the top ten mistakes of newbie writers

Writing is awesome. For some, the act of writing itself is it’s own reward. But for many, the writing becomes more than a hobby, and being published becomes the goal. The transition from a hobby to a career is not always easy, and newbie writers as a group tend to make the same mistakes. Therefore, I present to you the Critical Awesomeness Top Ten Mistakes of Newbie Writers (CATTMONW):

10. Pretentious words. Some people think it’s necessary to use obscure or overly technical words in their work in order to be “literary” or “sophisticated”. This doesn’t work if it leaves the reader confused about what you’re trying to say. Also, you must know the correct definition of every word you use. For example, I just learned that if you’re “rifling” through someone’s belongings, it means searching with intent to steal, not just “sifting” or “browsing”.

9. Reliance on comparison or clichés (rather than good description). Having characters shooting each other icy glares or running like the wind all the time may get your point across, but it doesn’t make for compelling reading. Come up with your own descriptions rather than relying so heavily on overused metaphors or phrases other writers have created.

8. Not giving up on your first book. It’s normal to have strong feelings for your first book. After all, you put a lot of time, effort, and passion into it. But sometimes, your first book is just a “practice” book. For a variety of reasons, it just might not be right. And that’s ok. The worst thing you can do is waste more time on it when you can be writing another, better book. Plus, you can always come back and rewrite it, or use elements that did work in future books.

7. Self-publishing when it’s not appropriate. Some rush to self-publish because they don’t have the patience for the traditional process of querying agents and revising for publishers. First, they might miss out on the potential for success in the traditional market offers. Second, by self-publishing an unfinished product, they will ruin their reputation in the Indie market and lose their readers. Self-publishing isn’t a fast and easy way to success. All books must go through the process of alpha/beta readers and multiple revisions. But for self-published books that won’t be edited by the publisher, a professional editing is almost always a must. And that cost, combined with the other costs of self-publishing, may be more than one expected. There’s always a trade-off.

6. Querying a book when it’s not ready. Likewise, the fact that you’ve written “The End” on the last page of your manuscript does not mean it’s ready to be submitted to agents. Regardless of how you choose to put your work out there, you should revise based on comments from alpha and beta readers. I wouldn’t say that all books should be professionally edited before they’re sent to agents. But if the feedback you receive is mainly about the grammar and style (regardless of the story), you might want to consider hiring an editor. Once your book has been turned down, you’ll have a hard time re-querying that book even if it’s been revised to perfection.

5. Responding poorly to feedback. Everyone who gives you feedback is doing you a favor, and you should thank them accordingly. Even people who hated your book and are flat-out wrong. They’re still providing insight into how a potential reader will regard your work. Friends and family don’t always make good alpha and beta readers because they’re not always objective and reluctant to give any criticism for fear of hurting your feelings. As a newbie writer, negative feedback is what you need most, because it tells you what you need to do to improve. All writers need a critique group or writing partners. And don’t worry about people stealing your idea.

4. POV problems. Many newbie writers are so in love with their characters that they want to tell the story from everyone’s point of view. Although they might think they’re doing multiple POV, what they’re doing is commonly known as head-hopping. And that can be jarring to the readers. Likewise, switching from first-person POV to third-person can take the reader right out of the story and should be avoided, unless it can be done expertly. And if you could do it expertly, you wouldn’t be a newbie writer, would you?

3. Too much focus on “building social platforms”. When you finish a book, it’s tempting to think the hard work is done, and it’s time to start promoting. In fact, it’s actually time to start the next book. If you want to be a writer, you should focus the majority of your time on writing. That’s how you’ll improve. Your social network should take up a tiny fraction of your time. And only done when it’s warranted. Building platforms and creating market presence are fine—but only when you have a finished product.

2. Following the market trend instead of writing what needs to be written. Too many writers are writing the wrong books for the wrong reasons. These days, everyone wants to write the next Twilight. Well, that’s been done, and it’s called The Hunger Games, apparently. YA books (especially paranormal) are flooding the market, and some agencies are refusing to represent them. Don’t force yourself to write something just because you think that’s what will sell. Write the story that’s in your head. And if it doesn’t sell, write another one. The literary market fluctuates, and someday your book may be the “hottest” thing.

1. Relying solely on other newbie writers for advice. If you want to be a professional at anything, you shouldn’t spend all your time looking at what other amateurs are doing. Good advice is good advice, regardless of the source, and you can learn a lot from people who are in the same field. But in the end, it’s the successful people you want to emulate. I came up with this list based on conversations I’ve had with professional writers and editors, but at the end of the day, I’m just another newbie writer myself. Still, I hope that this has been useful and instructive. Now that you’ve read it, I hope you’ll seek out professionals with far more experience than I have and learn what you can from them.

But most importantly, go and write!

writer’s anxiety

I’ve never had writer’s block. I’ve never sat in front of my computer and not known what to write. But I do experience writer’s anxiety.

Writer’s anxiety is where I get so nervous about writing something, so worried that I won’t be able to write well enough or say what I want to say in a clear and interesting way that I don’t even get started in the first place. Instead of staring at a blank document and not knowing what to write, I don’t even open the document. I procrastinate. I read books, chat with other writers on twitter, or read other people’s blogs, but I don’t do any writing of my own.

And how can I call myself a writer if I don’t even attempt to write?

I’d gotten to a point where I was quite good at making excuses for myself. I didn’t have enough time. I wasn’t in the right mood. I had more important things to do. Finally, whole months were going by where I hadn’t done any writing at all. And yet, I still wanted to write. I still had stories and ideas and misadventures that I wanted to share with other people. I just wasn’t doing it.

Fortunately, I have a girlfriend who is patient, kind, understanding…..and a professional editor. And yes, I do realize how lucky I am as a writer to be dating an editor, but it doesn’t do much good if I’m not actually doing any writing.

Finally, she suggested I try the 30-minute writing exercise. The 30-minute writing exercise is exactly what it sounds like: block off 30 minutes of time, cancel out all distractions, and just write for half an hour. Don’t overthink. Don’t try to edit as you go. Just write. Let your thoughts flow through your fingers and onto the page in front of you.

Initially, I was reluctant. It usually takes me a couple of hours to write a blog post, and I was so convinced I had to be in the right mood to be “creative” and “funny”, I didn’t think I could do it. Well, I knew I could sit there and write, but I didn’t think I could write anything that other people would want to read under those conditions.

But that’s not the point. You don’t have to get it right on the first try. The key thing is that you actually do it, instead of just sitting there thinking about it. And after the 30 minutes are up, you stop and let it sit. Take a break, then come back to revise it or edit it. And generally, even if you didn’t plan it that way, you will end up with themes, ideas, or events. Sentences will naturally group themselves into paragraphs, and you’ll be able to come up with a strong opening paragraph and a solid, definitive conclusion.

I’m actually doing the 30-minute writing exercise right now. This is the second time I’ve tried it (the first was for this post), and I’m liking the results. For one thing, I’m actually writing again, but I’m also writing more efficiently. I can get more done, and in less time.

Giving me more time to spend with my girlfriend. Which I think was her plan all along.