Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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The Myth of the Real Writer Persists

[This is Part 2 of 2. Read Part 1 here.]

I used to think I couldn't be a real writer. I had all sorts of myths about "Real Writers" and what they do or don't do. Even after discovering that this Myth of the "Real Writer" was just that -- a myth -- I continue to fall for it from time to time.

In fact, it tripped me up again just this week.

A few days ago, while at a coffee shop talking to my husband and a local writer-friend, I lamented my lack of a regular writing schedule. My husband, ever the practical solutionist (is that  word? it should be!), said, "Maybe you could set aside 10-2 every day for writing."

I looked at him sideways and said, "I guess so...." What I was really thinking was: "There's no way I could write that early in the day!"

My husband, who knows me well enough to know exactly what I was pushing back against, said, "Now, would you choose 10am to 2pm, or 10pm to 2am?"

"10pm to 2am!" I said.

Of course! I had a choice! So why had I interpreted his suggestion to mean 10:00 in the morning to 2:00 in the afternoon?

In my version of the Myth of the Real Writer, that writer is also a Very Productive Person who is an Early Riser. I, on the other hand, work best at night. I like the quiet, the dark, the calm of nighttime. Many writers do love to work in the morning, some even in the pre-dawn hours. They like the same things I do --  the quiet, the dark, the calm; they just like them first thing in the morning instead of last thing of at night.

Our go-getter American culture looks proudly on these early risers. We think of them as Industrious and Disciplined. They're the Early Birds getting that worm! They Rise! They Shine! But what about us shady Night Owls who prefer dusk to dawn? Our cultural connotations for staying up late aren't quite so shiny and praiseworthy. The night is still associated with Wildness and Debauchery in our subconscious minds. (Though if you think about it, a certain kind of wildness is good for writing.) Plus, if you stay up late, you might also sleep late, and sleeping late is considered a sign of laziness in our broader culture (even if the nightowl in question is still getting just an average night's sleep). Hence, even I, an Unapologetic Night Owl who can also be a Very Productive Person, often find myself worrying that I'm Lazy and Stupid because I need a slow start in the late morning.

But being different doesn't mean I'm wrong. Staying up late doesn't make me lazy or stupid or crazy or any other negative adjective that might come to mind. My natural rhythms are just as valid as anyone else's. My creative process, including the time of day when I do my best work, doesn't dictate my self-worth as a writer. When I understand -- and accept -- my unique creative process, I can create a more sustainable writing practice.

Of course, there were some other issues in my husband's suggestion that I pushed back against.

Can I set aside four hours every single day to write? Probably not. For one thing, I know that I can't write every single day without a day off. (Cue the Myth that Real Writers write every day.)

For another thing, four hours is a big chunk of time. (Myth: Real Writers write for hours on end.)

 Some days I don't have that much time to write. And on the days that I do, the idea of having to write for that long overwhelms and intimidates me. (Myth: Real Writers never fear the blank page.)

And feeling overwhelmed makes me avoid writing. (Myth: Real Writers never procrastinate.)

I do much better if I commit to writing in shorter chunks of time, with the option to keep going if I want.

It doesn't matter what time of day I write or how much I write in one session. None of these things make me a "Real Writer." What matters is that I find a way to write that works for me.

What makes me a "Real Writer" is being committed to the art and craft of writing and finding ways to implement a sustainable writing practice.

It's also good to remember that this practice won't always look the same way. When I was at Vermont Studio Center in January for a month-long writing residency, my most productive time of day was actually in the late afternoon, which was surprising and new for me. Other things about my process have changed with time, too. For example, I used to be able to listen to music when I write, but now I need silence. Maybe this will change again someday. The point is that I've learned to pay attention to what I need. I've learned to work with -- instead of against -- my natural rhythms.

It's a lesson I have to keep learning again and again, but the more I pay attention, the less steep the learning curve is each time.


Want to break free from your own Myth of the Real Writer?

Join The Word Cellar Writers Guild, an online community and resource center for writers. 

We have a library of writing modules (like self-paced e-courses) that focus on elements of craft and issues of the writing life, all to help you become the writer you long to be.  

Reader Comments (1)

I love this valuing of personal uniqueness & breaking free of paralysing myths. I suspect it’s like swimming with the tide, rather than against it.
March 16, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterchangesofheart

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