Oh, the lovely struggles of a writer’s life — bloodthirsty deadlines, toxic clients, lack of inspiration… These things come with the package, whether you like it or not. But did you know that you are the greatest enemy of your own work?
Out of hundreds of excuses — bad days, the dreaded writer’s block or simple laziness — you, as a writer, bear the sole responsibility for whether words appear on the page or not. It took me a while to acknowledge this and improve (a bit). Now I want to make it easier for you.
Take a look at these four signs and see whether you’re making the same mistakes!
1. You Don’t Prepare an Outline
As much as I like to get “adventurous” with my writing once in a while, my disorganized soul always craves for a grain of order and structure. It’s surprising how even a simple plan can help with all kinds of writer’s ailments.
I’ve battle-tested working without and with an outline, and the writing has always been smoother and more pleasurable for the latter. Even the roughest of rough outlines will give you a solid direction and keep your thoughts from going astray. It will also prevent you from constantly adding and changing things!
Don’t get me wrong. You probably won’t need a master plan for a simple Tweet. But as your projects get more complex and wordy, an outline will be the only thing standing between you and a rambling disaster. You don’t have to go to extremes and follow your plan to the letter; an outline is meant to give you a heading, that’s all.
2. You’re Getting Your Deadlines All Wrong
A reasonable deadline will help you to stay on track with your writing, be it your next big novel or that blog post you should deliver in two days. An unreasonable deadline will give you a headache at best.
Now, I get it. It’s difficult to set sensible timelines for your work when you’re just starting your writing career. It takes time and many finished projects before you can estimate the time needed to wrap an assignment. But are you honest with yourself when you’re setting those deadlines?
I sometimes try to fool myself that a certain project is going to take longer or shorter than it really should. I realized that I do this get more downtime between assignments or simply postpone the work as much as I can.
What to do instead?
- If you struggle with setting attainable deadlines, review your past projects for estimates.
- If you’re just starting delivering projects, make sure to track your project time for future reference.
- Give yourself a small time margin for unforeseen hiccups (10-20% of the total project time).
3. You Try to Do Everything at Once on the First Draft
Do you sometimes stop writing your first draft only to improve a sentence or use a better word? If so, then you’re sabotaging your writing big time.
Silencing your internal editor may be difficult, especially if you’re a perfectionist and want to write a masterpiece on the first try. That’s what would happen to me when I was just starting writing longer pieces and delivering client work. I’d constantly halt and ruminate on a phrase or a sentence that just didn’t seem like a good fit.
If you’re like me, then the spellchecker probably drives you crazy with all those red marks popping up all over the page (Ok, if your page is covered in “blood” from header to footer then you can probably slow down, just a bit!). But the truth is, everybody gets spelling wrong on the first run, and for some, this remains true all the way till the final draft.
It’s even more tempting to combine writing your first drafts with research. Some people prefer to look things up as they go instead of digging into a topic in advance. This approach is even more destructive and totally breaks the creative flow.
If you’re still troubled by your spelling mistakes, you’ll find many interesting insights in this post.
What to do instead?
- DO NOT attempt to fix all the flaws of your fledgling text on the first draft; your first draft should be free from criticism, both internal and external.
- Do your research first, and don’t you dare google things up as you write!
- Unleash your internal critic on the 2nd, 3rd and all the consecutive drafts, but not before that.
- If the spellchecker distracts you, turn it off.
4. You Celebrate Way Too Early
There are those moments when I finish a paragraph or a substantial part of a project and think: “I’ve done a solid piece of work here…It’s time to rest now!” And so I rest…
I grab a sandwich, take a walk, read a book or even go for a bike ride. The possibilities here are limitless, and since my brain has just done the heavy lifting, it deserves some downtime, right?
While taking occasional breaks from writing is absolutely necessary to keep your mental nuts and bolts in place, I learned the hard way that short breaks tend to beef up in duration if you let them. It’s tempting to notoriously stretch break time and justify it with a flabby “I’ve accomplished something and deserve this!”
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t reward yourself for little successes and reserve some time for small celebrations. By all means, please do (a stroll in a park makes for a great brain-reset). But sometimes it’s better to be a bit tougher on yourself than to despair over a deadline that has just flashed by because you got lost in a book, again.
Does any of these signs sound familiar? Are you guilty of committing similar crimes against your writing? Let me know!
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