponsoring through Twitter. Dubbed the “Wil Wheaton/John Scalzi Fan Fiction Contest to Benefit the Lupus Alliance of America,” writers were asked to provide a short story about a particularly odd painting. The winners of this contest would then be pooled together into a charity anthology that would be published through Subterranean Press. (Be sure to watch either my blog or John’s for a follow-up post when he announces the winners in August.)

After seeing the painting, I just had to enter. Although my chances of winning are slim, because there were hundreds of potential entries for an anthology that only has so many spots, I really had a lot of fun with this. So, for your enjoyment, I’m posting a picture of the painting by artist Jeff Zugale and my short story entitled THE CONTRACT. Hope you have as much fun reading this as I had writing it.

And now, the caveat. There is one very important thing I’d like to point out here. For my story, I wrote about Wil Wheaton the actor and gamer rather than Wil Wheaton the writer. I assure you that this was not an oversight; I had to cut something due to the angle I had taken with the story and the amount of space that I had to tell it. In addition to his other works, Wil had written essays for both THE BONES and FAMILY GAMES: the 100 BEST, two books that I had also contributed to, so I’m familiar with his writing endeavors.

Now that that’s over with, I’d like to offer you the chance to read my story in all its…well..glory. Enjoy!

The Contract

Written by Monica Valentinelli

“All right, what’s it going to be this time?” Wil said as he rummaged around the back of his bedroom closet. “Vestal virgins? Chocolate doughnuts? An L.A. driver or two?”

“Wiiiiiiiiiiilllllll,” a disembodied voice groaned. “It is time, my young apprentisss.”

“Here we go again,” Wil countered as he flipped through his winter clothes. “Can’t you talk normal or something? You’re lucky nobody else is home.”

“Party pooper,” the voice shot back. “And how many times do I gotta tell ya that sacrifices aren’t part of the deal? Couldn’t eat one even if I tried.”

“Gotcha!” Wil yelled triumphantly as he pulled out a cheerful sweater. Hand-knit from Alpaca sheep wool and organically dyed in bright colors, the sweater was woven to look like a giant clown’s face. One of the eyes — a cerulean blue orb with a white pupil at its center — winked at him. Unfazed, Wil carefully hung the sweater on a hook behind him; he was used to the sweater’s antics by now.

Although he had picked up the innocuous-looking sweater for five dollars at a thrift store years ago, it was much more than a piece of clothing. Not only was the clown sweater an iconic symbol for Wil Wheaton – actor, gamer and dad – it was also his mortal enemy. Only a few people knew the truth about the sweater, the demon Popofobozo who inhabited it, and the mysterious hold it had over him. Wil hadn’t let anyone, including his agent, read the contract that he had signed with the demon over five years ago.

“Are you with me?” Popofobozo snapped at him, twitching its wool eyebrow so forcefully that a red piece of string began to unravel. “Or do I have to be that annoying voice in your head again?”

Wil made a face and shook his head. He hated it when the demon spoke to him in his mind. “You know, I’m getting pretty tired of these stupid bets. Doesn’t our contract have an expiration date?”

“Hey, it’s not my fault if you didn’t initial that paragraph,” the demon said, scrunching its fuzzy shoulders. “Besides, you know what’s at stake if you don’t win. I will gladly dump you through a pan-dimensional vortex where you will be forced to ride a fierce winged uni-kitten while battling the king of the trolls with a magic spear.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right,” Wil said, smacking his forehead. “The pan-dimensional vortex. How could I forget?”

It was Popofobozo’s turn to look annoyed; it curled the corners of its fat, red lips into a straight line. “Hey, you’re on my schedule, pal. Now, are you going to call Scalzi or not? You know we need him to judge.”

“No, you only think we need a mediator because I’ve never lost,” Wil smirked, feeling a little more than confident that he was going to win six years in a row.

“You mean the thought of battling a troll king doesn’t frighten you?” Popofobozo asked with a genuine hint of surprise in his voice.

Wil tried not to snort. “I don’t believe in pan-dimensional vortexes. What? Don’t you think I’ve taken a physics class or two?”

The demon bristled, shooting tiny tufts of red wool into the air. “How about fiery volcanoes? Do you believe in those?”

Wil patted the sleeves of the sweater politely. “You know, Popo, I think Scalzi and I might be able to drum up an exorcist or two.”

“Yeah,” Popofobozo grinned, stretching the corners of his red mouth to the ends of the sweater. “Like that works. Now put me on and let’s do this thing.”

As soon as he felt the wool scratch against his skin, Wil felt a malevolent tinge wash over him. For a moment, it seemed as if Popofobozo was wearing him – and not the other way around.

“You know the drill. Grab your dice and call out to your friend,” Popofobozo ordered him, squeezing tighter around Wil’s chest. “Time is a-wastin’.”

Shrugging his shoulders in temporary defeat, Wil pulled out a pair of fourteen carat gold twenty-sided dice from his pocket and focused his thoughts. “Scalzi. Scalzi. SCALZI.”

“You had to interrupt me now?” Slowly but surely, John Scalzi began to materialize. He was holding a wireless mouse in one hand and a tall beer in the other. “I was on a roll.”

John Scalzi was a professional author who had known Wil for only a few years, but the two of them had become fast friends. As luck would have it, they had bonded over weird costuming ideas and several, in-depth discussions about the practicalities of going where no man has gone before.

Wil felt his face flush. “I’m sorry, man. This will only take a minute, I swear.”

Scalzi took a swig of his beer and stuffed his mouse in his pocket. “Fine, but I don’t have a lot of time. If I don’t make this deadline, my editor will kill me.”

“Yeah, know what that’s like,” Wil chuckled and quickly changed the subject. “Same rules as last time, so this should go pretty quick.”

Muttering under his breath, Wil thought he heard him say something about how truth was stranger than fiction. Scalzi leaned toward the happy clown face on Wil’s chest. “Popofobozo, are you ready?”

Small threads of yarn crept up Wil’s wrist and began to cover his hand. About a minute later, his long fingers were covered in white, fuzzy yarn.


Wil plopped one of the gold dice into his gloved hand and waited for the demon to roll the die. Even though they had gone through this process a few times before, it always seemed strange to him that the demonically-possessed yarn could take over most of his upper body. Fortunately for Wil, he knew that the demon could never possess him on a more permanent basis because, according to the contract, the demon’s powers were pretty limited. If the sweater unraveled too much or used physical force too often, then the demon would die.

Still, Wil couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the sweater actually won this time around. Was the demon was trying to free itself from its wooly existence? Of course, Wil thought he was getting the better end of the deal. Part of the reason why his career was taking off again was because the sweater demon was living up to its end of the bargain.

Wil’s yarn-covered hand tossed the gold die; as soon as it touched the ground, the strands of white yarn rewove themselves back to where they belonged.

“Nice roll,” Scalzi said as he mentally recorded the result. Satisfied, he motioned for Wil to take his turn.

Wil gently kissed the die before he tossed it on the wood floor. “Come to papa, baby.”

Scalzi waited for the die to stop spinning, then bent over to read the result. “You rolled a four.”

“Four?” Wil threw his arms up in despair. “FOUR? I can’t even remember the last time I rolled that low.”

“The sweater wins,” Scalzi said flatly, taking another swig of his beer. “He rolled a perfect twenty.”

“Nooooooooooooooooo!” Wil yelled, unable to contain his disappointment. “How is that even possible?”

Scalzi scratched his head. “Technically, there’s a one in—“

“Time to settle our bet, Mr. Wheaton.”

As soon as the words left the demon clown sweater’s woven mouth, a large porthole popped into view. Wil couldn’t help but wince; he found himself staring into a dark landscape replete with fiery volcanoes. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he whispered, half-hoping that the demon wouldn’t hear him. “This is some bet.”

“Hey, you’re the one who signed a contract. Remember?” Popofobozo scolded him. Wil didn’t need to see the look on the clown demon’s face to know what he was feeling.

John muttered a few words and backed away from the porthole. “I’m sorry, Wil, but I have a deadline I have to keep. Maybe I’ll grab a pair of scissors or something on the way back.”

“No,” Popofobozo replied quietly. “No one’s going home. Not yet.”

“Hey!” Wil struggled as threads of the evil sweater started to constrict. “What gives?”

“Watch what happens when somebody threatens me,” the demon commanded.

“Wil?” Scalzi dropped his beer on the floor and immediately doubled over as if he were in terrible pain. His body rippled and bulged. Then, a strange, bluish smoke started to pour out of his ears, nose and mouth. Wil stood frozen as he watched John Scalzi transform from a mild-mannered author into a snarling troll.

“Scalzi? Is that you?” Wil squinted at the armored troll that stood directly across from him. He could barely make out the features of John’s face, but there still seemed to be a hint of the mild-mannered author’s likeness in between the prominent, green forehead and large ears.

“Don’t worry, Wil, it’s not the real John Scalzi,” the sweater demon reassured him. “The armor he’s wearing is real enough, though.”

“I suppose you’re not going to tell me where John is.”

The sweater didn’t bother to reply.

Clenching his teeth, Wil peered into the hole with fierce determination. “Magic spear, huh? And flying kitten unicorns?”

“Yep,” Popofobozo said eagerly. “Did I mention the fight to the death?”

Closing his eyes, Wil quickly weighed his options. If he fought the troll king and won, not only would he satisfy his portion of the contract, he could finally get rid of the demon. On the other hand, if he didn’t fight the troll, Popofobozo might take the news pretty badly. Who knows what would happen to him then? Death by a frakking clown sweater? Without Wil around, Popofobozo would probably wind up at some celebrity auction. Once sold, he’d probably set up another round of bets with some other actor or worse–a screenwriter. There was no way he’d let that happen.

“All right,” he said to himself. “Here goes.” Wil rushed at the troll, knocking them both through the gaping pan-dimensional vortex. As soon as the pair landed on the ground, the porthole vanished with a loud popping noise.

Wil Wheaton and John Scalzi Fanfic Contest Painting“Mee-awwwrrrr!” Glancing up, Wil was not surprised to see a giant winged kitten unicorn flying over his head with a spear clutched in its claws. For a split second, Wil’s mind was so focused on trying to figure out what the monster’s stats would be in his weekly game of Dungeons and Dragons that he forgot all about his impending fight with the troll king.

While Wil was distracted, the troll had somehow managed to find a large, wooden shield and a silver axe. Swinging the weapon like an expert barbarian, the troll king lunged at him. Although he missed Wil completely on the first pass, the tip of the axe almost nicked him in the back on the second try.

“Oh, crap,” Wil complained as he ducked for a third time.

The winged kitten unicorn dipped its head and charged at the troll with its gilded horn, knocking him to the ground. Hopping on to the uni-kitten’s back as fast as he could, Wil grabbed the spear and brandished it high in the air. The troll jumped back up and quickly braced himself for their attack.

At that moment, it had finally dawned on Wil that the demon was telling the truth: this troll was not John Scalzi. It was just some awful trick that was meant to confuse him. Scalzi was probably safe at home, writing on his computer.

Wil knew there was only one thing left to do. “Bring it on, troll king!”

“What a sucker,” the sweater said with a quiet chuckle.

In a display that rivaled several legendary battles, Wil Wheaton attacked an angry troll, who loosely resembled John Scalzi, while riding a fierce, winged uni-kitten in order to win the day, fulfill his contract, and return home victorious from a faraway realm.


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