Thursday, September 5, 2013

The BIGGEST Writing Mistake(s)

You've probably heard people discuss "the biggest mistakes writers make," or even "THE biggest mistake (singular) writers make." Maybe you've heard some of the following named as that big/biggest mistake, and I think they do all vie for the position.
  • The biggest mistake writers make is not knowing what a story is. I run into a lot of beginning writers who think an incident is a story. Or that an idea is a story. Or that, even, the plot is the story, which sounds truer, but I would say this: the story is the character growth. It's how the MC changes as a person after she's taken her goal or desire, battled all the odds (gone through the plot), and arrived at win, lose, or draw. At any rate, a story is more than "This happened, then this, and then this; the end," even if the sequence of events is amusing or really happened.
  • The biggest mistake writers make is not realizing it's about the writing. As a teacher, I see good stories paired with so-so or outright weak writing WAY more often than I see wonderful writing and a weak story. In fact, I can't think of when I've run into the latter. I've found that top-notch writers will have a good story, too, maybe because their excellent writing helps make their story great. But merely having a good story predicts nothing about the level of writing.
  • The biggest mistake writers make is not persevering. On the surface, this one almost needs no commentary. Most beginners have no idea how much work and time they're signing on for, either to learn the craft or to get published, and they have to slog through both. Honestly, though, I think some should quit. There's no shame in giving it a try and deciding it's not for you. That's true in any pursuit; why not also in writing? Yes, writers make a "mistake" in quitting too soon when they otherwise might have made it, but I think most writers who remain writers and really are writers simply cannot quit. In a sense, they cannot but persevere, so I look slightly askance at this "biggest mistake" claim.
  • The biggest mistake writers make is not writing. No doubt: this is a biggie. Writing requires, wait for it...actual writing. If everything else in your life comes first, and you want to make significant progress as a writer, you need to switch things up and give writing a high priority in your life. My opinion is that it needs to be no lower than 4th, assuming the first three are God, family, and day job. I've said this elsewhere, but "God" is not equivalent to "church work." "Family" is not equivalent to "satisfying their every whim." And this does mean housecleaning and all that other good stuff rank from fifth place on down.
  • This one might be my favorite, and it partly stems from the one just above: The biggest mistake writers make is to consider writing "something I do for me" instead of "career development like any other." Yes, I believe the biggest mistake is a wrong mindset. If you want to write and publish as a career, you can't think like a hobbyist. Agents and publishers don't take on hobbyists. You have to be as serious about your writing as your next-door neighbor is about getting her nursing degree. The Bible says that as we think, so are we. So I want to think right.
What do you think about these? What mistake(s) do you think are a writer's biggest?

16 comments:

Faith E. Hough said...

Great list, Marcia. I love your distinction between God and church work, family and house work. To me, writing is a gift that God gave me, and I think neglecting it is turning my back on His will. Also, I want my children to see me being creative and working at writing; those impressions will last a lot longer than a day of un-vacuumed floors. But you're also right that not everyone is meant to be a writer, so maybe that priority list wouldn't make sense to them. (I meet a lot of, "Oh, I'm going to write a book someday" kind of people who have ideas (not stories) and think that once they have a magical period of free time in their lives they'll just write them down and have them instantly published. All you can do is smile and nod...

Leandra Wallace said...

So true about needing to be serious about it if you ever want to be published one day. My computer was broken for about two weeks, and while I was waiting for it to get fixed, I'd seriously felt like I'd quit a second job- writing. I hadn't realized until I couldn't do it anymore that once the kidlet was in bed, I concentrated on writing until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer.

Mirka Breen said...

Amen to all of these, and Mea Culpa at one time or another to most.
I like your first on the list, because you don't often see this expounded upon.

Vijaya said...

Wow, Marcia, this is a post that should go up on every writer board. Seriously.

I've made every single of these mistakes ... but I think I'm finally get it right :) God, family, writing, learning the craft, putting in the time and effort ... thank God for my husband who brings in the bacon (and knows how to fix it too).

I'll have to say that one should know why you write or know their goals. Many people want to write for publication. Some only want to write for their family. Still others just dabble. The effort one puts in must coincide with the goal/dream. I mean if I never practice playing the piano, I can't say with any credibility that I want to play at Carnegie Hall.

Great post!

Medeia Sharif said...

These are good ones. I've seen all of these with myself and other writers. Let's persevere, write consistently, and learn more of the craft.

Amy Houts said...

Glad I heard about this Marcia so I could read it, too!
~ Amy

Marcia said...

Faith -- Yes, I think our children need to see this! To some, writing is just a momentary idea, and that's okay. Everybody has those. But we still go through the smiling and nodding.

Leandra -- Two weeks! We can hardly live that long anymore without a computer. You must have felt so appreciative to get it back.

Mirka -- Oh, yeah, Mea Culpa indeed. :X

Vijaya -- Do you remember that perfume (I think it was) commercial about the woman bringing home the bacon AND frying it up in the pan? I'm dating myself badly here. And I think you're absolutely right about people figuring out what THEIR writing goals are. Nothing wrong with dabbling if that's what you want to do!

Medeia -- One of my favorite things about writing is that you never learn it all, and there's always something new.

Marcia said...

Amy! Hi! I see we posted at the exact same minute. Thank you!

Bish Denham said...

I know I'm guilty of the last one... but that's changing.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Love the list, Marcia. Writing is definitely in my top three - and I have no problem keeping housework down at fifth place - or lower ;)

Marcia said...

Bish -- As long as we keep moving in the right direction, that's the main thing.

Ruth -- Even though I like order, I can still maintain "enough" of it this way. I'm with you.

Kelly Hashway said...

This is a great list. Writing is a profession. If people don't treat it that way, they won't succeed. It's tough. You have so many things to think about in order to craft a good story (many of which you mentioned in this list). So maybe I'll add one more to your list. The biggest mistake a writer can make is thinking this job is easy!

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Wonderful list, Marcia. I know so many people who when they find out I'm an author say, "Oh, I always thought I'd write a book one day."

I'm tempted to shake their shoulders and say "Well, do it!"

Marcia said...

Kelly -- That's a great addition to the list!

Jaye -- I guess we all get that. It's a symptom of Kelly's point: they think it's easy. Or maybe it's that "writing a book" is one common form that people's nebulous dreams take. They dream of something; they're not sure what; maybe it's writing a book.

Janet said...

These are all very good points. I am learning and working on becoming a better writer. Like you, I have seen good books, but the writing wasn't what it should be. Some say rules are made to be broken, but some writers tend to break all the rules.I think another mistake people make is not having their story seen and critiqued by others before getting it published.

Marcia said...

Janet -- My beta readers have been very important, but I remember when all the wisdom in The Writer and WD said, "NOBODY ever sees my unpublished work." People really did write in much more of a vacuum in times past. I guess that's why they all gathered in Paris or NY. :)