- To be a good writer, you must read a lot.
This has always been one of the biggest lies told to me about writing. I’ve always hated this line because it’s said by almost everyone in writing and its only purpose is to make you feel bad about not being a reader. To me, it’s always been as ridiculous as telling someone, that if you want to be a good dancer, you should listen to music or watch professional dancers. Sure, understanding music will help you be a better dancer. And watching other dancers may give you some insight into what is a good and bad dancer, but it will never make you a dancer. Do you know what actually helps get you closer to being a dancer? Actually DANCING!
The fact is, if you want to be a good writer, you need to write. Period. If you want to SEE how other writers write, then you might want to read other writers. And it doesn’t matter what you read. I’ve learned so much from reading a badly written email from a work colleague as I ever did from reading Shakespeare. Tone matters. Finding your voice, your rhythm, matters. But write. YOU HAVE TO WRITE TO BE A WRITER.
2. To be a good writer, you need to be good with grammar and spelling.
Nope. Another lie. The fact is a lot of writers are horrible with grammar and especially spelling. What no one tells you is that writers use all sorts of tools to help along the way, but the most important thing that a writer does is tell a story through words. Grammar and spelling definitely matter, but if it’s not your thing, there are apps and programs that help with the basics – for example, I currently use Grammarly (this is not an endorsement or paid advertisement by any means) and most writing software comes with a basic spell check. But my favorite tool of all, is having an editor! When you tell your story, when you write your words down, an editor will go back in and read it and make sure it’s reflecting what you think you wanted it to reflect and then send your work back with edits. They’ll also take care of those grammar and spelling edits when necessary.
When I wrote my first book CANELA, I had not included a vital chapter that transitioned me from living at home with my mom, to why I ended up on the streets as a kid. It seems like an obvious chapter to include, but I wrote the book, read it several times myself and never realized that people would be confused by the lack of information. I thought it would be easy – my mom died, I had no one else, I ended up on the streets. But the editor sent back the book and said, you need to detail what happened. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. And he was right. But it was a traumatic part of my story that my head didn’t want to write, so I kept skipping over it in the story.
An editor, a good editor, will help with continuity and things like grammar and spelling. You, as the writer are conveying a story or information and that’s your main job. Sure, if you’re great at spelling and grammar, bravo! But if you’re not, it doesn’t mean you can’t write! It means you’re just like me and a lot of other people who write. You’re not perfect, you’re human – who knew?
3. To be a good writer, you should study English Literature or “Writing” in school.
Oh goodness, no! I graduated from college with an English and Film degree but not because it was my intention, but because I kept changing my major and at some point, I needed to hunker down if I was going to graduate on time. I just had the most credits in those two subjects by Junior year. I admit it, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to major in!
Here’s the thing – whatever you decide to do in school, or if you’ve never gone to college – it doesn’t matter. Writing runs the gamut of all types of subjects. The truth is to study or learn about whatever makes you happy. Always write what you know and what you’re familiar with! Enjoy whatever subject you want and then focus on that. Writing is necessary in every aspect of our lives. And there are all types of writing out there. You be whatever kind of writer you want to be! If that’s what you want to do, don’t let anyone stop you! Just get to it already – start writing!
If I could start over again in my writing journey, I’d be less afraid of stepping into it fully. It has taken me too long to embrace the title of Writer. I kept thinking if I wasn’t paid or published or if I hadn’t won an award or gotten a job as a Writer, then somehow, I wasn’t a “real” writer. No. I may not have been a paid writer, but I was/am a writer nonetheless! And if you don’t believe you’re a writer, why would anyone else?
Let me end this with a very good quote by the author of one of my favorite books:
“If, when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing…then you are a writer.”
By Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters To A Young Poet
Here’s a different perspective: A great scene from Sister Act 2, where Whoopi Goldberg’s character tells a young student (played by Lauren Hill) about following your passion. It’s less then 2 minutes.
As always, thanks for stopping by!
2 thoughts on “Three Lies About Writing”
I had never heard of some of these things. Especially having to be a good reader to be a good writer. (Crap, I think I messed up your quote.)
Totally agree with number two. I can’t spell to save my life. My wife was a newspaper copy editor and I owe her skills to my receiving an award in law school for “Best Brief” in a Moot Court competition. I use Grammarly too (Damn, I spelled it correctly, didn’t I?)
I studied journalism in college, but only did it because of my printing background. When I got home from Vietnam, I had no idea what I would study at the community college where I had enrolled while in the war zone. My parents’ neighbor, a burly fellow from Scotland with a rich accent, asked me about school.
“What will you major in laddie?” he inquired.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“Well, what did you study in high school?” he continued.
“Printing,” I said of my trade school endeavor.
He then suggested I study journalism. “They’re the same,” he counseled me. I took his sage advice – which was totally wrong – and not only studied journalism, but became a reporter and then editor of the college newspaper, getting a Sigma Delta Chi Journalism scholarship!
Sometimes you just gotta go for it despite any doubts you might have. about writing. It can be self-rewarding and you can meet some very interesting characters who share your interest . . .
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I love all of this! And thank you for chiming in about your experience because… well, it just helps to know I’m not alone! It’s amazing how much bad advice we get growing up – and still persevere anyway! 🙂
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