Writing’s Legends

Writing-Pens-Urban LegendsThis would’ve been a great example for writers regarding simplicity…

NASA spent 1.5 million dollars developing a pen to write in space in 1960. Russian cosmonauts instead decided to use pencils.

…It would be, except it isn’t true. It is one of those urban legends. Both space explorers used pencils at first. The Fisher “space” pen was developed by Paul C. Fisher using his own money. In 1967 he sold 400 pens to NASA for $ 2.95 each.

Urban Legends persist in email, on Facebook and in the coffee shop.

I’d like to debunk five from the writing profession.

Urban Legend 1: Bad writers need feedback. Good writers know their writing is good.    

Good writers seek feedback (bad writers think their stuff is great). Everyone benefits from a second pair of eyes. I miss glaring mistakes. Editors, and critique partners (and spouses) are invaluable for catching mistakes, revising and testing whether or not your point was made.

Urban Legend 2: Changing your writing for your audience stifles creativity.

You should gear your writing to your audience. Present the material so that it will impact your reader. However, don’t lose your own distinctiveness. Information is easy to come by; your unique presentation is part of what makes it valuable.

For example: An exercise article would have different examples, reasoning and research for teens verses those wanting to stay in shape after retirement. Your style/voice may change a little, but if you try to do it too much your words may come across as disingenuous at best and duplicitous at worst. Do those two words sound like me? Nope. I would have used fake and dishonest.

Urban Legend 3: Speaking simply will make your reader think you aren’t smart.

Albert Einstein, not a light thinker, is credited with saying, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” This isn’t to say some things aren’t complicated, but that communication means saying them as clearly as possible. It has also been said, “Language unites us; language divides us.” Wordiness will confuse your reader and may even cause suspicion. Often small ideas try to hide behind large words.

Urban Legend 4: Short pieces can’t communicate as well as longer ones.

Often fewer words communicate better. As I stated in a previous post, we all want the time we trade for reading to have been worth it. Respect the reader’s time – take as much as you need, not as much as you want. Things can often be written cleaner and shorter than we write them at first (see Legend 1).

Urban Legend 5: Writers stare at their bellybuttons until inspiration hits.

Writng-woman-Urban Legends postYour schedule is up to you, but if you are serious, you write. Stuck? Try typing a page from a magazine to get your fingers moving. Firefighters fight fires. Writers write. First firefighters train and practice, then they get called on to do the work.

If you practice, you’ll get more calls to do the work too.

Still stuck? See the permanent tab above: Story Sparklers


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3 comments on “Writing’s Legends
  1. Great points. No writer I know (and I know all kinds from the chronically unpublished to Pulitzer Prize winners) does it alone. Workshopping and exchanging ideas is a huge part of the process.

    I’d also be tempted to add that inspiration can’t be found in bottles, vials, or other chemical concoctions. Lots of great writers had substance abuse problems, that eventually sapped their creativity rather than enhancing it.

  2. Excellent! Every point very true. I was taught years ago in Journalism school that a writer should hate his editor and an editor should want to be hated by his writers. It meant that both parties were doing their job. I have hated every editor I have had and I have appreciated every one of them greatly. All joy today. HF

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"A writer looks at a screen or piece of paper like a canvas. They see a country unexplored, a picture unpainted, a tale not told. They dare to venture into the barren land, explore its dark corners, and paint its pictures. Then they unveil the epic with the goal of compelling people to visit their newly discovered territory.”
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