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?