7 Lies Writers Believe (and the Truths You Need to Know Instead)

by Ruthanne Reid | 94 comments

The writing world is filled with land mines—lies that, when you step on them, blow you right off your creative feet.

writing truths

I've stepped on all of these in my writing career, and every author-friend I know has set them off, too. That tells me they're pretty common.

Lies Writers Struggle With

I want to help arm you against these painful, dangerous explosions, so I present to you seven lies that writers believe—and the truths that can help you get back on your feet.

Fair warning: this will be a very quote-heavy article. Why? Because I don't want you to just take my word for it. I want you to see that all creative minds have to navigate these mines—including the best authors in the world.

Lie #1: If you haven't made it/gotten an agent/become famous by now, you never will.

This is a rough one. When we finally get the courage to start writing (and *gasp* tell people that we are), a funny thing happens: for some reason, others forget everything they know about how skill training works, and they insist we should have “arrived” already.

Baloney. Does anything work that way? Even people with genius taste buds need to learn how to cook. Being “discovered overnight” is an enchanting fantasy, but it's a dangerous myth.

Here's the truth: just like getting in shape, climbing a mountain, or memorizing a symphony, writing takes time to master. 

Sam Sykes said once that no matter who you are as an author, you pay your dues at one end or another. To put it another way: it takes many years to be an overnight success. Maybe you haven't “made it” yet. That doesn't mean you never will.

“An overnight success is ten years in the making.”
― Tom Clancy, Dead or Alive

“Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.”
― Biz Stone

“It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.”
—Eddie Cantor

“Actually, I'm an overnight success, but it took twenty years.”
—Monty Hall

If you haven't made it/gotten an agent/become famous by now, you aren't out of time yet. Keep writing. Keep reading. Don't quit.

Lie #2: If you don't know how to write your story by instinct/experience/magic, you lack the “natural talent,” and should just give up and find a new career.

I actually encounter this one fairly often, and it always baffles me. The people who say it are invariably frustrated writers—they tried and gave up, or they have the “best” book idea ever, but lack the courage to begin. It's as if seeing us walking on the “write” path drives them crazy, and they pop out of the bushes to throw discouragement in our faces.

Here's the truth: just like with playing piano, learning to cook, practicing calligraphy, or anything that involves skill and beauty and imagination, learning to write well means tackling a lot of learning curves. 

“We write every day, we fight every day, we think and scheme and dream a little dream every day. manuscripts pile up in the kitchen sink, run-on sentences dangle around our necks. we plant purple prose in our gardens and snip the adverbs only to thread them in our hair. We write with no guarantees, no certainties, no promises of what might come and we do it anyway. This is who we are.”
― Tahereh Mafi

“You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.
That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
― Octavia E. Butler

“Anyone who says writing is easy isn't doing it right.”
― Amy Joy

You won't start out writing great stuff. You won't even necessarily like what you write for a long time. That's normal. The creative gap is a scary one, but it can be overcome if you don't give up.

Lie #3: Your idea/project/book/series is too big for you, and you'll never be good enough to write it.

This one plagues me all the time. See, as people who love words, we know what good words are like. That means when we start to write (and, as Ms. Butler eloquently said, it comes out crappy), we feel really discouraged.

We know the idea is good. But it seems like we just don't have the skill to make it reality.

Here's the truth: if you had the idea, then you have the raw talent to write it—just like you had the talent to think it up.

No matter how strong you are, you still need to work out to build muscle. Even if you have a skill for swimming, you'll never swim the English Channel unless you practice, practice, and practice more. Even Wolfgang Mozart had to learn how to read music and write for various instruments!

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you're walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That's the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
—Neil Gaiman

“It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that [creative] gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
—Ira Glass

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
—Stephen King

“Writing—and this is the big secret—wants to be written. Writing loves a writer the way God loves a true devotee. Writing will fill your heart if you let it. It will fill your pages and help to fill your life.”
—Julia Cameron

No matter how much talent you have, you have to take the time to hone that talent. Don't quit now. You're just getting started.

Lie #4: Even if you try your best, you'll never write as well as/be successful as [insert author name here].

Ah, the danger of comparison! There may be no more deadly poison than this for the writer. Not only is it pointless to compare ourselves to other writers (who have a different  style than we do because they're different people), but we always seem to compare ourselves with folks who've been writing for decades longer than we have!

Here's the truth: if you don't give up, if you keep learning and growing and writing, you will find your own voice…and it will be solidly good and uniquely yours.

“The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that's not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we've sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”
—Neil Gaiman

“No writing is wasted. […] If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can't put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.”
―Erin Bow

“Keep scribbling! Something will happen.”
— Frank McCourt

“Writing is a difficult trade which must be learned slowly by reading great authors; by trying at the outset to imitate them; by daring then to be original and by destroying one's first productions.”
—André Maurois

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good.”
—William Faulkner

The more you write, the more you'll figure out your style—just like the more you paint, the more you figure out just how you want your colors mixed. Or the more you cook, you'll learn which spices to use, when, and how much. It takes time to develop your own voice and find your own path, but in the end, you'll be glad you did.

Lie #5: You're too old to start now; you should've started young. You missed your chance.

This is a nasty one, especially when we see some young person who managed to “make it” at a relatively early age (that would be the “overnight success” myth). It can feel like we had to try during some magical period of time in our youth, or else we're just too old, too slow, and too set in our ways to become what we ought.

Here's the truth: you're never too old to learn to write. Ever. 

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder and Frank McCourt were both first published in their mid-sixties.
  • Raymond Chandler didn't get published until was about forty-five.
  • Richard Adams (of Watership Down fame) didn't get published until he was in his fifties.
  • Mary Wesley wasn't published until she was 70.

How do I know you're not too old? Simple: do you still love to read? If you can still enjoy a good book, then you can still learn to write. You still have the good taste and sense of story necessary to recognize a tale told well; that means that in time, you can learn to do it yourself.

“You're never too old to write. But, ‘Am I too old to write?' is not actually the right question. The correct question is, ‘Am I too old to improve my writing?'”
—Rob Parnell

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
—Sylvia Plath

“We always may be what we might have been.”
—Adelaide Anne Procter

“Follow your passion. The rest will attend to itself. If I can do it, anybody can do it. It's possible. And it's your turn. So go for it. It's never too late to become what you always wanted to be in the first place.”
—J. Michael Straczynsk

“If it's still in your mind, it's worth taking the risk.”
—Paul Coelho

There's no better time to start than now—and as a bonus, your extra life experience will make your story a lot richer. Talk about a win-win scenario!

Lie #6: If you write it, everyone will hate it.

First the bad news: when you write it (yes, when, not if), someone will hate it.

That's life; there's someone who hates everything ever written, just because that's the nature of reading and personal taste. I'm willing to bet you've even encountered books that other people loved but you hated. It happens with everybody.

It even happens to Shakespeare.

Hatin' On the Bard

Hatin' On the Bard

Here's the truth: yes, there will be people who don't “get” it, but there will also be people who do.

Have there been books you loved, even if someone you know didn't like them? That will be true for you, as well—and the people who love your book will defend it, just like you've defended the one you “got.”

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make more art.”
—Andy Warhol

“If you make art, people will talk about it. Some of the things they say will be nice, some won’t. You’ll already have made that art, and when they’re talking about the last thing you did, you should already be making the next thing. […] Do whatever you have to do to keep making art. I know people who love bad reviews, because it means they’ve made something happen and made people talk; I know people who have never read any of their reviews. It’s their call. You get on with making art.”
― Neil Gaiman

“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible, and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

“When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced.”
― Salman Rushdie

When a book resonates with you, it's worth defending; and if you're driven to write, then you have something to say that will resonate with other people. It will. You just have to keep going until they find you. Don't give up, and it will happen.

Lie #7: If you've messed up your book/writing career/”platform,” it's over.

You're going to make mistakes. You're going to encounter stuff you have no idea how to do. You're going to realize more than once that you're overwhelmed, and don't know how to proceed. This is all normal. There isn't an author on this earth who didn't have to learn how to write well.

Here's the truth: mistakes are not the end. Even if you “blew it,” as long as you're alive, you can start over—and you'll do it with more wisdom and skill than the first time around.

“A teachable spirit and a humbleness to admit your ignorance or your mistake will save you a lot of pain. However, if you're a person who knows it all, then you've got a lot of heavy-hearted experiences coming your way.”
― Ron Carpenter Jr.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
― Aristotle

“We learn from failure, not from success!”
—Bram Stoker

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.”
—Neil Gaiman

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
― Albert Einstein

And a Bonus:

“Nothing haunts us more than the things we don't say.”
—Mitch Albom

We have a lot of problems to overcome as writers. We have a learning curve, we have a whole bizarre industry to learn, and we have inner demons to knock out on a regular basis.

The thing I want you to hear is that it's worth it. 

Writing is difficult, but worthwhile. Getting those words on the page and learning how to make them sing exactly the way you want is kind of like giving birth: after it's all said and done, you're joyful about the result, rather than distressed over the process.

You can do this, fellow writers. Don't give up, and don't believe the lies. Keep writing!

Have you heard these lies before? What lies have you believed? Let us know in the comments below.

PRACTICE

These lies are deadly, but they can be knocked down—and there's no better time for you to practice than today. Take fifteen minutes and tackle the lie that bothers you most. If you're not sure how to fight it, just tell me about it in the comments, and I'll help you find its glass jaw.

You can do it.

Share your practice in the comments and help other writers tackle their worst lies, too. Let's give these lies a beating they won't soon forget!

 | Website

Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.

Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.

When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.

P.S. Red is still her favorite color.

94 Comments

  1. dduggerbiocepts

    Good article and good points, mostly. I still think you and the WP under emphasize the pragmatic time it takes to build a professional and stable writing career. Writing well makes a good writer. Writing well does not make you a financially successful writer. Most of the people on this site IMO have some ambition for financial success as a writer. WP ignoring the financial side of being a successful writer, doesn’t make their readers need or WP’s responsibility for it go away. (http://www.npr.org/2015/09/19/441459103/when-it-comes-to-book-sales-what-counts-as-success-might-surprise-you).

    When I was in college, I was able to land a job at the local post office sorting mail. Being young, too early married, financially strapped and – well, typically stupid for my age – I took the midnight to 7AM shift. Who needs sleep at 20? One morning I came in and forgot to change the date stamp on the postage cancellation machine – so that the date shown was a day older than its reality. When my supervisor calmly pointed out my error the next day, he also said not worry about it – “If you’re making mistakes – at least I know you’re doing something.” Perhaps an extension of your Einstein quote. I’ve done a lot since that time 50 years ago.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      Thanks for the feedback, DDugger! (I really need to know your name soon. 🙂 )

      I completely understand what you’re saying, and I think the confusion comes down to what a “successful” writer means. You’re absolutely right: a lot of authors think financial success is the goal here. It’s not, because no matter how good a writer you are, your talent doesn’t mean you’ll be “discovered.” The publishing industry is weird that way; there’s no guarantee of fame anymore than if you’re a brilliant actor who never gets out of his hometown.

      The thing is, real emotional, mental satisfaction can come from writing well, from completing manuscripts, from actually getting the story told. And that’s actually what we’re working toward.

      Here’s what I’ve figured out: what we think we want as writers usually isn’t what we actually want. Back in the day, I thought I wanted to be on the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble (not understanding how publishing worked, or what “mid-list” meant, or anything).

      I was mistaken. What I REALLY wanted was to touch my readers the same way my favorite books touched me – and I associated that with Barnes and Noble because I’d found my favorite books there.

      And I’ve managed to do that. It took a LOT of years and a LOT of work, but I’ve managed to do that; I’ve inspired readers through my books the way I was inspired, and that gave me exactly what I wanted.

      Does this make sense? We can never guarantee something like financial success through writing, but you’ll notice that our articles here never seem to promise that.

      There are no “7 quick tips to be a bestseller” articles here. Our goal is to help writers learn to write well. Completing those books is a HUGE win for anyone. Holding a completed manuscript in your hands is one of the most empowering things in the world, or at least it was for me.

      I love that quote that your supervisor gave you, by the way. It’s a perfect complement to the Einstein quote, like you said!

    • Bruce Wilson

      When I first started pitching my book to publishers, one of them asked me why I wanted to publish. My first (and very quick) response was “I want people to read my story.” He told me that if I’d wanted to sell a million copies or the movie rights for big bucks he’d have turned away and ignored everything else I had to say. Will I make money? Probably a little. Will I sell the movie rights? Maybe if my nephew in the business works a miracle. Will people read my story (and like it)? God, I hope so. That’s why I wrote it.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      That’s absolutely great, Bruce! I found myself there a few years ago. When I realized that what I really wanted was for readers to GET what I was saying, it changed the entire way I felt about writing. I love your answer too, Bruce!

    • dduggerbiocepts

      Ruthanne,

      Thank you for your consistently thoughtful replies. I also have another career field beyond mail sorter and technical writer. My primary technical work field overlaps with my writing (needs?), and this technical field – like writing also has a demonstrably high romantic attraction quotient (emotional attraction/reality). Some of my work involves the occasional invited lecturing of business/technology courses for young and adult college classes and some for various business professional development organizations. The students young or old are apparently a topically pre-selected – being an usually highly enthusiastic group – (not unlike the readers on WP). Yet, little of their entry assumptions (mostly gleaned from the media) entering my talks are supported by the quantitative economic realities of this field.

      Early in my lectures, I ask each student “What specific product will you produce?” – going around the room until each has answered. I then point out to them that if they didn’t answer that their primary product was “money” – then they were not in business, but rather hobbyist enamored with the identity of their product, its technological processes, rather than focused on the business of producing it – and this was OK. However, it is only OK as long as they fully understood what this meant and that their understanding aligned with their goals, expectations, risk quotients and resources (time and money).

      Like writing, this other field has a hobbyist producer component as well as a professional producer component. Like writing it is possible to gain self-satisfaction from either level of endeavor. However, it isn’t possible to be financially successful in this field (like many others) without the necessary specific intent, necessary preparation and directional focus for financial success.

      The importance for the entrant is knowing who they are from the start, hobbyist or professional producer. The sooner they know this, the more effective/efficient their education/preparation becomes and the sooner they can reach their respective goals. I certainly agree with you that neither you nor WP make any claims of producing or augmenting financial success or fame in writing. Like one my many favorite quotes “It’s hard to tell the difference between the invisible and the non-existent.” The problem with omission – is that you can’t necessarily tell the results of it from purposeful deceit.

      There’s and old marketing concept known as “farming the farmers.” The roots of the concept actually come from overly ambitious marketeers that promoted farming (nurturing living things is another one of those basic human emotional infatuations if not actual needs) activities of various “new” exciting crops. You might remember ads a few years ago regarding he rewards of rearing – emus, ostrich, lamas, etc., etc. Most such ads omitting essential details about its costs, economies of scale, and or exaggerating market price/volumes. Omissions that in reality made said farming concept problematic – if not totally economically non-viable – except to the marketeers who were “farming the farmers.” The marketeers didn’t guarantee fame and fortune, rather they focused on selling the “secrets” of the production processes and the health benefits these farming products offered. Again, omitting information that might encourage a balance of critical thinking analysis regarding its cost/benefits (emotional and financial).

      This seems the statistically documented state of indie/self publishing today. The market for writing being vastly over promoted, resulting in equally vast over production of books for finite – if not shrinking markets, producing minimal sales/author and low book prices (often free) received for the vast majority of these works. Clearly, Amazon/Kindle lead this indie promotion parade. Is it worse than state sponsored lottery ethics or even their probabilities? I’m not sure, but probably not significantly better in any case.

      Occasionally, posting articles like the link I attached in my comment below and as well annual indie publishing stat reviews – would make sure that those that frequent the WP site to their writing skills for their love of self-expression and “touching” their readers, will also understand the pragmatic side as well. It would allow their critical reflections to define their expectations as to who they are as writers. If you are correct and self-satisfaction and having emotional tactility with their readers is their primary goal, the low probability of financial success in indie/self publishing won’t have any effect on them. For those of your readers that are the confident souls who will brave the on rushing tide of near countless competitor indie authors – they’ll know who they are, what to expect, the preparations and tools necessary beyond the refinement of the writing process needed to realize their writing goals.

      All this said, you seem to have a warm and wise soul – with lots of excellent advice on the process of writing – apparently being tolerant and patient of others views, too.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      Great feedback! Your experience teaching sounds truly invaluable.

      I fully believe that we’re each on our own path, especially when it comes to dreams and creative endeavors. We can’t predict where it’ll go in the end, but I will tell you something interesting: statistically, it takes TWELVE YEARS of constant practice to “make” it in terms of unique, marketable goods.

      It’s a bizarre phenomenon that’s fairly consistent across the board. The difficulty, I believe, is that most people give up long before those years are run. I don’t blame them! Writing (and the rejection that comes with it) can be deeply frustrating. If it isn’t something you love and are driven to do, you won’t continue it.

      That doesn’t mean we can’t all benefit from learning how to better communicate. 🙂

      I appreciate your conversation!

    • dduggerbiocepts

      It’s more mentoring than teaching – though I have been a state certified teacher and taught, but not for long, a long time ago. The primary difference is that teaching generally involves a captive audience, whereas mentoring brings self-motivated and purposeful participation by those with the desire and intent to learn.

      Your “twelve years” is interesting, and sounds almost a biblical trek to the “Promised Land.” I have in my considerations of switching from technical writing to fiction, looked in analytical detail at the careers of many of my favorite fiction authors. I could agree that your twelve years falls within an average, but a very broad range required to establish oneself.

      Further regarding this time to be an “expert,” I have read other authors who state it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice to be a true “expert ‘in most anything. Doing the math and using standard work days per year and taking out vacation, sick leave and national holidays – 10,000 hours works out to a little less than six years. Being and “expert” and being a recognized and appropriately compensated as an “expert” are likely too different things. The variables between being an “expert” and being a recognized “expert” encompass a lot. Not the least of which is that “expertise” in other fields is required. Expertise like networking (nepotism being the most efficient form), marketing and sales are required to lever the expertise of writing into a writing career as a recognized successful author. The time to “success” question is probably determined by how the required multi-expertise is acquired. If linearly – it would 6 years (writing development) plus 6 years (marketing and other) making your “twelve years.” If one could acquire both skills simultaneously, the time between point “A” to point “B” could be theoretically halved. Thus the value of having more than just writing development on WP.

      While our views on writing may differ somewhat, I can’t agree with you more regarding the need to be better written communicators. When I recount some of my more interesting experiences – having once been found myself in an inverted spin as a jet fighter pilot (not on purpose), once standing before a firing squad in the jungles of Colombia’s west coast near Bahia Solano (clearly not on purpose), narrowly missed being machine gunned in a disco in Kingston Jamaica (a happy accident – at least for me, but sadly not for others), and having caught barehanded more than one wild Diamondback rattlesnake in Texas (on purpose), among others – my experiences with lawyers provide at least equally permanent mental residues. One most memorable lawyer said, “If it isn’t in writing – it doesn’t exist.” and thus offered me the most meaningful practical advice in communicating I have ever received.

      While this lawyer was emphasizing the critical importance of legal documenting the agreed details of transactions/ agreements, I have found that in reality it is essential to detail most important communications between both friends and others in writing. That you can as well make those communication details more clear, vivid and or interesting in analogy and story form, only makes them more useful to all involved. Being a better written communicator is an essential element in almost every endeavor’s success that I can think of. Your help is always appreciated.

  2. Coach Brown

    Excellent post for struggling writers. As a coach the mantra “never, never, never quit!” Holds true. Persistence, perseverance and patience reap rewards that transcends one’s doubts, fears and shortcomings.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      Thanks so much! I completely agree. Not quitting is probably the most important step anyone can take in this journey.

  3. Anand Venigalla

    One thing I am skeptical of is the idea of “write every day.” Of course, it does have some merit. But I don’t think it’s possible for some to write every day. I also think some space or purposeful procrastination is valuable. That space can be used for living life, reading books, jotting down little things that signify bigger things, and napping.

    Reply
    • Andrea Huelsenbeck

      Have you ever heard of the 10,000 Hour Rule? To get good at anything, you have to practice. Writing is a skill. You improve with practice–daily practice.

    • Anand Venigalla

      I have heard of the 10,000 hour rule.

    • rosie

      I want to make writing my future career, so I write every day. If you can’t find it in you to write every day, maybe it’ll stay a hobby (or otherwise just take you forever to write a book.)

    • Anand Venigalla

      I’m trying to write every day from this day forth, if only for exercises and observations and individual stuff rather than whole projects.

      That might help.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      I actually have to disagree with that one (at least for me personally)! The reason is simple: life doesn’t always allow you the luxury.

      I’m currently the caretaker for my husband, who’s very ill and can’t care for himself. I do not have time to write every day. It simply isn’t possible.

      So yes, it’s taking a long time to finish my next book. But you know what? It’s worth it. 🙂 I’m not giving up, and I think that consistency and persistence is absolutely the key.

    • Kim Aldrich

      I’m so sorry to hear of your husband’s illness. Praying for him (and you) today. Yet kudos to you for finding a rhythm of life that works for you and not letting it stop your progress! I admire that very much. XOXO

    • Hattie

      wow…10,000 hours…that’s a lot of words..

    • Ruthanne Reid

      It is a lot of work; but you’d be surprised how quickly you can add that up if you just put your nose to the grindstone.

    • Zerelda

      I watched a TedX talk in which the speaker said that most top professionals in their field have practice 10,000 hours. But to learn how to get a grasp on how to do something you need 20 hours of quality practice. And then the learning curve slows things down. Obviously writing takes a lot more than 20 hours to become publishable (for the majority of us) but it shouldn’t take 10,000 hours. I have had roughly 1,800 hours of practice and I have reached the point where I can finish an entire first draft of a story up to 80,000 words. I’m heading into the realm of editing… so by that math it might actually take 10,000 hours to publish. (I guess that chances depending on the length of your story.)

      I’d wish you luck, but I think hard work will serve you better.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      Yep. I was a performance major in college, and lemme tell ya, there are no shortcuts.

    • Kim Aldrich

      I agree. Somewhere between trying to “write every day” and occasional “purposeful procrastination” is where I live!

    • Bruce Wilson

      Between March 15, 2014 and January 25, 2015 I wrote every day. Some days I’d write 1000 words of fluid prose. Other days I’d write a dozen disconnected words. At the end of those ten months, however, I had a nearly 130,000 word first draft. It took another year of five (or more) rewrites before I had a manuscript worthy of submitting to a publisher. Those 12-word-days were my “purposeful procrastination.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Kim Aldrich

      Thanks for sharing that, Bruce. I like the idea of those 12-word days being your “purposeful procrastination.” That way you keep the momentum going, even if it’s just a trickle!

    • Ruthanne Reid

      That’s awesome, Bruce! I love it. 12-word-days are definitely my style. Great going!

    • Zerelda

      The result of “write every day” is that if you write every day, even in journal form, you build up a resistance to writing fatigue and your writing skill slowly increases. It can also help you find your voice and preferred genre. Something I’ve learned from writing every day is what my optimal writing conditions are. I know how I feel when I am ready to write for a long time, for a short time, or not at all. I will write for four or five hours straight when I’m in the groove, so I have to make myself take stretch breaks and remember to drink water. Once writing is a habit it doesn’t hurt to miss a day and like you said, sometimes it is better to take a break from writing to read or do something else.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      It definitely helps! I’m also a big proponent of “write when you can,” because my life is currently too packed full to write as regularly as I like.

      I’ve learned to carry notebooks, or apps on my phone. I jot things down when I can. I make sure moments sitting at doctor’s offices or at gas stations aren’t wasted.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      I hear you on that, Anand! Right now, I’m the caretaker for my husband, who’s very ill and can’t take care of himself. That means I can’t possibly write every day; I have almost no time, and I’m exhausted even when I do.

      What I’ve found is this: being consistent is more important than writing every day. Not giving up. Reading good things and writing, writing, writing.

      You can do it. Rest when you need to, feed your mind good books, and write when you can!

    • Anand Venigalla

      Thanks.

      Btw, I have tried to improve writing by writing either one-paragraph or several-paragraph sections doing description, dialogue, or digression, but I’ve mostly been using it for description.

      Did you ever do this or something like this? And if you ever imitated the masters in the quest to find your own voice, how did you personally go about the imitation?

    • Ruthanne Reid

      Yes! That’s a great idea!

      The way I went from mimicking to writing my own stuff was unintentional both directions, largely because I had no idea what I was doing. 🙂 I actually got my start in fanfiction! I loved Tolkien (this was in the 80s), but I didn’t like how some of his stories ended, so… I continued them!

      I was still trying to write in his voice when I began writing seriously, around 2003. And as for how I got out of that… well, there wasn’t a shortcut.

      I wrote.

      And wrote.

      And wrote.

      And wrote.

      And just like the body simply grows without you paying attention to it, my writing changed until it no longer resembled Tolkien at all. It wasn’t on purpose; it simply became my own as I learned how to listen to my personal inner storyteller, and picked up simple tricks like reading my story out loud to see how it felt.

      Does that make sense?

  4. Vincent

    Good post and enjoyed all the quotes – I had a little fun with the post topic bending the practice rules a bit. I did stay at 15 minutes – they buzz by fast – as always no editing and some puns intended today –

    Will it be good enough?
    Will everyone like it?
    I want everyone to like it.
    It is an extension of me. OF MEEEE!
    Will it be good enough?
    What will the critics say?
    I want the critics to like it.
    Don’t they know they cut me each time they criticize MEEEE!
    Maybe I don’t know enough?
    I think I do, but maybe?
    What if this is just one big mistake!!!
    I tried really hard and I liked it.
    All that work and there is no curtain call.
    Is that what it is called? Another mistake.
    How will I ever get the big call?
    I am so old and everyone else is making it so young.
    I shutdown my computer just now, but it came back on.
    You know like they do sometimes for some unknown reason.
    Maybe my computer knows better,
    Maybe it liked what I made.
    Okay, so I will take that as a sign.
    I must write and write and write.
    The critics will criticize, and the reviewers might be
    cruel,
    But just on the outside chance there might be someone who likes my work, a critic
    who gets what I am doing.
    I better get to writing, I have some ideas, some might be
    old and and some new, but they are still mine.
    Oh the torment of it all, to do or not tis the question.
    Is it better to have penned than not to have penned?
    Ah, I must go fearlessly into the night, to brave the
    unknown,
    Get out of the way, make a hole, coming through,
    I might be bad, I might be good, I might be great for I am a
    writer and mighty is my pen.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      Vincent, I love, love, LOVE this poem!! I feel like I need to print it up and put it on my wall.

      Yes – you must write and write.

      It is better to have penned!

    • Vincent

      You are very kind. Thank you

  5. George McNeese

    The lie that has bothered me the most is that I’ll never be as good as another writer. When I read other people’s work or blog, I have this instance to compare myself to others, and think about how my work stacks up to them. And I tend to think they are better than me because I believe they have more experience than me. They started younger—which goes along with another lie mentioned. They’ve had works in the publishing stage. They’ve even had books published. I hate the fact that I feel this constant need to compare myself to others. I get that there is no use comparing myself to others; that everyone is different. And yet, I still do. Maybe it’s because I lack confidence in myself as a writer. Maybe it’s because I don’t write every day, practicing and perfecting my craft. Maybe it’s because I don’t have enough critique partners looking at my work. I don’t know. I just know I need to stop with this self-fulfilling prophecy that I’m not good enough as such-and-such.

    Reply
    • Bruce Wilson

      George, good post. I, too, used to get caught up in the comparison mode. Several of my friends are published, and I’ve bought and read their books. I gave up comparing my writing with theirs when I realized that my voice, my style, even my stories are different than theirs. That realization led to another…that my voice is unique. I used to think that I couldn’t write a novel, but now that’s no longer true. I never even considered that someone would buy a book I’d written and when I concluded that it didn’t matter (selling the book) as much as someone was reading my story, the process became a whole lot easier. So I write; I’m a writer. You write; you’re a writer.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      Yes!! That’s exactly it! Your voice IS unique, and that’s the key.

      “As good as that guy” isn’t helpful.

      “As good as I can be” is the goal, and that is something you can achieve.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      I hear you, George! That one’s so painful; I still struggle with that, actually, all the time, and it’s a demon I have to knock on the head a lot.

      Here’s part of the key: figuring out in your heart that YOUR voice is going to be different from that other author’s voice.

      This is crucial.

      “As good as” is a completely subjective thing. It really is; that depends on taste, on how well the editing process went, on a million things. I bet your favorite authors have 1-star reviews on Amazon from folks who hated them – because they don’t like that style!

      Your voice is YOUR OWN. Nobody will have one quite like it. The more you write, the more you hone it, and the more unique you sound. In my experience, THAT is going to be key to feeling complete as a writer; “as good as them” isn’t quite the goal. “As good as I can be” is… and it’s reachable.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      I’m so glad you liked it, Mary! Thanks!

  6. Kim Aldrich

    Thanks for this article! Ironically I just finished writing a book chapter about the lies we believe about our identity so when I saw this title I could really relate. I have been struggling with some growing pains in my writing lately and thankfully you put into words some of the lies I’ve been believing but couldn’t quite articulate. Thank you so much!!!

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      Kim, that’s great! Boy, I’m glad I’m not the only one in the grip of those fears sometimes. We all go through them, and they suck… but they can be knocked down.

      Keep writing and keep believing!

    • Kim Aldrich

      Thanks Ruthanne! 😀

  7. Hattie

    Good post….but I don’t want to play!
    If I entertain the negative thoughts/ ideas then they will start niggling in my mind. Its best to remain positive and keep writing…
    even if it is a load of old twaddle that never gets published….
    Writing is a pleasure
    writing is a joy
    writing is creative
    writing is cathartic
    why let negative ideas get in the way…
    Hattie

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      I’m glad to hear that, Hattie! We have to face these fears because these fears tend to catch up with us; even if you’re running away, eventually something will bite you in the leg and not want to let go.

      You can beat those negative thoughts, whenever they come. That’s the point of this article. 🙂 No matter how many teeth it has in you, you can shake it free and get back to running your race!

  8. Bruce Wilson

    I’d like to weigh in on #5. I will turn 70 next month, but two years ago I started writing a novel that I’d thought about for nearly ten years. Last month, Artemesia Publishing of NM offered me a contract and will publish my book, Death in the Black Patch in September 2016. I agree with all of the quotes in the article. A writer is never too old to write. I did it and now I’m in the club with Steinbeck and Hemingway (even though they have keys to the pent house and I still have to buy my own drinks at the clubhouse bar).

    Reply
    • Nancy Dohn

      Great ! I am 63 and picking up the pen again. Your story is inspiring.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      You can do it, Nancy. Don’t let ANYONE tell you you can’t!

    • Ruthanne Reid

      Bruce, this is great! I’m so happy for you. What a wonderful story!!!

    • Bruce Wilson

      Thanks, RR, I’m so pumped since the contract was signed.

    • E. J. Godwin

      Super!! I turn 60 next month, so you’re a great inspiration.

      A woman in my writer’s group started writing poetry at my age. She’s won several awards in her home state of Colorado. Now she’s turning to prose — at age 103!!!

    • Ruthanne Reid

      That’s incredibly encouraging!

  9. E. J. Godwin

    Beautiful. And so appropriate for struggling authors.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      I’m really glad it helped you, EJ! I knew if I struggled with these, I couldn’t be the only one. Here’s to clubs for knocking out doubt-demons and really good writing days!

    • E. J. Godwin

      Yup. A quote from my book: “Our fears and desires are so often fueled by illusion.” Guess I should have listened to myself! 😉

    • Ruthanne Reid

      Ooh, good quote! Hey, maybe you should be a writer. 😉

  10. Nancy Dohn

    This is so inspiring! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      You’re so welcome, Nancy! You’re not alone.

  11. Joe Volkel

    The most annoying lie? You don’t know your grammar!
    Of course I know my grammar, I grew up with her. She always had something good on the stove for me and a sweet smile – even if I just walked through her flower bed. She’s been gone a long time now, but I still miss her, and Grampa, and Momma, and Papa, and my sweet little sister, and quite a few of my friends too.

    Reply
    • Joe Volkel

      Thanks. That just kind of popped into my head – have no idea why???

  12. Teng

    This is definitely a great post. It shifted my mindset from perfectionist perspective. Writing and reading should be treated as a skill that needed to practice every single day to make it better. Practice 15 minutes a day should do the work. It’s like practicing with an ukulele ( I am learning one, haha).

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      Thank so much, Teng! You’ve really nailed it. Perfectionism is doom in the creative process, but practice and consistency are the answer. You can do this!

  13. ohita afeisume

    For me, lie no 7 is such a problem.That I will not be as successful as famous writer XYZ. Comparisons are odious. I’m really encouraged by the post. I’m convinced now that if I put in the same time and effort as they did while growing as writers, I too will make it. Lots of grit, determination, persistence and patience goes into the acquisition of any skill. I want to make a living as a writer. I know I will someday as Rome was not built in a day.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      Ohita, thanks for this response! Lie #7 hits me pretty hard, too.

      But you’ve got it: you have to keep going. You have to keep writing. You may or may not be able to make a living on it (my book was a bestseller in Scifi/Dystopian on Amazon, and I’m still not making a living!), but I’ll tell you what: I feel really, really good.

      When you complete your books and you hold those manuscripts in your hand, it is an AMAZING feeling. Knowing that you can do this empowers you in unbelievable ways.

      And who knows? Maybe you will make a living in it! It could happen. The thing that’s going to make you really happy, though, is writing a darn good book.

      You can do it. Keep reading and keep writing!

    • ohita afeisume

      Thanks Ruthanne. Writing a darn good book is it! For now, I have to concentrate on doing just that. The amazing feeling is most incredible, I can only just imagine it. The monetary perks can always come in later.

    • ohita afeisume

      #LIe No 4 actually

  14. Anne Peterson

    I’m afraid #4 still plagues me at times. Even though I have even published articles about how comparisons are dangerous. Still, I find myself comparing. But I do have to add that one thing that helped me so much was following my nephew’s suggestion. I have ten books I’ve self-published. In the beginning, I used to use the gauge success by how many sold. But he quickly saw his aunt going up and down and so Drew made this suggestion. Write out for each book what success would look like and don’t include sales. What wisdom that was! It helped for me to change my focus. Now instead of looking at numbers. Okay, I do look at them, but I don’t stay there. My goal is to touch someone with what I’ve written. And I’m happy to say I have felt successful with each book. Sometimes it just takes looking at the reviews I have. And other times, I have been so fortunate to have received an email from someone thanking me for what I wrote. That gives me so much mileage. People could go through life without knowing they touched one other person. And yet, I have been blessed to know my words have made a difference. Sure, it would be nice to have the bucks too, but in the overall picture. I am a success.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      YES! That’s the key that helped me, too! I realized exactly the same thing – that I wanted my books to inspire readers the way other books had inspired me. Once you see that happening, it changes everything.

      Thanks for this awesome post!

  15. Read Kimberly Jayne

    Perfect timing for me to read this post. When I get down, I’m going to pull it back up to reinforce that it’s all worth it!

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      I’m so glad to hear that, Kimberly! YOU CAN DO THIS! Don’t give up!

  16. vanderso

    I DID “mess up my platform,” though not quite in the way you discuss that error in #7 (I provide a bit of the narrative on my blog). My mistake happened more than twenty years ago, so I have hopes that it won’t plague me. The ability to self-publish helps. You can enjoy writing and promoting your books even if the gatekeepers want to know how many your previous titles sold before they’ll even talk to you—a surprising hazard of being previously published in the traditional publishing marketplace. Thanks for some encouraging tips!

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      You’re not the only one who’s struggled with this! Believe it or not, seeing other authors go through the whole “how many numbers/now you have to change your published name” adventure is part of what convinced me to go indie. And I’m deeply glad I did.

      Thanks for sharing this. I really look forward to your continued climb out of that valley. You can do it. Don’t give up.

    • vanderso

      Thanks for the encouragement! I’m enjoying the ride.

  17. Sarah Riv

    “Lie #3: Your idea/project/book/series is too big for you, and you’ll never be good enough to write it.”

    I think this one a lot! I’ll have the Greatest Idea Ever, but I don’t want to mess it up. I don’t want it to be my first novel. You know the one that is full of mistakes and really bad. I want it to be perfect! So I move onto the next project and hope one day I’ll be at that level where I can write the G.I.E.. Mostly another idea comes along that I’m dying to write, but I don’t want to mess it up at all.

    I try to practice with works I’m not that invested on or things that are just personal projects, but it doesn’t work out. I’m trying to find ways I can practice while working on my projects, but I haven’t been successful at all.

    And that’s all just for one lie! I have plenty to say about the others (but I won’t because that would be too much.) Writing hasn’t been fun for me lately. More nerve wracking than anything. I need to get the words right or else they won’t ever come out. I worry if I’m every gonna be an author if I keep on, but I have no “spark” and don’t feel at all like a real writer. (That post on imposters came at the right time.)

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      Sarah, I’m RIGHT there with you! The book I’m working on now is one I’ve needed to write since 2011… and I put it off because I was afraid.

      Here’s what I’ve learned: there’s only one way to give your story idea the polish it needs.

      That’s to write it (so it exists) and polish it.

      That means rewriting. That means ripping it apart an doing major surgery.

      And it’s worth it. YOU CAN DO THIS.

      I’m so sorry writing has lost its pizzazz for you. I have to ask: what are you reading? Feeding yourself good books is an important part of this process.

      So is letting go of perfectionism (and oooh, that one is PAINFUL).

    • Sarah Riv

      That’s a good question! I haven’t been reading much lately. Actually let me rephrase. I haven’t been reading much fiction. I’ve been devouring any blog posts/writing books I can. I guess there’s nothing in my creative well to get excited about. I remember a post (was it yours?) that suggested I switch gears and start reading. I will say that reading my old ideas in my wip folder pumped me up double time! Right now I’m working on that one hoping it’ll carry me through my funk.

    • Ruthanne Reid

      That may be seriously crucial for you! Even Stephen King puts it this way:

      “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

      And:

      “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

      I couldn’t possibly put it better. 🙂 Fill your creative well! You’ll be glad you did.

  18. Ruthanne Reid

    LaCresha, that means a lot to me; I’m so glad that this touched you!

    I am SO PROUD of you for writing and pushing on! You can do this. Keep going. Keep improving. Keep reading really good books to inspire you.

    Don’t quit.

    Reply
    • LaCresha Lawson

      It really did. And, thank you so much. I won’t quit. Never!

  19. Ameeta Davis

    The post was timely and I really needed to hear the things you write. I wrote the book, I edited it and then sent it to agents. Now I feel bereft. Three rejections and sent six. Although np gave it to beta readers they were too kind. Don’t know,if I should do something more to the script before I send it to more agents.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      Ameeta, I’m so glad to hear that this helped you. Rejections are just brutal! The key is going to be that you keep going.

      It may not be that your script is bad. It may simply be that you haven’t found the right agent! Agents are readers, and they have tastes, just like any booklover does. Don’t give up! Check out Publisher’s Marketplace to find folks who represent what you write, and keep trying.

  20. Rose N

    I enjoyed that, thanks for writing it. No omelettes without cracking a few eggs.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      You’re very welcome, Rose! 🙂

  21. Terry Lursen

    Well-written, well-versed and inspiring. Thanks for being an encourager…a good encourager.

    Reply
    • Ruthanne Reid

      I’m so glad to hear it, Terry!

  22. Jackie Bottomlee

    Lie #5, You’re too old, you’ve missed your chance. This bothers me a lot. I am 62 years old, almost 63. And I joined The Practice awhile ago, like a year ago. I write things following the prompts, but I don’t submit them. FEAR that’s it. Fear of rejection or ridicule. I don’t even know if I can submit this! I even entered a contest here, wrote my story, but yep, you’re right I couldn’t submit it. I will submit this, such as it is. It has been a long time since college for me. I remember some of it though. Thank you for accepting my post.

    Reply
  23. Jackie Bottomlee

    Sorry, I left out the word “Write” from The Write Practice! in my post.

    Reply
  24. Chris Cash

    God, I needed that…all of it. Printed it out, saved it in Evernote and wish I could tattoo it on my brain. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Reply
  25. Max Vasquez

    #3 Mine is so huge and twisty and weird and some very touchy subjects that worry me. Since ’98 the story is quite completed in my mind by heart but to actually finish and unleash on the public is still touchy unless I change some crucial parts which would make it less controversial. That has been a longtime stumbling block for me. Love your article!

    Reply
  26. Elizabeth Damon

    I have so many projects going that I feel are krappy it is not funny and I turn to another, hoping to get my juices flowing again.

    Reply
  27. Bloem

    Thanks for this post! Though I’m not yet writing for a long time, I recognise some of these ‘lies’.
    Lie #3. This beginning of a story just came up to my mind when I saw a drawing of a friend, but I have the feeling I won’t be able to finish such a big story already… (English is not my native language so excuse me for any mistakes)

    At first he only saw the shade of green from the grass he knew from Mirusus, his head still unclear. A ladybug, which looked huge from his point of view, was making her way up a blade of grass. She unfolded all the layers of her wings and flew away. He carefully sat up and closed his eyes when a ray of sunshine shone right into his eyes. A starting headache pounded between his temples. When he was used to the bright light of the sun he looked around. Clearly, he was sitting on a clearing in an astonishing deep-coloured forest. A canopy of green leaves casted a shadow on half of the clearing. The air was full of all sorts flies and pixies, just flying around lazily. Through some bushes a little into the forest a pair of lime green coloured eyes looked curious at him. As soon as his eyes locked with the green ones over there, the bushes moved and a elf girl of around ten years old appeared in the clearing. She slightly tilted her head and looked fascinated at him.
    ‘Who are you?’ she asked. It took him a few seconds to realise that she had asked for his name.
    ‘I think my name is Dirano?’ The answer came out as a question, the boy not even sure of his name.

    Reply
  28. Sophia Martin

    “If you don’t write every day you’re not a real writer.” I don’t write every day. I go in spurts. At the moment I’m trying to write every day because the inspiration is flowing, but I know eventually I’ll take a break for a few months, because that’s been my process for years. I’ve still managed to finish several novels (indie pubbed, though I plan in the future to try trad pub). I think this “rule,” which I see a lot, gets thrown at new writers and it can be a killer. When you have small children or a full-time job or both–or –you just may not be able to write every day. Or maybe it’s just not how your art works, and that’s okay. As long as you come back to it sooner or later, you haven’t failed.

    Reply
  29. Andressa Andrade

    I have no words to tell just how much I loved this post. I shared several pieces of it on Twitter just because I wan’t everyone to read it. I’ve even written down a piece and put it in my motivation wall! All I can say is: thank you, Ruthanne! I am back to writing my book now after being nearly two months away from it and I definitely needed to read all this. I feel more motivated now! Thank you.

    Reply

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