The longer you hang out in a bookish community, whether in person or online, you’ll start to hear a few things that can be detrimental to your writing and reading lives and motivations. Here are a few things I think should stop being said for the betterment of the writing community.
1. Show don’t tell.
This tip is overused and often inaccurate. The tip I propose comes from best-selling author Steven James. “Show emotions, tell intentions.”
I don’t want you to show me that a character wants to go inside. I do want to see that he’s frustrated being outside, and then I want him to express in his thoughts or verbally that he wants to go inside. This is a good way to bring integrity to the character and show that his thoughts and actions line up without confusing the reader about what the character wants.
We need to know what he wants so we can root for him to get it. There isn’t an adequate way for us to know what he wants without being told.
So, show emotions and tell intentions.
2. “My weekend is booked.”
This clever play on words to say you’ll be reading all weekend puts unnecessary pressure on the life of a reader. People read at very different rates, and when you hear that someone else is going to spend all weekend reading and you have to go grocery shopping, spend time with the people in your life that matter, and finish other work, it can be incredibly discouraging.
Despite this, I see it all the time.
Yes, it’s good to encourage writers to read. You can’t become a better writer without reading. But for those of us who have to maintain the “side hustle,” hearing that you’re going to spend all day reading because your “weekend is booked” can quickly send the message that “you’re not a real reader unless you spend all day or all weekend reading.” The same goes for the jokes of “you can’t spend all day reading if you don’t start in the morning” and statements about how you regularly “stay up all night reading.”
Sorry, but some of us require a minimum of seven hours of sleep to function and be a productive member of society. In fact, that description is one of the average human. So if you’re regularly staying up “all night” reading, you may want to talk to a doctor about insomnia.
3. “Real writers write every day.”
First of all, no. Every writer is designed slightly different. Some writers can write every day. Some don’t have the time to write every day and still have everything else in their lives continue on normally, such as electricity bills or mortgage payments.
But, even those who have the time can’t always write every day. For some it takes hours to delve into the world of their novel. For others it takes mere seconds. Some need the time to write thousands of words. Some are content with a few hundred.
Every writer writes differently. Telling someone they’re not a “real” or “professional” writer because they don’t do it how you do it isn’t something we should encourage.
Write when you can. Make sure you write when you’re able to. If that’s every day, great! If that’s only twice a week or less, don’t worry. You’re no less of a writer so long as you keep writing.
4. “I had a good writing day! I wrote 10,000 words!”
That’s great! I’m so glad. But now I feel bad about myself and my own writing because I either (a) didn’t have time to write today, or (b) only wrote 300 words.
Let’s get this in our heads:
Any day in which you write is a “good” writing day. If you got words on the page, you had a “good” writing day. Some “good” writing days are more productive than others. That doesn’t make the less productive days “bad” writing days.
Okay? Write. Just keep writing. Go at your own pace so you don’t hit burnout. Take a break when you need to. Pushing yourself too hard too fast will result in really bad writing you probably won’t like when you go back in to edit. Save yourself the hassle. Write what you can, when you can.
5. “You need to read the classics to be a good reader.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to reading the classics. They are still around for a reason. You should read them on occasion. But if they aren’t your cup of tea, don’t force yourself to only read classics.
Plus, you’re probably not trying to write a book in the style of Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. If you’re trying to write a thriller, reading classic romances aren’t necessarily going to help your writing. Reading current works being published in your genre will have you much more prepared for when you go to pitch a book than if you’ve only read the classics from hundreds of years ago.
Even if The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a comparable title to your own novel, it won’t do you many favors to compare your writing to something that well known and widely acclaimed. Plus, it’s an old book and was written for a different audience than the audience you’re writing for.
Read the classics, learn from the classics, but don’t feel bad about not reading the classics.
There are nearly 130 million books out there for you to read with more being published every day. You don’t need to force yourself to read books you don’t enjoy. Just don’t assume you won’t enjoy it because it’s a classic. Try it out and drop it if you’re fighting through it. Life is too short to try to read books for fun that you aren’t having fun reading.
What are some of the cliches about bookish and writers’ lives that you wish would be sent off into the void never to return? I’d love to hear from you.
J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. To hire her for editing or beta reading services, check out her rates on the Services tab. In her spare time, she makes YouTube videos, and practices Karate in a local dojo. Visit her blog at www.authorjjhanna.com for more insights on the writing world. Like what you see? Consider supporting her on Patreon.