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  • Writer's pictureSusan Koehler

Five Ways to Fail as a Writer

You have a gift. You have ideas. You have the passion to form words into images, concepts, and aha moments for adoring readers. You can do this! Or, you can ruin it. So, here you go. If you want to fail as a writer...

1. Don’t write unless you feel like writing.

Many people enjoy the idea of writing, but actual writing takes discipline, and discipline is not always fun. If you really want to write, commit yourself to writing every day. Some authors commit to a daily time period each day and hold that time sacred. It’s just like going to a job for a designated time each day. Other authors grant themselves more flexibility with time, usually out of necessity, and aim for a certain number of words or pages per day. Some days your writing sessions will accomplish great progress and feats of literary genius; other days may feel you have wasted your time. However, time writing is never time wasted. Even if you scrap most of a day’s work, you have raw material that either prompts great revision or informs your writing in some other important way. Time spent practicing your craft is never time wasted. If you really want to be a writer, you need to write every day.

2. Keep starting new pieces.

The free flow of ideas is exciting. Keep a notebook. Jot down words, phrases, concepts, character sketches, and sparks of ideas when you get them. Catch them. Don’t let them escape. However, if you start a new piece every time a new idea strikes you, you’ll never finish anything. Commit to one piece and finish it. Go back and revise it. Make it great. That takes time, so as you work on it you will certainly encounter new ideas and inspirations, and some of those will have great possibility. You don’t want to let them escape. Keep files for new pieces. Collect those ideas. But don’t let every new spark lead you down a new path. Work on one piece at a time, even though you might have several ideas simmering on a back burner. After completing a piece, you probably need to let it rest for a while. You can begin to work on something new during that rest period. Then, go back and reread the finished piece with fresh eyes. If you really want to be a writer, you need to finish something.

3. Refuse to revise.

Great works of art are rarely (likely never) first drafts. Once you spill the words onto the page, the real work begins. Go back to the beginning and read it out loud to yourself. Listen to the rhythm of your language. Do some words stand out in an uncomfortable way? Pay attention to words that are overused. Avoid repeating words unless you choose to do so because it serves your purpose as an author. Are some words adequate but not ideal? Strive for precise word choice and don’t settle for less. Check your verbs. Make sure they are strong and specific. Visualize the images you’ve built. Are there enough descriptive details? Your reader cannot visualize unless you give them the tools to do so. Do some phrases seem awkward or wordy? Condense your language and say as much as possible in as few words as necessary. After you’ve revised, share your piece with a trusted reader or critique group. Listen to feedback with an open mind. Return to your piece with fresh eyes and a new perspective. If you really want to be a writer, you need to revise...and then revise some more...and then revise some more...

4. Disregard mechanics

Mechanics are often referred to as a “courtesy” to the reader because without them, readers are confused and the author’s meaning is unclear. Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage are not glamorous, but they are necessary. During your revision process, you will certainly catch many errors and fix them. However, once all revision is complete, go back and carefully reread the piece once more – out loud. Pay careful attention to every word and punctuation mark. If you rush, your brain will fill in mistakes and your eyes will fail to see them. After editing to the best of your ability, consult a trusted second reader. Flawless mechanics are not lauded or rewarded. However, even one careless error can take center stage and rob your piece of its grand creative delight. It stands out like a sore thumb and undermines your credibility as a writer. If you really want to be a writer, you must make sure your work is free from errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage.

5. Don’t read.

I’ve saved perhaps the most important piece of advice for last. Reading and writing are inverse processes. They are opposite ends of the same spectrum. When you read, you are creating meaning from text; when you write, you are creating text that imparts meaning. Reading allows you to drink in the word choice, literary devices, rhythm, and style of other authors. Reading gives you an intuitive sense of character development and plot progression. Reading teaches you the beautiful neatness of beginnings and endings. The passion you enjoy as a reader is something you will learn to create for others. You understand greatness through experience. Writers are readers. If you really want to be a writer, you need to read.

There you have it: five ways to fail as a writer. Of course, if you are serious about writing, be sure to avoid these pitfalls. You have a gift. You have ideas. Commit to doing the work, and you will succeed as a writer.

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