Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

A Crazy Myth Writers Need To Kill

When I was in my early twenties and an up and coming pool player I thought in order to be the best, I needed to know everything about billiards. I thought I needed to know how the tables were made, what the balls were made of, and even the ins and outs of cue design.

Then, one day, while in the pool room sitting in a lounge chair “reading” a book on how to make billiard tables, my mentor tapped me on the shoulder and snapped me out of a daydream. Truth was, I had drifted off because the book was boring and I wasn’t really interested in building tables. “Why are you reading that?” He asked, and I told him. What he said next was life-changing.


My mentor was a champion and one of the best money players in the country. “Listen Bryan, if you try and explain to me the mechanics of how to put spin on the balls, I’ll tune you out. I don’t need to understand it from a technical perspective. I just need to be able to use it. I know how to use it, because I feel it. Because, I’m a pool player.”

His words blew my mind and completely changed what I thought I knew about becoming a professional player. It made me reconsider something I had believed and thus lifted self-imposed restraints I had created in my mind.

Over the following years of playing pool I dominated players who knew every aspect of the game much better than I could ever hope to, the mechanics, the terminology and the history… and there were players who were extremely knowledgeable of those things who beat me.

I became a professional player because I knew how to play the game, not that I totally understood it in a technical sense, but because I spent countless hours at the table hitting the balls and practicing.

I could feel the game.

Even now, players still mention jargon about pool that baffles me, and yet when I tell them they’ve lost me, they give me a shocked look and say something like, “You must know! I’ve seen you use it!”

But I don’t. Not the way they do.

So, predictably, they determine I must learn it their way and go into a long discourse about the topic at hand, explaining every little aspect of it. If only they’d stick a needle in my eye it would be far less painful.

So what does this have to do with writing?

If you’re like me and you have problems remembering jargon, or the difference between such terms as, adjectives and adverbs, you’re not a lost cause. You can still be a writer.

Simply because some people tell you that you need to know everything about writing, doesn’t mean you need to know everything, at least not the way they do. If you buy into such assertions, Writer’s Doubt will eat you up and spit you out.

One Way or Another

Similarly to playing pool and winning games against more “knowledgeable” players, I’ve sold thousands of books more than authors who understand writing in a way I never will. And, of course, there are countless authors who have a more complete understanding of writing who have sold tons more than I have.

There’s nothing wrong with either of these realities. To each her own.

The myth:

You need to be an expert in all aspects of writing to be a writer.

No. No you don’t.

You don’t need to be an expert in all aspects of writing to be a writer.

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You don’t need to be a grammar master, you don’t need to know everything about punctuation, and you don’t need to be able to teach English 101. Sure, it’s great if you can, but it’s not necessary.

Stephen King vs. Danielle Steel

Stephen King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.A. in English and qualified to teach it in school. He published his first novel, “Carrie” in 1974.

King has sold over 350 million copies of his books so far.

Danielle Steel never studied writing in school. She published her first novel, “Going Home” in 1973.

Steel is the fourth bestselling author of all time and the bestselling author alive todaywith over 800 million copies of her books sold so far.

In an interview, Danielle Steel was asked:

Q: Did you study writing in school?

A: No, never did… Who knows, maybe I missed out on something important – then again, maybe not!

Interview Date: July 2004 by Rosanne L., Matthews Branch Library

Famous Authors

What do Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Jack London, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells all have in common? They all dropped out of school very young and were uneducated writers in the traditional sense.

However, let me be clear, I believe education is important. I mention the above authors to make a point:

As a writer, there’s only ONE thing you need to be able to do, write.

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Reality Check

What I have discovered is this, there’s no right way or wrong way to be a writer. Some people have a great technical knowledge of writing while others don’t.

You need to do what works for you.

If you have difficulty remembering all the technical terms in writing, but you can write like there’s no tomorrow and have a good feeling for how it should be, who’s to tell you that you need to know and understand all of the jargon?

Of course, I am biased because I have difficulty remembering terminology and definitions, and frankly it ticks me off because I’d really like to remember, but that doesn’t stop me from writing and publishing.

Maybe there’s something about writing, or whatever your art might be, that doesn’t fit your style or the way your brain works, and when you try to force yourself to conform you get stuck?

Here’s what I would like to ask of you:

If something is causing you to stall, take another look at it and ask yourself, do you really need it? If it’s stopping you from creating your art, maybe it’s time to reconsider it and create anyway.

Whether you’re traditionally educated in writing like Stephen King, or have never studied writing in school like Danielle Steel, you can be a writer!

So do us all a favor, and write. Because, you are a writer!

Just as you must kill your darlings, you must kill the myths that hold you back from writing. Don’t let the dreaded Writer’s Doubt overwhelm you into submission. You can overcome it!

What myths have held you back from writing, or from doing anything? Share in the comments.

*I’ve received several emails asking about “Kill your darlings.” My inspiration was from a phrase made famous by William Faulkner, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” It refers to the dangers of a writer using favorite elements that might confuse the reader.

However, if you like trivia, the phrase originated from Arthur Quiller-Couch, who spread it in his 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures On the Art of Writing, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it whole heartedly and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Joan Didion said, in part, “Grammar is a piano I play by ear.”

    I quoted that when called upon to explain why I was a writing tutor in college who was simultaneously earning Cs and Ds in my undergrad courses on grammar (taught, tellingly, by a guy with a music Ph.D–just to close the loop).

    What you said is very true: having a vast technical knowledge can help some writers, but hinder others, who often get mired in questions like, “How do I do [X] the right way?”

    I hope people stuck in that place get to read this post. Thanks, Bryan!

    • I love that quote, Shan. Thanks for sharing it. – Unfortunately, I think a lot of artists, whether writers or painters or any kind of art, are stuck in that place. I want them to know they are not alone and they can create anyway. 🙂

  • Eva Maria Nielsen

    I think it was false modesty and lack of time and the suggestion: A writer is not a normal person. And than: If you would like to earn some money for your life, you have to do something more normal. So, it’s all the regulary stuff! 🙂 But I know better now! I really like your blog! Thanks!

  • LOVE this post for many reasons.

    1) you really hit the target about how we let what others think make us stall. We somehow give them power.
    2) you identify that the key issue is not the mechanics.
    3) you tell us what to do when we make the mistake of feeling “less than” other writers.

    Great post.

    • Thank you, Anne. I LOVE your comment!

      Keep me updated about Chicago. Maybe the move will inspire new art? Art is like the force in your family. It is strong within you.

  • I am like you. The technical terminology will not stick. Some of the rules I know, mostly I just feel … rules I’ve soaked up through reading. I have never been able to learn things parrot-fashion. My memory is ‘special’ (not in a good way) and self-selecting. Great post. X

    • It’s nice to know we are not alone, isn’t it? And there’s nothing wrong with that. Let’s write anyway.

  • maria smith

    Love this post! Thank you so much for sharing, and couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as that old fellow called ‘self doubt’ has crept up on me. I’ll slap him away and continue on my writing journey now. 🙂

    • Elliot Sampford

      I agree: I’ll push the ‘old girl’ away.

      • Ha! I’ve got both, and I try to let them argue it out while I’m writing and maybe they won’t pay any attention to me until I am finished.

    • Continue forth! Write your heart out.

  • Great post! I’ve always held the opinion that you didn’t have to know all the technical stuff to write well . . . this coming from someone who would have to stop and think if you asked me to explain something as simple as an adverb. I think we can learn far more about writing from reading because reading teaches us how to FEEL it. English classes just teach a lot of rules that most people end up forgetting.

    • There are rules? Now you tell me!

      I agree, Sarah. I’d have to look it up in order to explain what it is. But, like you, I read a lot.

  • Elliot Sampford

    For me this is an excellent post. The timing and the content is right. Go away self doubt – I didn’t have you on my shoulder before and I don’t want, or have to have, you
    there any more.

    • Indeed, Elliot. And good riddance! The reality though is a little different, doubt always exists and we’ll always have to overcome it. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and continue creating anyway.

  • Terrie Coleman

    Great post, Bryan. Definitely resonated with me. A great encouragement. Thanks.

  • Great post Bryan. I was giggling to myself after the first few lines because I knew where you were going and boy can I relate. Sometimes I think I just want to learn how to be a writer more than I actually want to be a writer! This isn’t really true, just my tendency, and it’s for sure a form of procrastination. Thanks for the motivating post! Time for me to play some serious pool.

    • Ha! Go play your heart out, Tracy!

      I used to have the idea that I needed to learn, learn, learn before I could actually do, but I soon discovered that was just a stall tactic because I didn’t think I was good enough and didn’t want to embarrass myself. There’s nothing wrong with learning and improving, but I’ve found not to wait to create while doing those things and now I create at the same time. Because really, we are always learning.

  • Thanks, Bryan! A great point that I needed to hear — that I always need to hear. This: “Maybe there’s something about writing, or whatever your art might be, that doesn’t fit your style or the way your brain works, and when you try to force yourself to conform you get stuck?” I’m getting back into painting, and I have a lot of hang ups. I’m going to leave them all behind.

  • Brian, love this! It is so important to get out of our own heads and doubts when it comes to moving forward with a creative pursuit. I loved your comment about feeling the craft to be able to move forward with energy and finesse.

  • Susan Spence

    Although I have always had a knack for constructing sentences, I will never be able to join a conversation with people showing off their knowledge of writing jargon. Believe me, I’ve tried and it made me feel stupid when I couldn’t keep up. I just do what sounds right to me and don’t worry about the technicalities of what I just wrote. I think it’s the difference between an analytical thinker who figures out what to say and someone who feels the thought before voicing it.

    • Good point, Susan. Some of us are left brain dominant and some of us are right brain dominant, so basically, we think different.

  • Leslie

    Thanks for this very nice contribution and valuable information.
    Using the Law of Attraction may help you further, to achieve
    your heart’s desire.
    Happiness also is a mental condition.

  • Jamie Beckett

    I’ll add an example that’s pertinent to your point. When you ride a motorcycle above the speed of perhaps 15 miles per hour, it is impossible to turn right by turning the handlebars to the right. Similarly, it is impossible to turn to the left by turning the handlebars to the left. It’s a physical impossibility. Yet almost anyone can ride a motorcycle without flying off into the woods or careening into a wall every time they attempt to turn. Somehow, instinctively perhaps, the rider realizes that turning requires a very slight movement of the handlebars in the opposite direction of the turn. Turning left requires a minor deflection of the handlebars to the right. Turning to the right means displacing the handlebars to the left, just a touch.

    That’s the information my mind flashed back to that validated you pool playing story. After 45 years of motorcycle riding I have met few riders who know the physics of turning, yet I’ve met hundreds, maybe thousands of bikers, who rider perfectly well. Sometimes for astoundingly long distances – never knowing that they’re turning the handlebars the wrong way every time they turn. Nope. They just ride. They came for the thrill of it all, not for the science lesson.

    Great post, as usual. Thanks so much for sharing such good lessons, reminders, and examples to support your contention.

    • Excellent example, Jamie! Thanks for sharing it with us. Oh, and, I didn’t know that about turning motorcycles! 🙂

  • Lisa Walker England

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m a writer who works with entrepreneurs on their branding and messaging, and a lot of what I do is from the gut. Other brand strategists and marketers fling terms around that I only vaguely understand from a technical level, but they respect my work because I can do those same things intuitively. One of the biggest myths I have to “kill” with my clients is exactly this one: that until they’re expert in absolutely anything to do with their chosen field, they can’t do work in it. Thanks for being a sensible voice in the world!