There is an image most people carry of the artist (think Van Gough's self-portrait, the one with his ear bandaged), working in solitude in a barren garret in a dark corner of the city. Everyday is a struggle. He continually walks between moments of brilliance and moments of insanity. It's a romantic image, I suppose. Built around the belief that an artist must suffer for his art.
This applies not only to the painter, mind you, but also to the actor, the dancer, the photographer, the writer. We all must suffer for our art.
But image and reality are often two different things. Writing, for example, does NOT have to be a torturous process of endurance and pain. In fact, it should be exactly the opposite. Liberating. Joyous. Enlightening. Why else would you want to invest so much of yourself in it?
So let's take a closer look at a few common writing myths.
This first one actually applies in all areas of a person's life. Simply stated: Having a big ego is a bad thing. It's unbecoming. It's boastful. It puts you in a negative light.
The truth is … if you want to be a success at anything, you need an ego. It motivates you, keeps you moving, pushes you to do your best. It's not your enemy. It's your ally.
The key to making it work for you is to keep it directed inward. Pump yourself up silently. Let it fill you with pride and a sense of possibilities. That's what the ego does best. Used wisely, it will move you toward your writing goals, not away from them.
Our next common writing myth is one you hear all the time: you have to write something original.
What is originality?
There's only one thing in the world that can make your work original. That's you. Because that's all you have to bring to the table as a writer. Who you are. Your history. Your experiences. Your family. Your beliefs.
When a publisher says he wants something original, he's saying he wants something fresh, something that reflects you the writer. He wants your voice, your honesty. The world already has a Stephen King and a Mary Higgins Clark and a John Grisham. It doesn't need more of them.
Our final common writing myth (though there is no shortage of such myths, we are limited by space): the slower you write, the more time you spend with each and every word, the better your writing will be.
The catch to this one is simple: there's a time and place for writing, and there's a time and place for editing.
When you mix the two activities (which are very different in their requirements and purpose), you rarely do either one justice. If anything will suffer, it will be your writing. Because suddenly you'll be under the constraints of the editor sitting on your shoulder. You'll be fretting over the words while losing perspective on the more important elements of the story. Does the scene work? Are your characters being true to their nature? Does this move the story forward?
The truth is this: your writing will ALWAYS be better when you write in the moment. Remember when you were a child? When you could spend hours building a sand castle or playing catch or flying a kite? Those were moments when nothing else in the world existed because you were completely absorbed in the activity. Write with that same captivation, as if each scene were unfolding right before your eyes, and you'll find your writing will not only be vivid and powerful, it will flow faster than you ever imagined possible.
Writing does not have to be a torturous, exacting process.
Allow yourself to have fun with it, and you'll be a better writer for the effort.
This article was posted on August 20, 2003