Monday, May 06, 2013

Writing Myths I Believe

I was going to go into an in-depth account of why I haven't written much these past few weeks, but no matter how eloquently I tried formulating my excuses...that's what they were. However, I did conclude something new. My excuses (why offer more than one when any ol' one will do?) are based on myths I believe about writing. And what's cool is that another writer has already confessed to some of the very same ones I subscribe to. So instead of me reinventing fire, let me just copy and paste some thoughts from Jeff Ambrose and say: ditto.

(BTW Jeff's comments are based on the gleanings from Dean Wesley Smith's recent series of blog posts about his experience of writing a 70k word novel in 10 days. Read the comments especially for all kinds of myths we writers buy into.)

1. The writing of a novel should be slow — no quicker than 1,000 words a day. Where did this myth come from? Beats me. But think about it: If an average-sized novel is about 90,000 words, 1,000 words a day means you’d write four novels a year. Is four novels a year a lot? For some people … and apparently for me, too … on some level. But if takes me about an hour to write 1,000 words — and it does — that means I’m only putting an hour of writing into my day. That would be very good if I had a 50-hour-a-week job. But I don’t. I’m an at-home dad, and I have at least four to five hours a day to give to writing. But I only have that much time if I think about my writing schedule in a different way. This leads me to my second myth.
2. All writing must be done in a large chunk of time. Read Dean’s post, and you see that he writes in what I call “sessions.” Thirty minutes here, sixty minutes there. How have I thought about writing? Not like that. If I didn’t have at leas 90 minutes in a row free, I didn’t write. This is one reason why I don’t write on weekends. A house full of people means I generally don’t have 90 minutes in a row free. But if I think about writing in short sessions, I bet I could get in at least 250 words on Saturdays and Sundays. Probably more.
3. A novel is an event. This is a myth Dean touched on in his Killing the Sacred Cows series, but I never understood it until this past week. On of my biggest problems with novels is that I see them as events — something that needs to be planned, organized, structured, written slowly, rewritten extensively. Never realized this myth was still with me, but it is.
4. Novels need to be rewritten. This falls into the “novel is an event” category. The novel is so important, I need to work on it and work on it until it’s perfect. Umm … no, I don’t. Fact: A novel is just a long story. Fact: I’m a horrible judge of my stories, long or short. Fact: There’s no such thing as a perfect story or novel. Other than needing to have a plan, I don’t need to do anything more with a novel than what I need to do with a short story: write it, layer in any plot elements that come up in the writing, then give it to my wife. I don’t need to reread it to see if it makes sense. My wife can do that, and I can address those issues.
5. A novel must be outlined. Yes, this is a myth I’ve held on to for a while … but what I’m finding is that I need some kind of outline. The difference? The myth says that, unless you’re as good as Stephen King, all novels must be outlined. That’s not true at all. However, I might need to outline my novels. I have a stack of unfinished novels and a stack of finished novels. What separates them? All the finished novels began with a very basic outline. And what I’m learning writing my current novel, for which I have an outline, is this: I don’t need much more than a bullet-point list of events.

Thanks, Jeff, for allowing me to steal your salient points. And again: ditto.

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