If you have been writing professionally for a while now, or at least attempting to, you’ve probably learned some writing lessons the hard way. Once you’ve seen your work marked up or rejected enough, the key dos and don’ts of writing become abundantly clear. But for those writers hoping to get started in the literary world, these errors may not seem so obvious.
Of course, for every writer there is always learning to be done and a little dose of cautious realism can be helpful for all of us.
So before you compile your next manuscript and send it off with hopes of publication, take a moment to ask yourself if you have committed any of these seven cardinal sins.
Hubris has been the downfall of people with the potential for greatness for years. From ancient Greek tragic figures, like King Midas, to modern leaders like General Custer and Adolf Hitler, this overconfidence has proven deadly time and again. In terms of writing, this blinding inability to realistically view your own strengths can cause you to stubbornly ignore any helpful advice or fail to follow the correct and appropriate pathways to reaching your audience. Shoot for the stars, sure, but also be respectful of the dues you must pay to get there and the people who can help you.
If you’re in it for the money you’re doing yourself a disservice. While we are all for believing in yourself and being optimistic, quitting your day job and assuming that your first novel is going to be that big break that gets you in the Oprah Book Club is a dangerous bet to make. Keep writing until you have something that you’re proud of, whether it succeeds financially or not, and you will find greater fulfillment than the “bestseller or bust” mentality brings.
Lust is all about surrendering to your basest desires and it’s easy to see how this could get your writing career off track. If you become too desirous of any one thing – another person, a personal achievement or anything that takes you away from writing – you are apt to lose the focus and discipline needed to turn your passion into a full-time job.
It’s hard not to compare yourself to other people in your profession. And being inspired by fellow writers can be a good thing! But when you begin wanting to take on the career of someone else, feeling that you are far more entitled to their fame, good reviews or wealth, an unhealthy level of jealousy can set in. If you become focused on tearing down other authors’ work, your own work will not be viewed with integrity and you may find yourself more of a feature in gossip columns or “where are they now” lists (think Bret Easton Ellis vs. the late David Foster Wallace).
Overwriting is something we have all been guilty of (okay, maybe not Ernest Hemingway). You can get so sucked in by an especially delicious turn of phrase or an interesting new word that you simply force it into your writing, without any thought of context. In the past we’ve warned against overusing adverbs and exclamation marks, but there is more to overindulgent writing than just unnecessary words and punctuation. Overwriting can not only bore or annoy a reader, but it also conveys that you aren’t confident in your own story.
Getting published and promoted is all about building connections. If you fly off the handle at every note of constructive criticism, you will find that fewer and fewer people or publishing houses are willing to work with you. Do not burn your bridges if you wish to make it in this business. Controlling your anger doesn’t mean ignoring it either – take that fiery passion and channel it into your writing instead!
Pretty self-explanatory. If you procrastinate for too long, you will never get anything written. While taking time to breathe and relax is important, if you give in to your laziest tendencies you will find yourself a “wannabe” writer instead of an actual author. Set a writing schedule that works for you and stick to it.
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