7 Misconceptions About Writers

In my current working incarnation as a writer, I have come across a number of strange attitudes towards people who classify themselves as “writers”. There seem to be 7 things people assume of you if you claim to be a writer, particularly a writer of fiction:
(1) All you do is write, and so you have no life;
(2) You don’t look at anything except as a chance to get writing material;
(3) You live in a fantasy or unreal world inside your own mind;
(4) You know nothing outside of ‘books’;
(5) You avoid anything approaching sunlight or physical activity;
(6) You have the dress sense and personal hygiene of a ‘man of the streets’; and
(7) “It’s not a real job, is it?”

What’s really odd about all of that is that there are quite a few writers I have met (or those who want to be writers) who also believe all of that to be true.

Well, I think that’s a bit unfair. A bit. Sure, there are some things that may hold true for some writers somewhere, but surely not every writer everywhere. And the simple reason for this is that if that was the case, no-one would write anything. So let’s address it all, shall we?

(1) All you do is write, and so you have no life.
Well, to start with, would you say to an accountant all they do is accounting? Well, sure, maybe to some, but not to that many. Writing is the same thing. Part of the problem is that a writer can do his ‘job’ at any time, and so it seems that he’s (using the generic male pronoun) always writing. But that’s because the only time anyone notices a writer is when they are busy beavering away in a notebook or on a laptop, getting that damn idea out of their system. But writers also have hobbies outside of writing. In fact, I would go so far as to say they need hobbies outside of writing. It might be watching movies, watching sport, playing chess, collecting Lego mini-figs, boxing, playing D&D, anything that is not a writing-based. This gives the writer something to help his stories along, gives something approaching human and social contact, and ensures the stories he writes are not all just the same story over and over.

(2) You don’t look at anything except as a chance to get writing material.
Well, this is true in a sense. But only in a sense. You see a potential source of inspiration in everything, sure, but you don’t go out looking for it. That ends up being a self-defeating task. You look so hard that you never find it. The writer’s equivalent of household blindness. Much better that you see something and let inspiration strike you if you want it to. Or if the inspiration is too great to ignore. It does mean, however, that you are also inundated with people telling you about their “awesome” dreams because they’re sure you could turn it into a wonderful best-seller. But, really, that only works rarely. And besides which, if stories about 25 Marilyn Monroe clones chasing the naked dreamer across a landscape made up of fallen Statues of Liberty could sell (sorry, Terry!), then a story about some hapless virgin being conned into a BDSM relationship by a stupidly handsome man could sell. Oh, hang on, wait…

(3) You live in a fantasy or unreal world inside your own mind.
Again, this is only sort of true. When you are truly engrossed in writing a story, then it is hard to leave the characters and their predicaments behind, and in that case it is often better for a writer that they just keep on writing and not be forced into any awkward social situations where they wander around in a daze wondering how they’re going to ensure Mr D’Arcy meets up with Jane Eyre at Glamis Castle without it sounding too clichéd. A good partner will recognise this and either not invite the writer out, or make sure the soirée doesn’t last all night.

(4) You know nothing outside of ‘books’.
This is really unfair, because writers tend to learn a lot while they are writing. Even a writer of fiction. You research to make sure your characters don’t travel from New York to London in 3 hours using a 1924 Holden Commodore. You learn a lot. And, yes, a lot of it does come from books. But what this actually means, I guess, is that it is assumed writers know nothing outside of their little world of writing. Again, if the writer is actually selling stuff, then that means they cannot be living in that little world. They have to at least have had some contact with reality or else their stories would involve things like sparkling vampires and compassionate werewolves… hang on again. Damn!

(5) You avoid anything approaching sunlight or physical activity.
This relates back to number (1) on this list. It’s that hobby idea, doing something that is not writing. And for some writers, it is sport and getting outside. Ernest Hemingway is probably the most well-known example of this, and Ian Fleming is another. But it must be said that often there is nothing like a good, brisk walk to combat writer’s block or just recharge the batteries and mental processes. Some exercise is good for the health as well, so I heartily recommend doing it.

(6) You have the dress sense and personal hygiene of a ‘man of the streets’.
This really is rather rude. But it also comes to one of the joys of being a writer – to get to work in your pyjamas, or in your daggiest trackie-dacks and BBQ-stained sweatshirt, and if you don’t want to shower, you don ‘t have to. But that is not all the time. A part of writing is the selling of the work and the selling of the writer, and so you want to make a good impression upon those potential buyers. And social interactions are vital or else all your characters end up sounding like the same four people you hung out with in high school, and all the bad guys like that moron cop who pulled you over for speeding when you really weren’t three years ago. So while it might hold true for a few brief periods of time, it is not really true. Not really.

(7) “It’s not a real job, is it?”
Well… yes…. and no. I like to think of it more as a vocation, a calling. But it’s real. For without the fiction writer, the only things to read would be essays on the plight of sixteenth century women clogthreepers in rural Flanders and stuff of that ilk. But writing is just one of the arts. Painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, the arts. We do what we do to entertain the public. There might be some sort of information or opinion thrown in there for good measure, but, really, entertainment is what is about first and foremost. If it’s not entertaining, who’s going to want to read it? So, yes, it’s a job. One that was prized in the Renaissance and a few centuries after, and which is looked down upon nowadays. Mind you, teachers were looked upon quite highly half a century ago, and nowadays are treated like pond scum, so swings and roundabouts for all careers, I guess.

There you have it. 7 misconceptions.

Did I miss any?

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  1. #1 by Matt on July 19, 2013 - 5:37 pm

    Steven, I loved this piece. Number 2 always bugged me, particularly in my single days on a date with girls many times saying “so are you going to write about this?”. Um, no, I am also a relatively normal human being that does most things that regular people do like dating. Also I think there is more than enough mundane writing about people on dates.

    I have one more for you. People think you are like your characters. Firstly I am not as charming or witty as some of my characters, because with writing I get an infinite number of tries to get a character’s words perfect. Secondly I’m also not quite as crazy as the craziest characters I write.

  2. #2 by stevengepp on July 19, 2013 - 6:40 pm

    Or people read your stuff and ask, “Was Character X based on me?”

    I had one constant reader who always asked if every girl was based on her. So one day I wrote a short story where the main charatcer was so clearly her, with even the same initials. Her comment? “Well, that one’s definitely not me!”

    Thanks for reading!

  3. #3 by tiareed on July 20, 2013 - 7:11 pm

    Hi Steven, 7 very common assumptions. Number three could take number one spot for me. Fantasy writer seems to equate to not living in the real world with a lot of people..
    How about the assumption that you’re not really a writer if you haven’t had a major publication? Not a problem for those people who have but considering it often takes years and piles of rejections to reach success, I think anyone who writes regularly should be able to call themselves a writer with pride.

  4. #4 by stevengepp on July 23, 2013 - 8:39 am

    I agree. If you write, you’re a writer. Being called ‘not a real writer’ because of that lack of publication is something that leads many to hide their light under a bushell, so to speak, and so not get valuable feedback.

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