I want to talk about a dangerous myth about writing. This is a myth about writing that you’ve probably heard. You may even be a victim of it.
This myth is harmful to writers because it sets them up to fail.
I’m referring to the myth of the inspired genius. You know, the great writer who gets a stroke of inspiration and then sits down and pours brilliant words out onto the page.
It’s very important to understand that writing doesn’t normally work that way.
There’s a more complex process behind the writing of most successful novels. But we don’t see that process, we only see the finished pages. So most people are unaware of what really goes on behind the scenes to produce the novels they admire.
What happens when you believe the myth? First of all, it can be very intimidating. There’s a lot of pressure if you think you have to sit down and be brilliant. No wonder so many people procrastinate about writing. They’re waiting for inspiration, or they’re scared even to try.
Another thing that often happens is that people will start to write something, and then they’ll run out of steam partway through. They reach a point where they just don’t know what to write next. That happens because they just jumped right in without a plan.
A third hazard of the myth of the inspired genius is that it can make you lose confidence in your writing. Again, no wonder.
You sit down and write something, and then you compare it to someone else’s novel. But you don’t see everything that went on behind the making of the novel you’re comparing it to. You don’t see all the failed first attempts, the outlines and the planning, the messy drafts, and revisions and more revisions.
What you’re doing is comparing your FIRST draft to someone else’s FINAL draft. That’s not a fair contest.
When people talk about writer’s block, they’re generally talking about one of the three problems I’ve mentioned. They have trouble getting started, they run out of steam partway through, or nothing comes out the way they want it to. And this myth of the inspired genius feeds all three of these problems.
It helps to keep in mind some things about the REALITY of how most successful novels get written:
– The authors don’t wait around for inspiration. They just sit down to work.
– The writing doesn’t come out brilliant right away. First drafts are messy.
– Many writers spend months and even years planning their novels. The writers who don’t plan generally do a LOT of revising instead, often throwing away whole novel drafts before producing the pages that you see.
Preparing for National Novel-Writing Month
National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which has become an international event: during the month of November, writers around the world challenge themselves to complete a draft of a novel in just thirty days.
I don’t have anything against NaNoWriMo. It can be an exciting challenge. But for many people, it tends to create unrealistic expectations.
When people expect to sit down without a plan, write 60,000 words in a month, and come out with a decent novel, in the vast majority of cases, they’re going to be disappointed.
One of two things will happen instead. They might run out of steam partway through.
Or else, they’ll come out with a very flawed and messy draft that has to be rewritten entirely from the beginning. There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s often not what the writer had in mind. The writer wanted to finish the month with an actual novel that would be ready for other people to read.
Then, what’s the alternative? How do you plan your novel in advance so that you know you won’t get lost partway through, so that you’ll come out with something that already has structure and form?
There’s not one right way to do it. But many writers make outlines where they list the scenes or events that will happen in the story.
They won’t necessarily follow the outlines exactly as they’re writing. But if they get lost, they can always go back to the outline for direction.