Avoid these common mistakes made by new writers!
I’ve been writing for a long time. A LONG time. Years. Over a decade. And while I still have plenty of writing goals I want to hit, I can say with full certainty, that I have learned a LOT along the way. And like most lessons learned through experience, this knowledge came through making many, many mistakes. Probably all of them, frankly.
I don’t know about you, but I hate feeling stupid. I hate making mistakes for everyone to see, but sometimes the only way you can learn something is by making the mistake and learning from it. Had I not starting writing and submitting years ago, received numerous rejections, and writing hundreds of pitches, cover letters, and query letters, I wouldn’t have the experience and knowledge that I do now.
For the record, I’m not done learning. I’m sure I have plenty of mistakes and learning opportunities in front of me in the years ahead. Goodie.
If you’re just starting out, or if you’ve been writing for years with no tangible progress, I want to share with you some lessons I learned the hard way that–if you avoid them–might help you take those next steps in your writing goals.
Submitting/Querying before you’re ready
I’m going to say it even thought I know you probably won’t listen. But some of the lessons need to be learned the hard way, unfortunately. Case in point: querying before you’re ready.
This is a common mistake the new writers make. I’ve made it. You know you need to make your book the best you possibly can, but if you’re just starting out, you might not actually know what that means. It means you need to study plot and character. It means you need to write thousands upon thousands of words. It means you need to edit the heck out of it. It means you need to get feedback. It means you need to know if there’s even a market for your book.
Most new writers (myself including) have this bursting desperation to get our work out into the world, so we rush through, hurried, trying to get it done so we can get querying. But you do a great disservice to your writing and yourself. Great writing takes time, and if you want to give your work the best change you have, you need to take the time to do it right.
Not getting unbiased feedback
I’m sorry to tell you, but your mom’s opinion just doesn’t count. (Or husband’s or best friend’s or sister’s, etc.–you get the point.) You need to show your work to other people, but you need to get feedback from people who either don’t know you enough to care about hurting your feelings or who love you enough to do exactly that. You need unbiased feedback. That’s the only way to get better.
Beta readers, critique partners, even hiring an editor can all give you feedback you need to make your writing better. I’ve have skipped this step, out of arrogance–thinking that I knew enough about reading, books, writing, etc. that there was nothing new to learn. Foolish, arrogant, younger me!
If you can’t hire and editor or find a critique partner, you need to find someone who will be able to put their personal feelings aside and review the book by itself apart from the emotional connection to you.
Not doing your research
I’m not talking about research for a writing project. Many writers love to research. I’m talking about proper research to query or sell you book. Finding the perfect agent who is going to love your book will increase your chance of that agent finding the perfect publisher who will also love your book.
Let me give you an example…
Let’s say you wrote a retelling of the musical CATS set in space. Wouldn’t you want to find the agent who loves science fiction, musical theater, and has three cats? That agent would also know which editor also loves science fiction, musicals, and cats and would make sure your book ends up on the desk of that editor. Do you see how much more likely your book will hit home with that agent then with the one who hates cats, musicals, and only has a few sci-fi titles they represent?
Yes, it takes time. (Are you noticing a theme?) But doing the proper research up front can save you pain and heartache later.
Comparing yourself to other writers
Comparison is truly the thief of joy, and in this social media age, we have limitless opportunity to compare ourselves to every writer out there.
There will always be writers better than you, who have written more books than you, or are getting bigger advances that you. (Talking to myself here!) And constantly comparing yourself to someone else will do nothing be suck all of the joy out of writing. Everyone’s writing journey is different and beautifully so! It’s a long game, going from one strength to the next. Put blinders on and focus on your writing and your career, don’t look at anyone else and what they’re doing.
Giving up too soon
William Feather said, “Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” The biggest mistakes new writers can make is giving up too soon. Something like getting published or writing a book does not happen quickly. It takes a long time. Years. Sometimes many, many years. If writing is something you want to pursue, than you need the persistence and patience to continue to hang on long after everyone else has let go.
Maybe now you’ll be able to avoid some of these common pitfalls, but there is no teacher quite like experience. So stop reading about writing and go write.