The difference between successful people and others?  Successful people try.  They fail.  And try again.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  

As a writer, mistakes are an inherent part of the process.  First drafts are called first drafts for a reason.  The image of a writer at his typewriter with more crumpled pages around the trashcan than finished ones is a cliché for a reason.  Writing is a series of trials and errors.  Try this word, this sentence structure, this character, this plot point, try again.  

That’s why revision is such a huge part of the writing process. As writers we have to embrace mistakes, embrace rejection, and just keep trying.  That’s the only sure way to success.  

Here are some mistakes I’ve made:

1       Querying too soon:  I was so excited to have a completed manuscript. After years of talking about it, I finished a book!  I loved it.  Someone else would too, right?  Um, no.  The book had bright spots, but no cohesive plot.  I went through major revisions during the submission process, both before and after landing an agent.  A good concept can get you manuscript requests, but the book needs to be well crafted enough to keep an agent reading.  I was lucky to get some feedback from a few agents who read the manuscript.  One agent worked on a revision with me, and my current agent signed me and then worked on another substantial revision.  That professional feedback helped make my manuscript stronger, and taught me a lot about craft and story.  While I still have a tendency to send things out too soon, at least now I know that big changes are ahead.

2       Spending too much time on publication, not enough on writing:  Once I decided I to write a novel, I spent a lot of time researching how to get it published.  I read craft books, blogs, forums and websites, spent hours on social media following agents and editors, researched response times and query guidelines.  While I do think it is important to do all those things, there came a point where the pursuit of publication began to overshadow the writing itself.  The best time spent is time spent on the manuscript itself.

     Pantsing my way through a novel:  I’m not talking about having a vague idea of the central conflict and story and writing without a net.  I’m talking about writing a book with no idea what happens next (see lack of cohesive plot, above).  One of the reasons that it took so long for me to complete my first manuscript was because I would sit down at the computer without a plan. I never knew what came next until I wrote it.  While this kind of writing can lead to wonderful surprises, it also leads to a lack of plot trajectory, tangents.  No wonder I needed to rewrite large portions.  Now, even if I don’t use an outline, I plan basic plot points I need to hit along the way, and have an idea of what the story is about and where it is headed before I sit down to write.  When I open my computer to write, I have a scene in mind to work on.  I’m still surprised by my characters, and new scenes will often appear as I’m writing, but I find I can use a lot more of them, when I already know where the story is headed.

4       Not finding a writing community sooner.  Finding writing friends changed my life.  It is so amazing to talk to people who understand what you are trying to do, support you and can share their own experiences.  The writing itself is so solitary, it makes all the difference to have someone to share it with.

5       Chasing trends:  In our quest to write the next bestseller, it’s not uncommon to look at what else is selling or to try to anticipate what will sell.  Sometimes, writing in a popular genre can get you read or published sooner, but chances are, if you have already spotted a trend, you’re too late.  At a minimum, you will be entering a crowded market where it will be difficult to stand out from the other vampire/werewolf/dystopian/pirate/talking dog books.  One big book or series can spawn a host of similar books, but none will come close to the success of the first break out book, and most will get lost in the sea of similar books.  Write about what’s important to you.  I think that it’s important to think about the market and strive to write high concept fiction.  But in the future, I want to set trends, not follow them.

6       Believing the press:  some people will love your work, others, not so much.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and all of those opinions are valid.  But writers crave validation.  I know I wanted everyone to love my characters and story as much as I did.  Logically, I know it’s not possible.  Still, at first it was hard for me to separate criticism of the work from criticism of me. Just because someone doesn’t like your work, doesn’t mean that the work isn’t good.  Conversely, just because someone loves it, doesn’t make it good.  Was the book as good as I could make it at the time?  Did I love it?  If the answer to both questions is yes, than I’ve accomplished what I set out to, and there is nothing to do but let the book go and move on to the next one. 

I’m sure there will be many more mistakes in my future.  I’ll do my best to learn from them.  Mistakes happen, but they’re just rites of passage on the road to success.



Thanks! Can't tell you how helpful this article is for someone attempting to publish. I expect to make many many mistakes but am determined to keep on plugging!


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