The Kafka Paradox: Debunking BS Writing Myths

Yes, I’m a writer. I never dared to say that before my first novel, Zagreb, was published. I was shy about it and only close friends knew. I was afraid of what others would say: “Here we go, the artist!”, “Oh yeah? And how many books have you published?”, and the worst of them all: “You’re a chemist… How can you be a real writer!”

Who cares what others think! Whatever you do or do not, some people will like and approve of you, and some will not. So, you better be doing whatever you like. What’s much more important than how others see you is how you see yourself.

As long as you don’t see yourself as a writer, you will never be a real writer.

Go ahead and shout it to the world!

I’m a writer! I’m a writer!

You back?

Good. Now, be aware that when you announce to the world that you’re a writer, for some mysterious reason, some people will start saying things like:

You’re a real writer Only if…

  • BS#1. You write every day, eight hours a day
  • BS#2. You’re always inspired
  • BS#3. You’re always inspired and can write a great novel over days/weeks
  • BS#4. You’ve published at least one book
  • BS#5. You’ve published several books
  • BS#6. You make a living from your book(s)
  • BS#7. You have written a best-seller
  • BS#8. You’re famous — In fact, you’re God

Let’s debunk some BS writing myths

Bullshit writing myth #1. You can write every day, eight hours a day, only if: you’ve married a rich person, you’ve made lots of money in some other way, or one of your books is selling like hotcakes.

In all other cases — If you’re like me and almost everyone else, writing eight hours a day… will soon get you to live in a shitty van. Yes, it could be fun… but no, thanks.

Bullshit writing myths #2-3. Nobody is always inspired. Even if they were, inspiration is not always the mother of the greatest novels.

The old fairy tale about inspiration goes more or less like this: you’re a poor artist and for weeks, months, maybe years you’ve been stuck on that first page. Then one night, drunk of course, you saw a shooting star. That spectacular event inspired you to write the masterpiece of the year over a weekend. And money. And glory.

Sorry to spoil the fairy tale, but the reality is rather different: you sit down and write some crap. Then you write more crap. In fact, you write a lot of crap and then cut it down until that crap looks sort of like a novel.

Bullshit writing myths #4-8. The best-seller bullshit writing myths lose all their power when you take a quick look at the lives of those many writers who are now considered very influential.

Let’s take Emily Dickinson, for example. Emily was a prolific poet who wrote almost 2.000 poems, but only a dozen were published during her lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a complete collection of her poems became available, almost 70 years after her death.

Now, this isn’t just about our wonderful Emily. The list is long. Much longer than this: Blake, Poe, Thoreau, Bulgakov, Melville, Kafka, and so on.

Debunking Writing Myths with the Kafka Paradox

BS Writing Myths? The Kafka Paradox!

Therefore, according to the aforementioned bullshit writing myths, to be considered a real writer, you need to be famous enough to make enough money to be a full-time (best-seller) writer.

If this were true, only a tiny percentage of current authors could be considered a real writer and our heroes Edgar, Franz, and William would be just some dudes who write stuff.

The concept of becoming a real writer when writing so many hours a day, or publishing so many books, or earning so much money needs to be challenged. It’s a slippery notion that it leads straight to what I refer to as The Kafka Paradox.

It goes like this:

  • If you apply the bullshit writing myths above, Kafka would only be considered a real writer once the majority of his manuscripts was published, starting from 1952 thanks to his friend Max Brod
  • Kafka’s work gained critical global acclaim in the 1950–60s. The Trial and his other stories became masterpieces of the 20th century
  • But Kafka died in 1924 and was unable to become a real writer as he was… well: deceased
  • Therefore: The Trial was written by a non-real writer
  • The only conclusion is: the bullshit writing myths are false.

What does it mean to be a real writer?

First impulsive answer: Dude, forget the word real and focus on writing that novel!

Second impulsive answer: If you believe you’re a real writer, then you are, man.

Third, less impulsive answer: A writer is someone for whom not writing causes greater discomfort than the joy of seeing their manuscript published.

Final Thought

Being a writer has nothing to do with how many hours you (can) write a day, how many books you have sold, or how famous you are.

Writing is an urgency and the writer is someone who feels that urgency. Writing is not a choice, but an act the writer must do, much like breathing or drinking water. If the writer doesn’t write, something within them will die.

Do you feel this way about writing?

If so, congratulations: You are a (real) writer.

Now go write.


The cover photo was taken during a night out in Berlin.
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