Sunday, January 23, 2011

The real deal

I'd be appalled by all the misconceptions about the writing life proliferating out there if I hadn't harboured a few myself in the not-too-distant past. As it is, I try to debunk the myths where I meet them but it's a never-ending, thankless job. Some new writers don't want to know the realities: the rosy dream is so much more alluring than the unglamorous grittiness of a writer's life. I've already strained one friendship trying to get the guy to understand that self-publishing and then sitting back and waiting for the royalty cheques to roll in was a fraught path. He thought I was trying to kill his joy and eventually learned - the hard way.

For those who really want to keep it real, here I go again, debunking a few of those myths about the writing life.

Myth 1: There's an ideal time of day to write, the general wisdom being that you do it early in day and get it out of the way.
The Real Deal: The best time to write is whenever you can, and every writer has to work out a routine that suits him best. Doesn't matter when you write, only that you write.

Myth 2: There's an ideal place to write.
The Real Deal: Just like the myth about the ideal time of day, there's no ideal place. Writers are lucky in that we can work anywhere we wish - on the train, in the playground, at work during the lunch break, in bed, in a corner of a noisy cafe, in front of the television with a baby screaming in the background... The writer's retreat in the woods by the lake is nice, I'm sure, but very few books would exist if we all waited for the ideal place to materialize in order to get down to it.

Myth 3: You have to wait for inspiration.
The Real Deal: This one is a major murderer of productivity. If you develop a routine and write every day, or most days, inspiration will know where to find you. If you don't do this, you can waste a lifetime waiting for the muse to strike.

Myth 4: Don't worry about grammar and spelling; the editor will clean it up for you.
The Real Deal: That's not the editor's job, and if your work is littered with errors the sad fact is it will most likely never reach as far as an editor's desk. Not even if it's the greatest story ever told.

Myth 5: Once you're published, it gets easy from there on.
The Real Deal: It gets harder. Don't look at me like that; it does. In addition to the challenges of writing and marketing your stories, you'll have a whole lot more to worry, obsess and stress about: print runs, non-appearance of advance cheques, editorial impasses, agent issues, promotion, signings, bookstore placement, sales figures, sales rankings, reviews, piracy, earning out the advance, late royalty statements, the state of the industry, the second book, the third book, the fifteenth book...

Myth 6: Fiction writers make good money.
The Real Deal: A few (four? five?) fiction writers make serious money. A handful make enough to live on. All the others, 90-something percent of them, even many who find themselves on bestseller lists, cannot live off their earnings from writing. They have regular jobs to make ends meet.

Still want to be a writer? Good for you! You're the real deal - so pull out that pen or keyboard and get started. It's a hard knock life, but we writers won't exchange it for any other.


Debs Carr said...

Yes, I still want to be a writer. I enjoy writing far too much to ever think of stopping.

Liane Spicer said...

Good for you, Debs! You know what they say: the writers who succeed are the ones who persisted.

Charles Gramlich said...

So if all these are myths, which they ARE, then a truism of writing must be that only masochists do it. :)

Liane Spicer said...

Yup. We must love punishment! :D

Marissa Monteilh said...

Excellent - on point - love it!

Liane Spicer said...

Thank you, Marissa! :)

Jewel Amethyst said...

I guess my mother was right when she warned me not to become a writer and told me of the starving author peddling his books. But I can dream, so I'll be masochistic and still be a writer because I have that story to tell. But I'll hang on to my day job. It supports my writing habit.

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, we're all such dreamers, aren't we. At least the day jobs keep us somewhat grounded in reality.