"No one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others."
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Some of the conversations I've had over the past few days have helped me realized just how misunderstood writers are by anyone not familiar with the process or the industry. Here are some of the common misconceptions:
1) Writers are crazy.
OK, as Miranda would say, there is some truth in every myth - but most of us are pretty normal with just a touch of crazy (to be honest, I OFTEN have conversations with people I've made up). We may see the world a little differently, but we don't all write novels while standing naked at a desk or marry our 13 year-old cousins. We are not all recluses or alcoholics or (possible) pedophiles. You hear these stories because they are the exception, not the rule. In fact, agents and editors these days often "screen for crazy" before offering a contract. The days of pulling your just-completed masterpiece from a pile of empty whiskey bottles and sending it to your editor without ever leaving the house are over. No agent is going to put up with that. (OK, well maybe Dan Brown's agent would if he acted like that - who wouldn't for 15% of the gazillion dollars his next book will make?) Also, see this wonderful post by Veronica Roth.
2) Any well-known writer is rich.
No. No. No. I can't even begin to tell you how many NYT bestselling authors must work real jobs to make ends meet. And if they don't make NYT? ... They may be breaking even after paying for marketing and author events. Most of us write because we love it - not to make money. The ones who are in it for the money usually quit pretty soon when they realize how hard it is to make a living as a writer. Stephanie Meyer, JK Rowling, Dan Brown, James Patterson and Rick Castle (yeah, I know he's not real. so what?) are, again, the exception to the rule. Most of them, including the amazing Laurie Halse Anderson (whose books, by the way, are common in school curricula!), are just barely getting by. I've talked about this before, so I'll move on.
3) Writers don't do much actual work.
Many of us write in solitary (not me! I prefer coffee shops and restaurants with wi-fi), so you may not ever actually see a writer in action, but believe me: A LOT of effort goes into writing a book. Most serious writers will take 6 months to a year to write a book - but that's not because we're goofing off. It just takes that much time. It's HARD WORK. For most of us, we're having to do this on top of working full time, being a mother, running errands, having a social life, etc. And when you see us browsing websites about strange sea creatures or staring off into space for thirty minutes or commenting on agent blogs? We're working.
4) We read kids' books because we're regressed (this is for YA writers only).
No, we read them because any writer worth their weight reads profusely in their genre. Oh yeah, and YA books are awesome. I know writers in other specific genres (like horror and romance) have similar issues.
5) Writers are all geniuses.
HAHA! We'd like to think so, but really we're not. Most of us are average - but we DO work really hard and do ridiculous amounts of research so that we at least look smart.
6) If you haven't published a book, you're not any good.
I get this all of the time: ME: I write YA fantasy novels. THEM: Oh yeah? What's your name? I'll look for you at Borders. ME: I'm not published yet. THEM: Oh, so you're not really a writer.
AHEM! I personally know a dozen great writers who prove this one wrong. We're just at an earlier point in our careers. We can't just poop out a sell-able book and all of a sudden it's on bookshelves. It takes LOTS and LOTS of time. Publishing is like the Ent of the entertainment world. Oh, and self-publishing is much quicker - but it definitely doesn't automatically mean you're a great writer.
Another thing you might not know? Most writers (well, most of the good ones anyway) think we suck. So unless you have something encouraging to say, back off - it's hard enough as it is.
Contest #100 looms
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