Albert Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” If you’re a new writer, you’ll inevitably make mistakes. We all make mistakes – especially when we’re embarking on a new path. Writing is no different.
Over the past thirty years, we’ve learned a lot about writing and publishing – both from a creative perspective and from a business one. Here are our unofficial observations about the most common mistakes new writers make.
- Self-publishing or shopping a first (or even second) draft. As a new writer, you might think that your writing is just fine the way you put it onto the page or computer screen. It isn’t. Believing in the infallibility of a first draft is the hallmark of an inexperienced writer. The more experienced you get, the better your writing gets. And the better your writing gets, the more you realize that the first draft (or even second) is not the draft you want ANYONE to read – not even your beta readers. Have a bit of respect for their time.
- Failing to take the time for writing practice – without publishing a single word of it. Just like figure skaters, pianists and dancers to name only a few, writers need lots of practice before any of their words should see the light of day. It’s a question of quality. Writers, both new and old, need to take time as often as possible to write, write, write. Writing guru Natalie Goldberg once wrote that you should give yourself permission to write any kind of crap you want. But this is for your eyes only. Just practice.
- Believing that basic building blocks of writing – grammar, spelling and syntax come immediately to mind – aren’t important. I’ve heard neophyte authors on online forums arrogantly suggest that readers don’t care about these things if the story is a good one. I beg to differ. Many readers care a lot and you should too. It is impossible to convey the right message/story if you and your readers are not using the language in the same way. Remember the book Eats Shoots and Leaves? If you don’t, you need to read it. Immediately. And if you don’t’ know what syntax is, stop writing immediately and don’t come back to it until you know.
- Failing to carefully copy-edit. New writers don’t seem to know the difference between a substantive edit (which gets you from draft one to two to three etc.) and a final copy-edit. Every book out there – even ones that are professionally copy-edited – can harbour typos and other errors that are missed at this stage in the publishing process. That doesn’t make it okay for you to publish a book that hasn’t been edited in this fine fashion.
- Failing to consider carefully the needs of specific publishers before sending out queries. Yes, we know that many new writers will eventually self-publish. There are, however, good reasons for seeking a traditional publishing contract. One of the major complaints editors have about new writers is they often fail to do their research before sending out queries. Sending a query for a sci-fi fantasy book to an agent, editor and/or publisher who specializes in literary fiction only serves to shine a light on your lack of attention to detail. And it will immediately land you in the rejection pile.
- Spending too much time consulting with other newbie writers online. Other aspiring writers who are in the same position as you are can only be useful for you if you’re looking for someone with whom to commiserate. If you’re looking for advice and critiques of your writing, step away from those writers’ groups and find a writing teacher or mentor who has the knowledge and expertise to help you.
Yes, we all need to make our own mistakes but let those mistakes be your own. You very well might make your writing life easier if you learn from the mistakes of others. Let’s give George Bernard Shaw the last word:
“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”