K.M. Weiland, a writer of historical and speculative fiction and mentor for authors, has posted an interesting and at times amusing guide to: “How Not to Be a Writer: 15 Signs You’re Doing It Wrong.” Mentor she may be, but as she doesn’t seem to be especially peddling her own services in the ensuing writeup, and some of the signs appear to be both commonsensical and useful, I thought I’d share them.
Two apparently contradictory ones are the most interesting to me: “You’re protecting your originality by avoiding instruction on the craft” and “You change your writing process every time an expert suggests something new.” The second one is easiest to understand – it’s authorial insecurity and susceptibility to reputation and influence. It’s also about the struggle to find a personal voice, out of all the other voices you can adopt. But the first is more interesting:
“The techniques of writing and the theories of storytelling are so much bigger than anything we can realize all on our own. The more we study our craft, the better our art will be—and the sharper our ability to create original material.”
So why would a writer assume they can’t learn anything? Or rather, why would they assume that their gift is such a tender bloom that it needs to be protected from the other growths that might overwhelm it? Yes, it sounds like another instance of that same authorial insecurity. But it also smacks of the egotistical sublime and the culte de moi of literary egomaniacs. It’s like one of the later points: “You only write when you’re inspired: Inspiration is like a very cute puppy dog. You can’t depend on it worth beans. And you sure as heck don’t want it being the master.”
Overall, it’s fairly obvious that while many writers are undercut by their own insecurities, they’re also misled by half-digested myths and cultural stereotypes that are about anything but real authorship. Weiland is a pretty good guide to, and critic of, one or two of those. As a practical primer on avoiding them, you could do worse. The rest of her services … well, check them over and decide for yourselves.