14 Myths About Writers

Written by Emily Harstone | April 20, 2015

What does it mean to be a writer? People have strong opinions. Many of them are true, many are wrong.

There are so many false assumptions, Clichés, and myths out there surrounding writers. Some of these myths contain some level of truth, others are nothing but rumors and a singular memorable example.

Here are 14 myths surrounding writers. Don’t let them scare you. They’re not real. They won’t bite. I promise.

1. The Muse
Artists of all kinds like to talk about the muse, but that does not mean that they agree the muse exists. Even if there really is such a thing as a “muse” the general agreement among serious authors is that the muse is insufficient. Serious, regular writing is what makes an author successful. As Pablo Picasso puts it “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

2. Poets Kill Themselves
Writers in general and poets in particular have a reputation for committing suicide. There have been some historically memorable suicides by poets and writers. I knew how Sylvia Plath died before I read anything she wrote. Ultimately the percentage of poets who have committed suicide is relatively low. Particularly in contemporary circles.

3. The Day Job Is The Enemy
Writers hate their day job! Or even if they don’t hate that day job, it prevents them from being a real writer. That is the myth anyway. The reality is much more complicated.

Wallace Stevens won the Pulitzer prize for poetry and turned down a faculty position at Harvard in order to keep his job as the vice-president of an insurance agency. William Carlos Williams was a doctor and a poet. The list could go on and on. Of course this is not true of all authors. Many writers happily quit their jobs once their writing career takes off.However even some authors, like Michael Chrichton and John Grisham, who quit their day jobs once they became successful, give a lot of credit to those jobs for their success as a writer.

4. All Writers are Alcoholics
There have certainly been and currently are a lot of writers that are alcoholics. However, there are alcoholics in all walks of life. Are a disproportionate number of writers alcoholics? Maybe. I know a few, but I also know a lot of writers who drink responsibly, or don’t drink at all. There are no hard statistics on this, but it is pretty easy to declare that not all writers are alcoholics.

5. Writers Are Eccentric
Writers are not supposed to be normal. They can say strange things and get away with it. They have weird habits and obsessions. In fact when I rented a room in a house during grad school, the landlords were reluctant to have a writer as a tenant initially, because they thought a writer would be less reliable than students in other graduate programs. I quickly convinced them otherwise and that is when they told me of their initial concern.

My mother loves the writer Anne Lamott. We went to a reading where she was all over the map and did a number of strange things. My mother justified Anne Lamott’s behavior by saying “she is a writer.”

I pointed out that so was I, and so were a number of other people we knew, and that we had been to many other author readings that were much less strange. My mother then declared that was because “Anne was a real writer”. Now I respect Lamott’s work, but in my experience eccentricity is rare and eccentricity levels rarely correlate with ones ability to craft a good work of art.

6. Real Writers Are Independently Wealthy
If writing doesn’t make you wealthy (and largely it doesn’t, Nicholas Sparks aside), how can one afford to be a writer? How can one afford to have all that time to write a book? The natural conclusion some people jump to is that your money is coming from elsewhere. Where that elsewhere is, a spouse with a full time job, an inheritance, a mysterious sponsor, etc. . . is a source of curiosity but it is often left unexplored. This myth interacts a lot with the myth that the day job is the enemy.

While writers that are independently wealthy may be envied, they are also largely assumed to have enough time to be “writing properly”. Of course some writers are independently wealthy and historically this was more commonly the case, but that is rarely true now. Most writer’s make their living with a day job of some sorts, be that a teaching position at a prestigious university or a job in a completely unrelated field, such as investment banking.

7. The Writer As Hermit
I blame J.D. Salinger for the prevalence of this myth, although Emily Dickinson is also a serious contributor to its longevity. A lot of people believe that writers live isolated lives without friends or much company, because of J.D. Salinger. This is not true of course. The vast majority of authors live very social normal lives. Writers are often friends with each other, many have families, and are actively involved in larger communities.

8. The Daily Habit
Writers are expected to write every day and some do. Stephen King claims to write every day in his book On Writing. Other authors take time off. Some write in spurts and writing every day does not benefit them. Ultimately it depends on the writer. What works for some does not work for others.

However there is some truth to this myth. In order to be a successful author who regularly produces new work, one has to write most days, but that schedule is flexible like most jobs and takes into account weekends and vacation time.

9. The Grammar Nazi
A lot of individuals seem to believe that unless your grammar is perfect you can’t be a real writer. A professional rarely makes mistakes. Some people assume that good writers are grammar Nazis. They conflate the two.

I have never known a writer that did not make mistakes, even if they were an excellent editor. Mistakes happen. The occasional error is inevitable, to pretend otherwise, or to judge writers when they make occasional mistakes, ignores the reality of the situation. Some really great writers have learning disabilities or struggle with spelling. That does not effect their ability to construct a sentence, a plot, or a wonderful book.

10. It Is Only A Hobby
Most people assume that writing is a hobby. Something people do to relax. Not that different from knitting. All serious writers know that this is not true. Writing is something that takes time, commitment, effort, and can even be unpleasant.

11. Writers Think They are Good
Non-writers tend to assume that most writers thing they are good at what they do, but even professional writers have a lot of doubt. “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt,” Sylvia Plath once said that and with good reason.

Doubt is a natural part of most people’s writing process. Often as a writer I will love a piece when I first write it, then I will later grow weary of it, unsure if it is any good or not. Sometimes long after it has been published, I will re-read the piece and wonder why I even wrote it in the first place.

12. Anyone Can Be a Writer
Everyone has a story in them, they just have to get it out. That is one of the most prevalent myths.  Anyone could be a writer if they had the time. This is not true. It is one of the most enduring myths and yet it is not based on reality. Writing is not just about telling a story, but telling it well. It takes time to learn how to write. Many writers start seriously writing as children. It takes effort and sacrifice to be a writer. However many non-writers, people who have composed the occasional poem or short story, or not even that, don’t understand the effort that it requires to go from someone who is able to write to someone who is a writer.

13. You Don’t Have to Write To Be A Writer
“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.” – J.K. Rowling

If an author as established and respected as J.K. Rowling finds it hard to defend her writing time imagine what it must be like for most authors, with other jobs and significant responsibilities. However, non-writers don’t understand this. When I was in university it was hard to convince my friends that I needed to stay home that night and write, instead of going out. Why couldn’t I just write another time? It is not like writing has to be scheduled out like a doctors appointment. If one always caves to social pressure there is no time.

The other side of this myth is that I have met a lot of people who consider themselves writers, who have never written anything more than a short story or a book outline, but they consider themselves to be writers because they have a novel idea or outline. However, they have never really spent time writing, and their novel in progress has been at the same early stage for decades.

14. Writers Are Permanently Depressed
Writers can’t be happy. When you see them depicted in TV shows or movies, they do not live happy fulfilled lives. They seem to all be plagued by depression. If you read a lot of author’s biographies you will know that is true of some authors, Frank O’Hara and John Cheever, for example. However, it is not true of all authors. Many authors such as Ann Patchett and J.K. Rowling seem to live happy and fulfilled lives.

Bio: Emily Harstone is the pen name of an author whose work has been published internationally by a number of respected journals. She is a professional submissions adviser. You can follow her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/emilyharstone/