I’m fairly over-worked at the moment, so in lieu of a proper rant, here’s a quick list of myths about writing that are just plain wrong.
1. Writers Can’t Do Maths. This one tends to crop up as an excuse to avoid working out the logistics of a story. “Space doesn’t work that way” a reader cries, and is firmly told that it doesn’t matter because writers can’t do maths. They aren’t rocket scientists, so expecting them to properly describe how huge space is would be silly. (What’s actually silly is blaming mathematics when it would be perfectly reasonable for an author to take artistic licence with the numbers because such a story won’t work without FTL travel or unusually dense civilisation in the universe, or both. That’s a perfectly good reason!) A character’s birth date does not match their given age? The hero and his five buddies take on an army of evildoers some 100,000 strong? And win? And don’t explain how the hell the Dark Lord of The Place Where Nothing Grows managed to FEED 100,000 soldiers? Well, why bother to make sure it works out “I’m a writer,” says the writer, “I can’t do maths”.
The eyebrow of disapproval is up, guys.
Firstly: most of those issues are logistics, not mathematics. Secondly: “don’t like” and “can’t do” are not the same thing. If you aren’t very good at something, there is all the more reason to double check it – and in a world where we have computers and phones with calculators essentially glued to our bodies, there is no excuse for checking. Remember, even if you really can’t do math, you are surrounded by machines which can do it for you – so claiming you specifically cannot do math does not work as a get out of jail free card for making mathematical (and logistical!) errors.
2. “Okay so the computer can do the maths but I’m a Writer. That means I’m too creative and artsy to be able to figure out how to work the machines that would do the maths for me.” When I was a kid I hated maths. I frustrated the hell out of one person trying to explain arithmetic to me by objecting to the premise that 1+1=2, on the grounds that it differed depending on what was being discussed. 1 Apple + 1 Apple is, indeed, 2 Apples, I’d argued, but 1 Apple + 1 Orange is still only 1 Apple, even if it is 2 pieces of fruit. 1 Antelope + 1 Lion would result in 1 very full Lion, not two living creatures, while 1 Bunny + 1 Bunny would have different results depending on what genders the bunnies were. I could not accept the laws which bound those theoretical numbers to always resulting in specific other numbers, because I was already trying to apply the concept of numbers to the real world where things happen differently. I always considered myself to be a writer and I was, as a child, a textbook case of Can’t Do Maths. I’m hoping to have my first book out within the next few months and am very definitely a writer.
I’m also the Chief Finance Officer for a small business. Admittedly I’m holding the position as a contractor and in need of a raise, but I work with machines that do maths for me for a living. I also do the maths myself. I’m not as good with Excel as some of the other employees and I’m still working on learning how to do financial modelling so that I can take that burden off the CEO’s shoulders (as I said: small company. VERY small company) but I am living proof that writers can both do maths and learn to work with the technology which can do maths for them.
But even if I was the exception, here’s the thing: adults (at least, responsible adults) do maths every day, in their heads, to work out how much they can afford to spend on anything and how long they have to make their money last.
3. You Don’t Really Need an Editor. Yes, you do.
4. Yeah but if you’re reaaaallly good with your language and have edited it yourself… You still need an editor. Maybe, like me, you can’t afford the standard rate unless you get a pay rise soon. You still need an editor. Don’t give up hope. Keep looking until you find someone who has the credentials and the ability to take on your project for less than their normal rate. (And don’t send them flowers or the like afterward – if you can afford that you can afford to add to their pay. If you really want to thank them for their generosity, when you can afford to pay the full fee for your next project, offer it to them – for their full price.)
Why? Well, let me put it this way: I’m reasonably good with English and I’d gone over my manuscript six times looking for mistakes before I found an editor who would take it on. I’d caught the missing ‘s where I’d accidentally written that the average human male’s member is about ten centimetres larger than the average gorilla – which is a kind of horrifying sentence without the ‘s at the end of it. I knew there was no such thing as a perfect book and was having so much trouble finding an editor that I was about to give up. (Seriously, what part of “I’m on a tight budget and will have to get creative with my finances to get anywhere above 350” sounds like “I can totally go up to 1k if you pressure me and am just low-balling it”? …I need a pay rise. Or for my book to sell well. Preferably both.) If I started the manuscript with a claim that the writing advice book was deliberately full of hidden problems to help train eager young writers, I thought, then I might just be able to get away with it by taking refuge in audacity.
I’m fairly sure that my writing career would have died then and there if I had. Somehow, despite going over it six times for mistakes, I’d missed that I kept adding an extra s to pus. Consequently, I had a manuscript which repeatedly referred to abscesses filled with CATS. I’d had one other person read it over between my fourth and fifth edits, for comprehension, and she’d missed that too.
Even if you’re really good with the language, you are too familiar with your work – you know too well what it is supposed to say – and so you will miss things. You need an editor.
5. Writers Have To Write Every Day. Should is a bad word. It shoves a vicious sense of obligation through the heart of the person it belittles and all but guarantees that they will feel guilt the moment they are unable to complete their “should” task. This is how you get people staring blankly at white pages or typing utter nonsense (All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy).
This is also how you get people who desperately need things like SLEEP refusing to go to bed until they’ve written something, because they’ve been told that to be a writer they ‘have’ to write something every day. Thing is: that’s bullshit.
For some people, it is beneficial to have a set time and place within which to write regularly. But that’s not “should”. Should is an obligation which creates guilt – and guilt creates stress, which prevents creativity, which makes it impossible to write, which creates more guilt. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s perfectly fine to say “I try to write a little every day” because that leaves room for “oh fuck it’s eleven thirty and I’ve been at work since six in the morning and then had the washing machine explode and it’s finally fixed and I haven’t had enough sleep in a week and I’m not going to write today because I’m too fucking tired!” People who insist that you “must” write every day would call this an excuse. It’s not an excuse. It’s called COMMON SENSE. It’s about putting your physical and mental health before an arbitrary set limit imposed by someone who probably a) hasn’t got anything published themselves and b) probably doesn’t stick as strictly to it as they are pressuring you to.
Moreover, not everyone is the same. That means not everything works for everyone. Some writers may benefit from pencilling in “writing time” each day (and note the “pencilling” bit. Pencil can be erased). But others work best by writing continuously for a few days in a row (as in, all day or most of it, not “a little” as in the previous type) and then don’t write a word for days because they’re working through the story in their heads, and/or need time to relax after that bulldozer full-throttle effort of doing near nothing else. Some people have methods that aren’t covered by either of those two examples.
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.
If you want to give an aspiring writer advice, don’t say “You Should” because they may be – and usually are – a different type of person than you and will need a different method. Say “This works for me, but it might not for you”.
6. Writing is Easy. NO. No art is easy.