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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Learning to Write IX

Seven myths about writing and writers:
Learning to write is difficult, but many people make it more difficult than it is and get discouraged for the wrong reasons. It is not going to help if we fall into the trap of believing things about writing that aren’t true.

1. Real writers get it right the first time.
Most of us can’t write a shopping list without making some changes. Famous authors, poets, and journalists always produce a series of rough drafts before arriving at their best work. The thing is to keep writing until you’ve said what you mean.

2. I have nothing interesting to say.
We need to beat ourselves up from time to time. But dig around in your psyche. Your closest concerns are what is in the air. You’re full of lively and unique ideas about the world around you. You can always find things to tell your friends. Give yourself the chance to put your ideas on paper, you’ll be amazed with what you come up with.

3. You have to know what you are going to say before you begin writing.
Not true. The single most striking thing about writing is that it helps you think. Many writers don’t know what they’re trying to say until after they’ve written it down. Writing not only helps you think deeply, but it helps you discover what you already know.

4. If you can’t spell, or don’t understand grammar you can’t write.
Wrong again. You can write without spelling or grammar. Good writers first get their thoughts and ideas on paper. That is what writing is about. Then they revise until they’re satisfied they’ve said what they want to say. Only when that process is complete is it time to edit for spelling and other rules such as capitalization, punctuation, and word usage. And your computer can do that for you.

5. Writing is built one sentence at a time.
Writing is, of course, made up of words and sentences but it arrives as chunks of ideas. You don’t need to master the sentence before you go on to the paragraph. You need to start writing any way you can – revising is for later.

6. Only great writers can be creative.
Different kinds of writing, including creative writing like poems and plays, have different challenges, but you don’t have to learn one type first. The important thing is that you choose the best type of writing for what you want to say, whether a poem, a letter, or an article.

7. You can spot a good writer at a glance.
There is, as far as we know, no writing gene. Good writers don’t all use the same methods or look the same or learn the same. Some writers plan and make notes before starting to write; others jump right in. Some writers outline and plot; others doodle in the margins while they think. Some write while listening to music; others prefer sitting under a tree. None of these preferences are right or wrong. Writers are individuals and need to discover what works best for them.

8 Responses to “Learning to Write IX”

  1. Swifty says:

    Great list, and I’m being nitpicky, but you accidentally italicized the entire entry, I think.

    jb says: Well, the whole list, or most of it, was italicized, but I’m blaming it on the software. Thanks for pointing it out; I’ve fixed it now.

  2. […] Learning to Write IX – John Baker’s Blog […]

  3. ninglun says:

    I’ll be bookmarking this for my students. Thanks, John. Wasn’t Scott Fitzgerald notoriously bad at spelling?

    jb says: So people say. But Fitzgerald wrote in a rhythmical prose and edited for sound rather than sight. He thought that Scribners, his publishers, should be responsible for grammar, but they weren’t any better at it than he was. And neither the author nor the publisher had the advantages of computer technology.

  4. sylvia says:

    Only when that process is complete is it time to edit for spelling and other rules such as capitalization, punctuation, and word usage. And your computer can do that for you.

    As a professional subeditor, I have to disagree with that statement. Would you trust a software program to correct your spelling or select the best word to use? There are so many things that can go wrong when you leave it up to the computer!

    Apart from that point I think this is a great column – so practical! Thank you for sharing your knowledge/experience. Especially agree with Point 3 – writing helps you think. That’s how diaries can often function as therapy, because it can help you crystallise your thoughts as you’re writing – at least, that’s how it works for me!

    jb says: Hi Sylvia, No, I wouldn’t trust a software program to select the best words to use. It was wrong of me to suggest that that would be an OK thing to do. But I do use a spell-checker. The point I was trying to get across was that the writer shouldn’t worry too much about spelling, grammar, etc. The important thing is to get whatever is coming down on paper. Everything else can be sorted later.

  5. AuthorStore says:

    7 Myths of Writers by John Baker (plus one from me)…

    Author John Baker has a fantastic list of 7 Myths about Writers and Writing. Click over to his site and read the full text. Here are the 7 Myths: 1. Real writers get it right the first time. 2. I……

  6. Fountain Pen Club says:

    This is so true. Its just a bunch of rubbish that people create, everyone’s a writer one way or another. Its just how much effort and passion you put into that really matters.Nothing else.

  7. Konferenser says:

    Writing for me, is just another way of expressing myself. I do not really care if I’m an expert or not. Its just like talking on you don’t use your mouth, so why make it all complex?

  8. konferens says:

    As writing requires fewer expenses than any art except singing, and everyone who finishes grade school learns a few rudiments. For these reasons, it has never lacked wannabes. I’ve heard the claim that if you ask random strangers in Los Angeles how their screenplays are going, you have just bought yourself ten minutes of boredom – and, considering my experiences at science fiction conventions, I can believe it!