We all start out as newbies, and even those of us with a bit more experience still make mistakes. For the most part, it’s how we figure out the best way for us to work.
To give you a helping hand, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common mistakes I see newbie writers making. If you’re guilty of a few of these, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. The aim of this list is to help you identify some things that may be holding you back.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it!
1. Thinking your first draft needs to be perfect
There’s a breed of writer that stresses about wanting their first draft to be perfect. But all a first draft needs to do is exist. It can be wonky, patchy and poorly written but as long as it exists you’re doing it right.
As author Jodi Picoult says, ‘You can edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’ So stop worrying about your first draft coming out weak and nothing like what you hoped for. That’s how it’s supposed to be. You’re laying the groundwork, setting the foundations.
The first draft is what we build on, never the finished project. And on that note…
2. Thinking your first draft is perfect
If there’s a breed of writer that stresses about their first draft needing to be perfect, you can be darn sure that there’s also a breed that thinks their first draft is perfect. Oh, to have such confidence, eh?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe that it’s possible to write a very good first draft. Like, a near-perfect one. I would guess that writers who outline heavily at the start can achieve this more than those of us pantsers who let the story figure itself out as we write.
That said, I don’t believe a draft can come out ‘perfect’ first time around. In 80,000+ words, the chances of tying up every subplot neatly, or not having made a typo or missed an apostrophe are incredibly slim.
The second draft revisions may not need to be extensive – it might just be a proofreading round – but it does need to happen.
3. Forcing a process
Maybe you’re a pantser and you dive into the story without much of a plan. Maybe you’re a plotter, outlining every detail before you begin writing. Whichever one you are, know this: neither one is better than the other.
When you’re starting out as a writer and you talk to other writers about their process and they tell you X way is superior for Y reason, it can be easy to believe them. It can be easy to think that outlining is the only right way to start a novel because… well it does make sense, right?
But that method doesn’t work for everyone and sometimes outlining can be stifling to creativity. Personally, I never outline my stories because it just isn’t how my brain is wired. I greatly admire writers who plan everything, but it isn’t my style. And that’s okay.
Find what process works for you. Ignore anyone who tells you that their way is the right way – it’s only the right way for them. Try a bit of everything and follow whatever path helps you get the story written.
4. Getting lost in writing advice
One of the things I love most about the Writing Community on Twitter is the support and advice from other writers. There really is no match for it and I’ve learned so much from those wonderful people.
But writing advice can be subjective and following it to the letter is sometimes worse than ignoring it completely. I’ve written a whole blog post on finding value in writing advice, touching on the most common nuggets of wisdom you’re likely to hear and determining whether they hold much credence.
Some advice is good, some is bad. All of it should be taken with a pinch of salt.
5. Writing for the market
Vampires had their time. So did the YA dystopias. The Fae hung about for a while, too. Crazes sweep through the publishing market all the time, so it makes sense to chase them, right? Not necessarily.
If you weren’t already aware of this, traditional publishing moves slow. Like, glaciers whiz past it kind of slow. Okay, maybe not quite that slow, but we are talking years here, not months.
Once you’ve finished your book, your next step is usually to find an agent or an indie press – that process alone can take a year or more. Next, your agent might want to do edits, which is another few months. Then they pitch your book to editors and publishing houses – this can last months or another year. If your book finally lands with a publishing house, there are more edits, cover design, ARC copies, proofreading etc.
What I’m saying is, the time between finishing your book and getting it in bookshops can be two to three years. So the trend that was popular while you were writing is likely to be long out of favour by the time your book is published.
So don’t try to write for the market. Instead, write the story you want to tell, whether it’s popular now or not.
6. Setting unrealistic goals
It took me five years to write and edit my last novel. I know some writers who can finish a book in a month. Others get the first draft written during NaNoWriMo and then spend the next three or four months on various re-writes and edits.
The point is, if you were to ask me how long it takes to write a novel I would ask you how long is a piece of string? A novel takes as long as it takes to write, whether it’s weeks, months or years.
One of the mistakes that some newbie writers make is setting themselves unrealistic goals. Perhaps you want to finish your first book in two months – that’s a great goal! But if you have a full-time job or dependents, say, then that two months shrinks down very quickly.
Deadlines can be a great motivator, but if you set yourself an unrealistic one, you’re making an already difficult task – writing a whole novel! – even more challenging.
Learning by doing
How many of the above have you fallen foul of? I can definitely tick three or four off this list. But making mistakes isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s almost a rite of passage to experience some of them; it’s how you find your feet going forward.
For the most part, starting out as a writer is all about figuring out the right way of working for you, so never be afraid of getting it wrong once or twice. After all, it’s the best way to learn.