15 Things We Should Stop Doing as Writers

Here are 15 things I believe we should stop doing as writers, especially if we want to reach our true creative potential and enjoy what we do. I confess I’ve done them all and there are still times when I have to remind myself not to fall back into the bad, old ways…

1. Doubting Ourselves –some doubt can be good, the kind of doubt that asks is this chapter working, can I improve it, does the writing flow, will my character come alive for the reader etc. etc.? This kind of doubt helps us to become better writers.
The doubt I’m referring to is that crippling, ‘I’m no good,’ ‘this is hopeless,’ kind of doubt, the kind that stops us writing in the first place. I think most of us experience doubt like this from time to time and it’s tricky to deal with but when I experience it I ask myself what’s the bottom line? Am I prepared to give up this thing I love called writing? The answer always comes back no and so there is nothing for it but to carry on. The only way I know to banish this doubt is to write on and to cultivate self- belief.

If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced. – Vincent van Gogh

2. Comparing ourselves to fellow writers – it’s easy to look at other writers, especially if they are gaining recognition or success, and compare ourselves to them. Envy creeps in, we’re bound to feel it, we end up either trying to find fault with their writing or finding fault with ourselves. Either way this is no good for our writing. When I feel like this I try to accept and acknowledge my feelings, after all it’s pointless denying them, and then I find something really good, something genuine, to say about my fellow writer. And then I write on. Comparisons are odious, no two writers are alike we each have our own unique voice.

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Cafe Plaza Agde – my notebook and pen.

 

3. Worrying about the market – you can worry and think all day about what’s selling right now, about what agents and editors are looking for, about what will be the next big trend but this won’t improve your writing. My experience of trying to write for agents and changing things for potential publishers (different if you actually have a publisher) led me nowhere other than away from what I loved doing into a world of angst and second guessing and ultimately rejection. So I say write what you love, because at least that way you are true to yourself and you have pleasure and satisfaction in what you do.

4. Putting all our eggs in one basket – pinning all our hopes on one poem, one story, one novel is like loading an only child with expectation that may be impossible to live up to. Fine to re-enter what we think is a good story for any number of competitions over time but in the meantime we must keep writing. It is only through writing that we become better writers and with something new on the go it’s easier to forget about not winning the competition or not securing an agent. Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. ‘Good for you,’ he said without looking up. ‘Start the next one today.’ ― Steven Pressfield

5. Complaining –we all like to complain sometimes about how difficult the world of publishing is. But it’s a mistake to get mired in this world of complaining. Complaining breeds negativity, wallowing in negativity is not in the least creative and will do nothing for our writing. In fact it may make us stop altogether. One of things I did when I was unable to get my second novel The Orchid House published was publish it myself. We have that opportunity now, we are no longer totally at the mercy of the publishing house. We can be positive and pro-active.

6. Allow people to cut into our precious writing time – too many people do not see a writer writing as work. They think we have lots of free time to do many other things: the chores, the things on their agenda, social events etc – but we are working and we need to say so. In the past I’ve told white lies and invented deadlines that didn’t exist but now when I find my time being eroded in this way I take my diary, pencil in writing days and say quite clearly –I’m afraid I can’t I’m working that day, that week. End of story.

7. Drinking too much tea and coffee, especially when we’re at the computer is not good for us, we should be drinking water instead – seriously it helps a lot to have a big glass of water to hand and to replenish it frequently. Your brain needs water – ‘Lack of water to the brain can cause numerous symptoms including problems with focus, memory, brain fatigue and brain fog, as well as headaches, sleep issues, anger, depression, and many more.’ Merlin Hearn. If you don’t believe me read more HERE

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The cafe Commerce in Agde – a great place for writing

8. Excusing ourselves from reading – I often hear writers say they’re too busy writing to read. But reading is fuel to our fiction and we must read and we should read contemporary fiction at least some of the time else we risk becoming too isolated and out of touch, out of fuel and too absorbed in our own writing world. ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’― Stephen King

9. Wasting time on social media when we should be writing – I’ve done it, we’ve all done it, spent precious time trawling through Twitter or Facebook, Pinterest etc. instead of getting down to work. One writer I know resolves this problem by writing in a room on a machine with no internet connection. Going out of the house can help with this but in these days of free Wifi it’s only a partial solution, rationing is another. There are no easy solutions but I like to remind myself that an hour of writing makes me feel so much better than an hour on Twitter.

10. Holding on to our fears – as writers we often hold back on what we put on the page. It’s important to think about what we would write if we thought no one was going to read it or no one was going to criticise it – it’s here that the greatest originality and truth of our writing lies. So I say feel the fear and write it anyway. There is nothing that we cannot do as writers. I am currently writing about Arkansas in 1930 in the voice a woman I could never have met. Several years ago I would not have contemplated this. I still think it’s risky but I know it’s time to stop dwelling in the comfort zone.

11. Physically torturing ourselves at the computer – writing can be tough on the hands, back, neck, eyes etc. Long periods at the computer are not always good for our health. We need to take frequent breaks, use ergonomic keyboards, lumber rolls and everything that’s out there to prevent us seizing up. For help and advice on this take a look here.

12. Giving up – all the best writers suffer rejection, for some the rejections run into double figures but nonetheless they persist. So while we are busy writing the next thing, we should still persist in our attempts to find an agent, or a home for our latest story, a publisher for our novel. Take Eimear Mc Bride: McBride wrote A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing in just six months, but it took nine years to get it published. Galley Beggar Press of Norwich, finally picked it up in 2013. In 2014 it won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I need to remind myself of this more – I know sometimes I give up too easily. I guess that’s fear of rejection but rejection comes with the writing territory and we need to thicken our skins and start believing I ourselves. For some of us ignoring our fear of rejection is the very first step to writing the very first page.

One particular road to self-belief and finding the courage to become vulnerable and daring in our lives can be found here with Brene Brown

 

13. Working in isolation – writing is a solitary activity but there are great benefits from going out into the world and working with others. If we only spend time in our ivory towers we fall out of touch with people, with life and the world we are writing about. Out there in the world so many ideas lie in waiting, so many other creative people exist, whose ideas can enrich and inspire ours. Taking a poetry workshop with established poets – well outside my comfort zone – led me to a new place in my writing and directly to the success of my story Millie and Bird, inspired in turn by a painting. I’m currently looking forward to running a series of workshops with war veterans – I will meet new people and I know it will influence my writing.

14. Feeling failures, thinking we’re imposters – just because we are not on a longlist, shortlist or any other kind of list, bestseller or otherwise we should not judge ourselves or others as failures. Lots of writers I meet will not call themselves writers because they say, ‘I haven’t been published.’ Not being published does not mean we are not a writer, it does not mean we are failures or imposters. When we write seriously and with intent we are writers whatever anyone else says. There’s only one difference between published and unpublished writers and it is this – the first group see their work in print on the shelves of Waterstone’s or Tesco or online at Amazon; the second group are yet to have physical evidence of the hours, weeks, years spent fashioning words into their patterns. You are already a writer. Kate Mosse

15. Taking life so seriously – I know I’m guilty of this. I’m a very serious person and I think writers often are but I know it’s important sometimes not to take ourselves and what we do too seriously. It’s important to have fun, to live as well as just write. Living life enhances the writing. So go out, shop, dance, sing, fall in love, eat cake, drink wine, share what you’ve learned, help other writers, find the wildest, comfiest or weirdest place to write. Get away from the machine, buy a notebook and pen ( surely we are not writers without these) sit in cafes or bars, take a holiday, observe the world through dark glasses and whatever you do WRITE.

10 Comments

  1. It took me a long time to call myself a writer. Even longer to tell anyone else I was one. For me, that was the biggest hurdle to clear. But I’ve done it :) Now I just have that Twitter problem…

    Karen

    • avril

      March 24, 2015 at 8:32 pm

      Hi Karen, thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad you’ve cleared that hurdle. I remember it being a big one for me. After this Tweeting’s a breeze
      PS – just followed you on Twitter – – Avril x

  2. When I was one of the editors for the university anthology I banned the phrase ‘aspiring writer’. If you write then you’re a writer!

    Also plenty of sage advice on failure. I’m feeling low right now grappling with a story that refuses to bend to my will. insecurity creeps in and I wonder if I can ever write anything decent. But I just gotta keep trying…

    • avril

      March 24, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      Hi Nafsia – thanks so much for commenting – good for you banning the phrase ‘aspiring writer’ I don’t think we ever really use the phrase ‘aspiring artist,’ or sculpture or actor etc do we|? Why I wonder do we make it so hard for writers? Good luck with the story, mostly all we have is our willingness to work hard and keep at it – ultimately that’s what works.

  3. Thank you, Avril, for such well-articulated and wise advice.
    It has taken me years to stop feeling guilty about writing and to avoid comparing myself with others. Nowadays, if I realise I’m dwelling on negative thoughts, I remind myself that worrying steals precious writing time, stifles creativity and cramps my style. I soon turn back to positive thinking and, more importantly, uninterrupted writing.
    Wishing you all the very best with yours.

    • avril

      March 25, 2015 at 10:33 am

      Hi Joanna – thank you so much for your comments.It seems we’re hard wired to put ourselves down when it comes to writing. I think it’s a kind of ‘who are we to think we can be a writer? It brings to mind a Marianne Williamson’s quote – ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
      talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?’
      Good luck with the writing. Avril

  4. This is a great article, Avril. I’m guilty of ALL of these too, and I agree that none of them are helpful for writers. I’ve been very close to giving up on my second-to-last novel, which I’ve revised hundreds of times and still love to bits, but so far my friends, family, and agents/publishers seem less than keen! I’m lucky that I found a fantastic writing coach who loves the book too and encourages me to keep going. I’m beginning to realise that the honesty in my writing is probably its strength, but means it will also fail to connect with a significant number of people. Thank you for inspiring me today.

    • avril

      March 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Hi Catherine – thanks so much for your comment. I know what its like to have agents etc less than keen on the latest novel and I know in the past I’ve given up to easily. I admire your courage in keeping going and I’m with you when it comes to honesty. For me we have to be honest when we write – when we’re not it just doesn’t feel right. Once, to please an agent I put a lot more sex into a novel. In the end she didn’t sell it and I was almost glad as it just wasn’t true to me or to my original intentions. I published it myself in it’s original, true form, so as you say it didn’t reach a big audience, but I felt good about it and honest. Good luck with the novel and how great to have found a coach who loves the book!

  5. 9 & 13 can work together…I’ve met many great writing pals on Twitter:) And I’ve gone on to meet them in real life at conferences, for lunch, for a cup of coffee. :)

    • avril

      March 31, 2015 at 8:32 pm

      Of course you’re right Cindy they do go together and there’s lots about Twitter that I really enjoy. As you say it’s great for making connections, and for feeling less isolated as a writer, great for finding about things out too. I just find I can be easily distracted by it – it’s too tempting :)

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