Wanting to be a published writer is one of the most difficult goals you can set yourself. Writing is a solitary pastime. It is probably not the correct career choice for people who need a lot of stimulation or those who have a short attention span. It takes years of practice and lots of heartache before you get anywhere.
After teaching people to write for many years, I have noticed that sometimes there are things writers should not be doing that are as important as those they should be doing.
- Stop pretending that everything is under control. It’s okay to realise that you need some help. Maybe you need to create a timetable that allows you to write. Maybe you need to put your needs above others. Maybe you need to get some help – look at online blogs or join a writing group. Go on a course. The sooner you admit you need help, the sooner you will succeed as a writer.
- Stop wasting time. Stop thinking about writing and write. Stop dreaming about book deals and learn the craft. Confront your issues and get on with it, but remember that getting what you want often involves risk and sacrifice. Are you ready for this? ‘You can’t sit around thinking. You have to sit around working,’ says David Long. Nobody ever feels 100% ready because adventures- even adventures in writing- force us beyond our comfort zones.
Stop being afraid. Aspiring writers are experts at being afraid. Are you afraid of failure or success? You’ll never know if you don’t finish a book. Try not to compare yourself to other writers and bloggers who seem to have everything together. Remember that they began somewhere. The only difference between them and you is that they actually started. They experienced many failures before they achieved success. They spent thousands of hours writing their fears into silence. They were prepared to make mistakes. Are you? Remember that our writing lives will improve only when we take chances. The world often does not reward perfection; it rewards people who simply get things done.
- Stop blaming publishers for your failures. Many writers moan about the state of publishing or readers who no longer appreciate good writing or how the Internet has ‘dumbed down’ the profession. This is ridiculous. There have always been changes and there have always been different challenges for writers of every generation. Take responsibility for your writing career. Find ways to succeed. You could learn about online publishing, start a blog, try writing in a different genre, get involved with social media, and learn how to get your books out there.
- Stop thinking about what you don’t want. Try to focus on what you do want. Positive thinking works because it makes you feel better about what you’re doing. Your enthusiasm and energy will translate itself into your writing and your writing goals. When you plan to achieve something worthwhile, you cannot take the easy way out. You have to become the person you need to be to write the books you want to write. If you want to be special, do something extraordinary.
- Stop spending time with the wrong people. If you want to be a writer, you will have to give up relationships, friendships and habits that are preventing you from achieving your goals. Many people, including friends and family, will not want you to succeed because people don’t like change. Becoming a published writer will change the way others perceive you and they may feel threatened by that shift in power. Many people will be jealous because almost everyone you meet wants to write a book – and you will have succeeded. As Julian Barnes says, ‘The best life for a writer is the life which helps him write the best books he can.’ Don’t lower your standards or forget your dreams in order to accommodate those who have neither.
Stop wasting time thinking about mistakes you’ve made. Do not obsess about that book you should not have self-published before it was ready. Try not to think about how other authors have written exactly the same book you were going to write – if only you’d had the time. Do not regret the course you didn’t take, the degree you didn’t pursue, the job offer that would have helped your writing career. The past is just that. It’s time to move on. Make a list of all the things you can do in the future.
- Stop looking for quick answers. You can’t buy writing experience. You have to do the time. 10 000 hours is a good goal to set for yourself for anything including writing. David Eddings says, ‘My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words–the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.’
- Stop repeating mistakes. Maybe the 52 publishers and 76 literary agents have a point when they have rejected your manuscript for the sixth time – especially if they are offering the same advice. Maybe you do need to improve your skills and techniques. Maybe you need to harness your ego and start learning. Sometimes you need time to grow as a person and distance yourself from events before you can write about them. Why not journal every day while you take a writing course or travel?
- Stop. Look around you. Enjoy the small things. Take time to do things that make you happy. Even writers need a break.
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