A lot of people want to become writers. Very few succeed. It’s a tough business, no doubt about it — but it’s a lot tougher when you believe some of the myths out there about successful writers.
The people who make it as professional authors are a diverse bunch. Some of them may be more talented than others, while others may be harder workers. Some have bad attitudes, others good ones. Some are wunderkinds, while others begin writing later in life. Don’t assume that you have to fit a mold to become a great writer! Instead, dispel these four myths and chart your own path.
It’s all about natural talent
Do you have to be talented to be a successful writer? Well, sure — to an extent. Don’t overestimate the talent of your published peers, though. When we assume that great writers were born with the ability to write their incredible work, we devalue the hard work they put into learning and honing their skills while also discouraging ourselves and others from putting in that same work.
Stephen King writes thousands of words each day. James Joyce obsessed over individual words in his stories and spent years transforming the way he wrote. Raymond Carver famously had a lot of help from editor Gordon Lish. None of these writers just sat down and created perfect work in one draft.
And if you’re about to mention Jack Kerouac, who famously preferred to write freely and not edit his work, then you should remember that Kerouac’s improvisational style took practice to perfect and that Kerouac wrote much more than he published. Other seeming iconoclasts practiced, too. Hunter S. Thompson, for instance, practiced by copying entire famous novels on his typewriter to get a sense of the kind of rhythms he wanted to achieve.
Writers have to be arrogant
Writers face a lot of criticism and a lot of rejection. Some of the most famous and acclaimed books of all time were rejected by agents and publishers. To succeed, authors need to be able to accept such criticism without internalizing it.
Sometimes, this reality turns writing’s most arrogant rising stars into its most resilient. But critics and writers are increasingly seeing the problems with the “literary bad boy,” and modern publishers and agents don’t have time for such shenanigans. Don’t cultivate a personality that you think a writer should have. Instead, embrace your own personality and try to be constructive in the way that you handle criticism. Many of our greatest writers are humble and friendly.
It’s too late for you to succeed
Hand-in-hand with the sense of the writer as an arrogant iconoclast goes our idea that great and exciting writers are supposed to be young and that their work should be recognized quickly. But, of course, this isn’t true.
Sure, some writers get started young. And critics do enjoy pointing out the wunderkinds. But great writers can get their start later in life — and wunderkinds don’t always pan out in the long run. You need to run your own race. Keep working hard and trust that it’s never too late to break into the world of writing.
You have to be a writer all along
You don’t have to be a young writer to have a future as a published author. In fact, you don’t even have to be a writer — yet. Plenty of great writers once worked in other businesses and cultivated other careers.
Take Caesar Rondina, for instance. He wrote his popular novels and memoir after working in health care for more than 35 years. Once a paramedic, he’s now a best-selling author. Other writers, including best-selling popular novelists and critically acclaimed writers of literary fiction, worked as lawyers, doctors, security guards, and laundromat employees, to name just a few.
Where will your writer’s journey take you? It’s impossible to say. But never assume that you’re on the wrong track just because you don’t fit the image of what you imagine to be a “typical” writer. There’s no such thing, so follow your own path.