Myths vs Realities of a Writer’s Life

After having worked as a writer for about six years now, I’ve come to realise that many people tend to have unrealistic perceptions about this job. Somehow, in the minds of most people, it’s a fabulous career to be in. You have "creative license", and you can work "whenever and however you please", as long as you can turn in the desired results of a brilliantly written collection of words at the end of the day.

In view of such misconceptions, I thought it might be useful to share with you a list of common myths about the writing profession versus their corresponding realities. If you’ve ever wanted more insights on what a writer’s job is really like, then this post will certainly come in handy for you.

Myth #1: Writers Have Perfect Grammar

…and a spotless proficiency of the language they write in.

It’s virtually impossible to know every single grammar rule there is to know in any given language, and English is no exception. There are many reasons why this is so. Among them is the fact that some words may evolve and inherit new meanings over time. For example, a word like "gay", which was traditionally used to mean "happy", now also denotes a sexual orientation.

IMAGE: Business Insider

Meanwhile, some grammar rules are a little tricky to comply with, especially when their application differs from country to country, such as the use of punctuation marks in relation to quotation marks.

For instance, in the US, punctuation would be placed within the quotation marks (eg: My favourite book is "A Tale of Two Cities."), whereas elsewhere, it would be left outside (eg: My favourite book is "A Tale of Two Cities".).

As you can see, it is rather hard to keep up and to remember all these minute details about grammar. Hence, many of us writers still regularly consult dictionaries, thesauruses and the advice of fellow editorial colleagues while in the process of writing.

After all, writing really isn’t so much about using the Queen’s English. But don’t get me wrong though. I’m not saying that writers should be allowed to get away with poorly worded manuscripts. What I meant is that writing is first and foremost about effective communication.

As writers, the end goal of our work is to be published and to have what we’ve written read by others.

So, in order to be properly understood, we need to craft our words in ways that our target readers can understand. For instance, it’s sometimes wiser to say "noise" rather than "cacophony" (although if it were for the purposes of poetry, the latter may be a better choice).

Myth #2: Writers Are Doing What They Love

…hence they are always enjoying their work and it is always fun.

Work remains work. Even though writing is our passion, it doesn’t necessarily make our work assignments any easier. More often than not, what we write is under the direction of the editor, and for those of us who write for a newspaper or magazine, there is usually an elaborate editorial house style to abide by.

For instance, all numerical references above ten might need to be expressed in figures (eg: 13 and not "thirteen") whereas anything involving the numbers ten and below are to be spelt out (eg: "nine" instead of 9). Certain phrases may be preferred over others, eg. having to write "United States" instead of "America" or "United States of America".

The process of writing itself is also a fairly tedious process. There may be a need to carry out extensive research or to gather information from multiple sources via interviews. Where the writing is technical in nature or is for reporting purposes, the writer will need to do extensive fact checking and make use of the correct terms in their writing.

Even after a draft has been completed, there’s still lots more to be done actually. There’s rarely a draft that doesn’t require some form of revision or correction once the editor has laid eyes on it.

There will often be several rounds of proofreading and editing (here’s a post on how to proofread and one why you should not self-edit) to go through before an article is finally transformed into its final version which will then be published. This typically involves lots of changes to be made to the original draft, which is a painful process for the writer, more often than not.

Myth #3: Writers Live Glamorous Lives.

… They have lots of fans who absolutely adore their writing and they are famous and everyone knows who they are.

IMAGE: Wallpaper Cave

The reality here is that hardly anyone will recognise your name. Unless, of course, you happen to have a "New York bestseller" label plastered across your novel or something of that standing.

Otherwise, be prepared to manage your disappointment when nobody notices your byline. Because they often won’t. They’ll certainly appreciate a good article when they see one, of course, but unless the reader is someone who knows you personally, it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to remember your name although they probably will remember what you wrote.

Which brings me to another point: Writers often find themselves with more critics than fans.

That’s because, unfortunately, people only tend to remember your name when you do something that’s appalling to them. Like using a word wrongly or discussing a topic that the readers feel intensely angry about.

And sometimes, despite your best efforts to craft what you thought was a flawless article, someone will still manage to take offence in the way you had apparently misused a pronoun, for example, and will then proceed to tell the whole world on social media about it. Not so glamourous, if you asked me.

Myth #4: Writers Are A Creative Bunch.

… They are never short on ideas and all that they touch turns to gold. They put their fingers to the keyboard and words literally fly onto the screen.

In case you weren’t already aware of this, the term Writer’s Block isn’t an urban legend. It happens to us writers really often.

Ironically, it usually occurs when you find yourself with lots of time on your hands and are eager to get some decent writing done. It is during such times that it becomes really tempting to procrastinate.

And the irony of it all is that sometimes a temporary distraction does help you get your thoughts back on track (hence making this a terrific excuse to give your editor to explain away those multiple coffee breaks you are ever so fond of taking daily).

Of course, there are also times where writing is a breeze. But unfortunately, such occurrences don’t take place quite as often as we’d like them to. Writing is a discipline, after all, and not just a whimsical activity that we only indulge in once in a blue moon.

Myth #5: You Must Be An Expert To Be A Writer

…If you’re an expert in something and you can put words on a page, you’ve earned the right to become a writer.

Well, possessing a wealth of knowledge is one thing, but putting it into words that can benefit the reader is something else altogether. It’s possible for a person to have the expertise in a particular subject matter, yet communicate it so poorly in the written word that nobody can understand it apart from its author.

The skill of writing lies, after all, in the delivery.

If you were to examine the role of a writer more closely, you’d realise that many of us aren’t really experts in much of anything. We get the job done mainly by being meticulous in the research we do and the way we present our facts. We also pay attention to the style and tone we write in, tailoring it to suit the desired readership of the written piece.

These are essentially communication skills, and not as much about being a subject matter expert at all. But of course, being well versed in the topic you write about does make the process a whole lot easier.

Myth #6: Good Writers Don’t Need Editors.

… Writing experience accumulated over the years is enough to replace the roles of editors.

IMAGE: The Accidental Writer

This is definitely not true at all. Every writer worth their salt needs their work reviewed by an editor. This applies to not just rookies who are starting out, but to experienced writers as well. The reason this is so is because there are always blind spots, similar to how you would miss out noticing certain things while behind the driver’s seat.

When you’re reviewing the same text over and over again, chances are you will gloss over some mistakes. Only a fresh pair of eyes would be able to pick it up. This usually coming in the person of the editor or a proofreader.

But there are plenty of other people that a writer also comes to depend on in the course of their work. For instance, they may collaborate with other writers on the editorial staff and rely on their insights when bouncing off ideas for new stories to write.

And since writers aren’t always experts in the subject matter they write on (as mentioned in the previous point), they’ll often refer to personal sources who can steer them in the right direction for a given topic.

The bottom line here is that writers hardly ever get work done without help from others. And that certainly includes the scrutiny that can only come from an editor.

Myth #7: Writing Is A Very Social Activity

… hence writers are outgoing and socialites by nature. They have lots of outings, friends and get invitations to lots of cool events.

IMAGE: Spets.ca

This isn’t true of all writing jobs, though admittedly there are certain roles in our profession that do carry some of the above characteristics. Being a journalist is one of them – there’s lots of travelling and meeting people required there. But not all writers have these things as part of their job description.

Predominantly, the act of writing in itself is a very lonely task, best carried out in seclusion. That’s because stringing sentences together in a manner that makes sense is really tough work. Lots of concentration is required, and often there is a lot of research and references to take into consideration at the same time

So while some writers might be socialites, most of us are introverts by nature since the rigours of writing tend to fit well with such a personality.

There are, however, some introverted writers among us who can take on the Extrovert-On-Demand persona wherever they are required to do so to meet the demands of their job. Again, this is common in the journalism profession.

You’ll see journalists briskly making acquaintances at a media event, but these same people will promptly resort to silence and burrowing themselves in a quiet corner upon their return to the office just so they can rush to get their article written before being hounded by the residing editor.

Conclusion

Well, there you go, you now have a much more realistic picture of a writer’s life. I hope this post has helped you realise that it really isn’t as effortless as you may think to write for a living. But that being said, I would like to add that it is a career worth striving towards if you’re the kind who has a penchant for prose.

So if you’re up for all the above, I certainly hope you’ll join our motley crew some time.

Editor’s note: Susanna is a writer for Hongkiat.com and wordsmith with a punny disposition. When she’s not occupied with writing or feeding her ravenous little son, she finds solace in music, DIY and crafts, and reading. Catch more of her crazy chatter on her blog, Stories & Such.