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How (not) to be a writer

We might not be able to tell you how to be a writer, but we sure can give you hints for what NOT to do

Audience: Writers

Last updated: 16 June 2021

No one can tell you exactly how to take those magical ideas in your mind and translate them into a bestseller. What we can do is share a few of the things you might be tempted to do which are, categorically, not a good idea. Read on and discover the most common mistakes aspiring writers trip themselves up with.

Allow the blank page to defeat you

A blank page is a scary beast, but it’s one everyone has the power to vanquish. When your fingers are hovering uncertainly above the keyboard, just remember this: poorly chosen words or clunky sentences give you a foundation to build on, a blank page… doesn’t.

Stop at the first draft

You managed to get words down on the page, hurrah! Don’t be tricked into thinking that’s all of the hard work out of the way. In fact, it’s where the real work starts. In the words of Hemingway, “The only kind of writing is rewriting”, and to get your prose or poem to the best place it can be, redrafting is essential.

Take part in Twitter spats

Many writers love to take a break in the social playground that is the Twittersphere. Sadly, arguments abound and it can be easy to get swept up into inflammatory spats. Play nice and remember your online presence is part of your professional persona.

Let rejections knock you off track

It’s ok to feel rubbish when a rejection comes through. No one likes bad news. The trick is to take a little bit of time to roll around in the unsavoury puddle of disappointment and then to shake it off like an intrepid hound ready to try for clearer water ahead.  

Ignore feedback outright

Sometimes a rejection might come with a few words of advice; treat these titbits as the valuable resource they are. You may not agree with the person who’s passing on their opinion, whether that be an agent, editor, beta reader, workshopper or friend, but be sure to give it careful consideration before deciding whether to ignore or implement any suggestions. A little bit of well-applied feedback can sometimes go a long way.

Tell agents/publishers how to do their job

You may think you’ve written the best book the world has ever seen and that any editor or agent who doesn’t recognise its brilliance is a darn fool. If so, please, pretty, pretty please, keep that opinion to yourself. They will judge your work on its own merits… unless it’s accompanied by an awful, bragging and bullying note. Check out our advice for writing a cover letter to get a good idea of what should be in there.

Argue with bad reviews

A bad review is a bitter pill to swallow, there’s no denying it. Unfortunately, spitting it back in the reviewer’s face is a very bad idea. Even if they have the names/details/plot completely wrong and have missed the point entirely, writing a rebuttal is only ever going to make you look churlish and a little bit desperate.

Give up when the going gets hard

It might feel as though you’re constantly reading about overnight successes and writers who dashed off a stellar manuscript in their spare time, but rest assured, that’s not the way it is for most people. A writing career typically takes a lot of hard work and is full of stumbling blocks, false starts and unexpected detours – so strap on some crampons and don’t admit defeat at the first slip up.