5 Writing Myths and How to Overcome Them

writing mythsMy writing partner and I believe there are 5 basic writing myths, and that they can be easily overcome to get your writing done. This blog post is based on material Mary Beth Averill and I created together.

Myth #1: I don’t have any time.

Reality: You have to schedule a time to write.

“Make time to write,” is one of Mary Beth’s favorite pieces of advice for writers. You have to make your writing project your highest priority. If getting your writing done is a priority, you will get it done. My recommendation is to make appointments with yourself that you won’t break. If you had a doctor’s appointment or a class to teach, you probably wouldn’t blow it off because you were too busy or didn’t feel like doing it. Writing is work, so make appointments with yourself just get it done so that you can have a guilt-free day. You don’t want to squander the precious time you have set aside for actually writing.

Author W. Somerset Maugham, once asked if he wrote “when the muse struck,” replied, “Of course; but fortunately, that happens every day at 9:00 am when I sit down at my desk.” Ray Bradbury, noted science fiction writer, worked by appointment with himself and was literally producing publishable work until the week he died. A colleague of my husband at the Medical University of South Carolina whose wife drove him to and from work each day produced over 500 articles during his lifetime as a professor. You may not have a chauffeur, but you can probably find somewhere in your day to work on your highest priority project.

Myth # 2: I need big blocks of time to write.

Reality: A lot can be accomplished writing in small increments.

Keep in mind the 17…54…157 research. In one of Robert Boice’s many research studies, all participants (untenured faculty) took part in the same writing workshop. After the workshop, the control group did what they had always done and waited for big blocks of time to write. On average, they wrote 17 pages a year. The next group wrote for 15-30 minutes every day and recorded their daily progress. On average, they wrote 54 pages of text a year, about 3 times as much. The final group wrote for 15-30 minutes every day, recorded their daily writing progress, and checked in with someone about their progress at least every other week. They wrote 157 pages a year on average. About nine times as much! Writing every day plus accountability really makes a difference.

Small increments work partly because it keeps the material “at the top of your mind” and you don’t have to work so hard to remember what you were going to say. As long as you know this, you can write at any time. One technique writers use is to stop mid-sentence to easily remember what is next. Setting aside fifteen minutes every day can move you steadily forward. Think of it like burst exercise fitness training: A little each day will move you toward your goal.

Here’s one possible writing plan:

  • Develop a daily writing schedule and stick to it. Figure out the best time of day to write—most people write in the morning while they are fresh and before they dive into other tasks of the day. But some really prefer the afternoon or evening for this mental work.
  • Write at the same time every day, and if possible, at the same place. It teaches your brain and body that is what you are supposed to be doing then.
  • Schedule this time into your calendar.
  • Use all the devices at your disposal to help you: we are all mobile now, so you can write anywhere. Some people find that being at a coffee shop with a lot of other people plugged in and working is the best support group they can have. There are plenty of apps like notepad for either freewriting or keeping your writing journal.
  • Reward yourself at every step. Rewards should correspond with the amount you got done, such as a cup of tea for 15 minutes, an hour outside for a finished chapter, or a long weekend off for finishing an article. Time off is fantastic and necessary for restoring your brain, including planned vacations.

This is not to say you should never use big blocks of time for writing. One writer I know uses these big blocks to outline what she will do when she has smaller increments of time. Sometimes you can set aside 4-5 hours for planning or just writing. Just pay attention to the fact your brain muscle, consuming 30% of the carbohydrate-based glucose you take in, will be depleted and need recharging. When fatigued, your writing won’t make sense anyway. So, take a break, walk around the block, talk to someone, but step away from the writing for a bit.

Myth #3: I don’t know what to write about—exactly.

Reality:    You don’t have to know exactly.

A lot of people think they can’t write something until they have first thought their ideas out perfectly. That’s really high stakes writing. Talk about a way to create brain freeze! Start with lower stakes: a zero draft or even freewriting. The physical act of writing can actually stimulate your brain to produce more thoughts. Let go of being perfect and just write. When you freewrite, you are putting pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) without worrying about grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, or even the flow of ideas. It’s brainstorming with yourself. And it should be fun!

Myth #4: There is always something more important to do.

Reality: Procrastination is always about fear.

Your writing project is so important that you want to push past that fear. Writing is both process and product. Editing is not writing, but it is processing. It’s better to spend writing time with the free flow of ideas and getting them down. Look at what you wrote later for editing.

You can create a writing journal to record your progress daily and plan your writing for the next day. You can use the journal to reorganize your work, remind yourself about some research or citation you want to look up, or even to record distracting thoughts (such as “I hate to write”) that threaten to interrupt your planned writing time.

Myth #5: Writing is a lonely, painful, isolated process.

Reality: It doesn’t have to be!

You need a willingness to work plus the right plan plus the right support. You may find that having a writing buddy or an individual writing coach, with regular weekly meetings, helps you with feedback and accountability. A writing group can provide support and accountability, with the pooled wisdom of all the members. Hearing about the challenges and successes of others can make you feel very normal in your own process.

With summer right around the corner, use these ideas to start planning and get that writing project finished!


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