6 Things New Writers Get Wrong

When you’re new to writing, it’s a thrill of firsts.

The first time you give it a serious try. The first time you plan, plot, or name a character. There’s the first time you type “Chapter One”, and the joy of scribbling “The End”.

As with doing anything for the first time, you have a lot to learn. So much that the most appropriate description for learning to write is this quote from Ernest Hemingway:

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

None of us will ever be master writers, only apprentices that will eventually find (some) things easier. But before all of that, you need to learn those things. And with any learning, there are mistakes that get made.

6 Things New Writers Get Wrong

1) Thinking The Draft For Your First Submission Is Ready

Three years ago I had a draft for book one in my YA series ready to send off to agents. I thought it was ready because I’d finished it (yay!), paid to have it edited, forked out money for it to be assessed for structure, plot, characters etc, and a handful of family and friends deemed it good. It. Was. Not.

This MS was rejected over the course of a year (such fun!) and I’ve since spent most of this year re-writing it. I changed the first three chapters, upgraded a character’s role, learned how to show and not tell, and how much of a difference deep POV makes. Was this something I expected to be doing back in 2015 when I completed my submission draft? No. Was this what I planned to be doing in 2018, right after I finished writing the fourth book in the series? No! But it’s a challenge I’ve embraced.

Through the magic of hindsight and re-writes, I know that first draft was never ready for submission. I had doubts at the time but figured the story was solid enough an agent would look past the info dumping, the telling, and the staccato writing style. They didn’t, and I shouldn’t have expected them to.

The takeaway: if your draft isn’t one hundred percent ready, don’t put it on submission. Wait until it is ready. It might take longer than you planned, but you’re always better off sending a draft you have one hundred percent confidence in.

2) Not Listening To The Hard Feedback

I get it. Someone has looked at your work and told you something other than “It’s fantastic!” and sent you spiraling into a chocolate binge. They must have misread your witty dialogue or missed that awesome plot twist in chapter ten. Unfortunately, probably not.

When I first started writing, I head hopped all the time, I switched tenses mid-paragraph, I thought I had to include every action the characters made. It was through hard feedback I learned what I was doing wrong and improved. Sure there are things I won’t change (my book starts with a dream and I’m keeping it that way), but swallowing my bruised-writer-pride and fixing what needs to be fixed has only improved my work, and it can be that way for you too.

The takeaway: it hurts to hear, but hard feedback will make you a better writer, and it will improve your story.

3) Believing You Should Make All The Changes

As a new writer, your writing confidence isn’t really there (and may never be—more fun!), so when you do get any feedback, it’s so easy to just follow it. You think the people advising must know better than you (and sometimes they do), but changing your work to match every single suggestion isn’t the right solution. Typos, unclear sentences, confusing action sequences—yes, take those corrections on board. Changing a character name because the person who read it doesn’t personally like it—not so much.

The takeaway: you know your story better than anyone else ever will. Fix what makes sense to you, don’t make changes if you disagree with them.

4) Thinking You Have To Do A Writing Course

Or pay big money for someone to teach you. Books can teach you—read your favorite novels or books about the art of writing. Other writers can teach you—learn from your favorite authors and from the writing community. The act of writing itself is the biggest teacher of all.

I’ve got a diploma in creative writing and a certificate in novel writing. They introduced me to the basics of writing and set me on a path that included a nine-year stint writing beauty articles. But I’ve also learned about writing working on my own stories, swapping beta drafts with fellow writers, and blogging—all free activities.

The takeaway: if you want to do a course and can afford it, go ahead. If you can’t, learn what you can on your own; the resources are out there.

5) Believing Your First Book Has To/Will Make Your Career

Maybe it’s a sign of the times. Maybe it’s because PR works overtime on successful new writers and makes you think every debut is an overnight smash. Or maybe it’s because your Instagram feed is full of writers who were signed by the first agent/publisher they submitted to.

The truth is, the first book from an unknown writer becoming a worldwide instant hit is rare. The MS you’re working on right now, the MS you have out on submission this very second, might not be the book that launches your career or gets you a publishing deal. It might be the fifth or the tenth book you write. It might not be any book at all.

Have expectations and goals to reach for, prove them wrong, prove me wrong. Just don’t set yourself up for heartbreak because you won’t consider the possibility your first book won’t reach the heights you want it to.

The takeaway: everything you write will make you a stronger writer, including your first full-length book. If it fails to perform like you hoped, just remember what it taught you and how that applies to everything you write after it.

6) Thinking You Don’t Have Talent

It’s so easy to fall into that trap. Rejections make you think it. Getting hard feedback from writers further along in their journey cements it. Basically, any encouragement that implies “you’ll get there” when you thought you already were there, cuts a hole in your soul that self-doubt fills in.

Don’t believe you suck. You might not be the best writer this second, but you can learn to be. By the time you reach the end of your MS, you’re already a better writer than the one who started it. It might take multiple drafts and/or multiple years to reach a publishable level, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or that you won’t.

You started writing that MS for a reason. You kept going with it because you (and others) could see something in it. You might not know everything when you’re a new writer, but it doesn’t mean you know nothing. You’re not Jon Snow.

The takeaway: just because you’re still learning the writing ropes doesn’t mean you’re void of talent. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t write.

Now to circle back to that Hemingway quote: I’m not a master writer—I’m not even a published writer yet. I have four books in various stages of drafting that I thought would be finished by now, maybe even under contract (before my naivety was crushed by reality). When I started writing them I was a new writer, one who hadn’t yet realized how much work those four books would need.

That’s the reason for this blog post. It’s part mistake confession, part regret, and one hundred percent advice from a not-so-new writer to other writers starting out.

Like me, you might think or believe these 6 things, but one day you’ll realize you were wrong. That’s not a bad thing (or so I tell my inner control freak). So go ahead, make your mistakes, learn from them and grow from them. They will shape you into the best writing apprentice you can be.

— K.M. Allan

50 thoughts on “6 Things New Writers Get Wrong

  1. Ha! I absolutely did the “submitting too soon” thing, which lead to the “hard criticism” and so on. It’s nice to know I’m not alone, and thanks for the upbeat, practical advice 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome, Anne. Yes! It stings when you realise you submitted too soon. You can’t help but wonder if you missed any opportunities, or how different things could have gone if your MS was up to scratch. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one, too 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was great to read – I think I needed to hear a lot of this! Especially this part:

    “Don’t believe you suck. You might not be the best writer this second, but you can learn to be. By the time you reach the end of your MS, you’re already a better writer than the one who started it.”

    I always enjoy your blog posts, thanks for sharing them!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that the hardest part is the struggle between doing all the changes and not listening to feedback. Finding the balance might be hard, especially for someone still learning.
    On the other hand, I avoided the ‘submitting too soon’ part because I had a hard time sharing the first draft even with people I trust and needed three or four drafts to ‘make peace’ with the fact I might actually try to publish it, one way or another.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for reading, Tomas. It’s definitely a balancing act, even just deciding what feedback to listen to. I struggle when I get feedback for changes I know I need to make, but I’m unsure if I have the skills to make them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of my most favourite posts ever! So many things that I am learning at the moment, put clearly. There is definitely so much we don’t realise as new writers. I’m trying to get to grips with not needing to change everything, especially in response to feedback. And it’s so right how we can think a draft is ready and then new beta feedback makes us see the errors that are still riddled throughout.
    At least we are all learning and improving as we go!

    I hope loads of writers see this post, such valuable advice. I’m studying a degree in English Lit and Creative Writing, but I am doing it for the experience and for the love. You 100% do not need a writing course behind you to be a writer. Most of the real gritty learning I’ve done in writing has come from the simple act of reading other books, editing mine and exploring blogs like yours. ❤ Loved this!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you for this. I’ve been a writer in my head for about 25 years but have only just started actually putting the words down on the screen. This advice and hearing your first hand experience is really useful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ruth Miranda

    Number six. I don’t need anyone to tell me that, I do it on my own very effectively ehehehh! Seriously, on the eves of self publishing book eight I still think I must suck big time because NONE has done, well… let’s say they all flopped big time, alright? And perhaps I haven’t put enough work into them, that’s all I can think of, and even though I keep working on them, after publishing, nothing seems to work, and they don’t get any better, nor do sales improve. I actually believe some people have raw talent to be writers and do so well, and others may get there with a looooot of hard work, but some just do not have it in them. Maybe it’s not even a lack of talent but a lack of capacity to accept what others tell them is wrong, a lack of capacity to work really hard, a lack of ability to market and promote their work. I sure fall into this last category. Your MS may need work, but the story IS solid, and a good one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the story compliments, Ruth 😊. You definitely have talent as an author and you underestimate yourself (but you know that 😅). I know it sucks working hard on something, thinking you’re making the right changes, only to have them fall flat, but writers keep going. And that’s exactly what you’re doing 😊.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Sumi Singh Writes

    I wrote my first novel! Firstly, I didn’t think I could do it, and proved myself wrong. Then I entered the first three chapters into a romance novel competition and didn’t think I’d make it. Then, to my surprise I was selected as one of three finalists going into the 2nd round of the competition which was submit my full MS. By that time it was 70% done and I had 6 weeks to finish it and edit it myself before submission. I’ve never worked so hard — ever! I eventually submitted it on deadline and now await the outcome. Although I want to win, a part of me says it’s my first and should not be a winner. Reading your post made me realize how much work I have ahead of me to get it ready for publication. But I remain positive, ‘cos in our vocation we need tons of that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Congrats on writing your first novel, and on the competition! What a great achievement 😊. If it’s good enough to win, it shouldn’t matter that it’s your first novel. Enjoy the ride and learn what you can!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent post, so true! I am saddened to see new writers who rush their first draft and think it should be submitted, or ones that believe they will become successful from their first book and so get disheartened.

    Sharing this on Twitter via Buffer 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading and for sharing, Ari 😊. It’s such a balancing act, keeping yourself positive and motivated while realistic about how much work a first submission will take. Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great advice as always. Can I just say #4 #4 #4! There is an entire cottage industry that sprung up around “teaching aspiring writers how to write”. There may be craft lessons, but the ones I have seen offer nothing that can’t be found for free and practiced regularly. Also, you mentioned you paid an editor. This is another pitfall that always comes up in my writer’s group. You have to be so careful finding an editor. Freelancers are looking to get paid, and don’t have the skin in the game that in-house ones do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, B.L! It was an editor who worked for a manuscript assessment service. I also once paid a writer who offered her services as an editor too. The only thing I regret about either situation is that it was an early draft. I now know to wait until it’s the draft that you’re either about to self-publish, or one that has been read by numerous other people and been through a number of re-writes. Any draft before that is just a waste of money. But that’s how you learn 🤷🏻‍♀️.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. So many good things on this list. If I had to pick one it would be not listening to hard feedback. On one hand it is vital that we listen but on the other hand we need to be careful who we listen to.

    There will be times when a writer will come across someone who doesn’t like them or doesn’t like their writing. Sometimes both. The writer has to be careful when listening. Are they receiving honest feedback or are they listening to someone who views them as a rival.

    As always, well done!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true, Bryan. As nice as it would be to think all writers are supportive or interested in helping each other, that might not be the case with some people. That’s why you should always listen to your own instincts and change only what you think should be changed. Thanks for reading and letting me know your thoughts 😊. It’s always appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hey, I have mostly been a fly on the wall, but I need to be more active because I want to get better. You mentioned 2 things that I was hoping you could expand on and/or direct me to an article on. Deep POV and show dont tell. I have one written MS that I have been editing for almost a year now trying to figure out what it’s missing, cause I know its missing something. I have a second MS in first draft that will be done in a week or two as I am concluding the climax now.

    I hate that after all i have done to write these stories that they end up on the back burner because i get nice comments but no hard feed back. I want a well written MS before i submit to an editor for review I think maybe these two points will hit the mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Love this post. Receiving hard feedback is tough for me. But my biggest struggle is when to turn Baby MS, out into the world. Is there a way to know she’s ready? Unlike kids, who have an age, or a graduation date to send them off. So how do you know the MS is ready?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Jean. I think hard feedback is tough for everyone. Developing a thick skin helps, as does viewing the criticism as constructive so you can learn from it instead of letting it get to you (although it’s perfectly normal for it to get to you, we’re all human). My latest blog has some tips on how you can tell if your MS is ready. Here’s the link: https://kmallanblog.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/signs-youre-ready-to-move-onto-a-new-manuscript/

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Such a great read! Very true that it can sometimes be super hard to swallow your anxiety and listen to feedback as constructive rather than negative (which ALL writers need, at some point or other). Plus beta feedback can be so useful in gauging interest from new readers, but changing the story too much to match every single suggestion won’t help much either. Ultimately it’s YOUR story with YOUR unique perspective on things, so it’s worth being proud of what you’ve already accomplished. Keep writing! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for considering it! If you’d prefer, I could signpost your blog for new readers to check out, but there’s no obligation to do the quiz if you’d prefer not to – it’s mainly to broaden awareness of different blogs for new readers to check out.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: 6 Things New Writers Get Wrong — K.M. Allan | i'm trying to write every hopes in me

  15. I have a B.A in Creative Writing too. I agree with you; you don’t need it. Most of the important stuff I learned on my own. There’s nothing a creative writing degree really gives you except bragging rights (but that would be a douchey thing to brag about). Like, back when I was a ghostwriter, clients were more likely to hire me since I had a degree, but that’s really been the only benefit. It’s just four years of workshopping, and anybody can do that. You don’t need to do it in a clasroom.

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