3 Myths about Writing from Middle Ages
“Let me not be blamed for the script, for the ink is bad, and the vellum defective, and the day is dark.” ~ unknown writer who lived long, long ago…
The way writers are perceived today is pretty similar to what people thought of them ages ago. Seriously. Of course this is a misconception. Here, this is how the majority of ancient writers looked like at that times:
Writing was mostly a job for monks and priests and because of that there was a certain ‘aura’ surrounding writers and their job. At that time it helped them to stay alive, to write and to make sure their writings were being kept safe and copied properly when necessary.
The world changed. No more monks chained to their writing desks, no more vikings attacking monasteries and burning books, no more sacred knowledge hidden from people because no one can read Latin.
Strange thing is happening though: people still treat writers as if they are living in Middle Ages. This is only a half of the problem: we, writers, are still treating ourselves as if we are writing with metal styluses on animal skins.
Why is that a problem? Fair question. People think of you what they want to think, it is true. Unfortunately, believing in ancient myths about writers prevents you from doing your best as a professional.
Let me show you why.
→ Talent Myth
Writers carry the sacred knowledge and only chosen ones can write.
It is easy to trace roots of this myth back to Middle Ages when most people were uneducated. Those who could write were a part of a high society. At first writers belonged to the church and they were interested in guarding their knowledge, because that was how they manipulated people’s minds. Their skill also let them be valuable for kings and courts and that actually helped them to stay alive.
After a while other types of writing evolved: writers started to work for ordinary people for their amusement. First they were partly musicians, partly scripts — bards, scalds, poets who could sing. Of course they were glad to back this myth up. When people considered them uniquely gifted, they were more curious and generous.
First fiction literature, written in English language, appeared in the end of XIV century. Soon after that it was becoming more and more popular. With fiction writers same rules apply: when readers think of them as of geniuses, they are more interested.
Times, however, changed. Today the amount of people who write is huge. Actually, everybody writes. Much less people are going to be hooked by your talent, even if you are talented indeed.
So why proceed acting like in Middle Ages? Stop thinking that in order to write good prose you have to be gifted. This is not true anymore. You can choose among a ton of different genres and types of fiction or non-fiction. Your success is not about your skill of putting words so they sound good and smart!
Do not get me wrong: there is still good writing and bad writing.
But different types of writing demand different skills. You are not good at creating fictional characters? Write non-fiction. You don’t like analyzing current events? Write about history, or don’t write about events at all — write about things. You don’t like to write? Become a podcaster and ask your friend to write down scripts for you.
All I am saying is — you don’t need a special gift to be good at writing. You just need to choose your niche wisely and work hard. Practice eventually will pay for itself.
→ Inspiration Myth
You write good only when you have inspiration, and no one can predict when you have this thing.
This is kind of a curse of all creative people: no one knows what inspiration is in reality, but everyone is pretty damn sure that they have to wait for it to start working.
This is a lie created by singers of Middle Ages who used the term ‘inspiration’ to pay their respects to people they were singing for. That people where paying them.
I can agree that writers have such moments when they have better ideas and words are easier to put on paper than before. You can call it ‘inspiration’, ‘flow’, ‘a moment of truth’, whatever.
What matters is your attitude. Let me quote Pablo Picasso for you:
In order to catch this moment of high productivity, or of an ‘inspiration’, you have to, once again, work hard. Inspiration is not magic: it is your mind finding a better way to solve the task you have. It is possible to get it only when you have put a lot of efforts already, you’ve gained a lot of knowledge and you’ve acquired a lot of skills.
You don’t need to force inspiration, you don’t need to specifically seek for it and without doubt you don’t need to sit and wait for it. Inspiration is a product of your own mind (apologies to those who still believe in their own personal Muse). Inspiration is a gift package your mind can provide you with when it is trained enough.
→ Solitude Myth
You need to spend a lot of time in solitude. Only this way you can be concentrated enough on your writing and come up with good ideas.
This Myth is again a guest from Middle Ages when writers were mostly monks. They were copying scripts by hand and were forced to do it all day long — a very hard work. In order to avoid making mistakes they had to do it in absolute silence, hence solitude. It was pretty effective: experts say that what is written in modern Bible, for example, perfectly corresponds to what was there originally, even though it was rewritten many dozen times.
Nowadays, however, solitude is harmful for writers. Writer is no more a person whose job is only to write. Both fiction and non-fiction writers have to conduct researches, be active in social media, be networking, exchanging ideas with their colleagues and audience, widening their perspective by travelling and visiting different events, and many more.
Today a writer whose voice cannot being heard is as good as dead.
It leads us to the idea that solitude is no more a writer’s friend, but a dangerous enemy. Even if you are well-known, people will forget about you in case you are not constantly reminding them about your existence.
The world is so full of information that it is not enough to be good or even great. You should also be able to let others know about it, to proclaim your talent and hard work and do it LOUDLY.
Writers’ job is even more unique now. We live in the world of information, and the amount and accessibility of information is so overwhelming that it changes everything. Writing was and will always be the most stable and noticeable part of information exchange ecosystem, so do not be too conservative, do not stay in Middle Ages!
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