Fifteen Things Writers Should Never Do

This title caught my eye on a recent email from Writer’s Digest. It was written by Zachary Petit on 26 October 2020; he is a freelance journalist and editor, and a lifelong literary and design nerd. He’s also a former senior managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Zachary Petit

Excerpts from Mr Petit’s article are as follows: “Based on interviews with authors over the years, conferences, editing dozens of issues of Writer’s Digest, and my own occasional literary forays and flails, here are some points of consensus and observations: 15 of them, things anyone who lives by the pen (or seeks to) might consider. 

1. Don’t assume there is any single path or playbook writers need to follow. Simply put: You have to do what works best for you. Listen to the voices in your head, and learn to train and trust them.

2. Don’t try to write like your idols. Be yourself. The one thing you’ve got that no one else does is your own voice, your own style, your own approach. Use it. 

3. Don’t get too swept up in debates about outlining/not outlining, whether or not you should write what you know, whether or not you should edit as you go along or at the end—again, just experiment and do what works best for you. The freedom that comes with embracing this approach is downright cathartic.

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket when it comes to pitching something—always be working on your next book or idea while you’re querying. Keeping your creative side in gear while focusing on the business of selling your work prevents bigger stalls in your writing life down the road.

5. Don’t be unnecessarily dishonest, rude, hostile—people in the publishing industry talk, and word spreads about who’s great to work with, and who’s not.

6. Don’t ever hate someone for the feedback they give you. No piece of writing is universally beloved. Accept what nuggets you believe are valid and toss the edits your gut tells to toss. Be open to criticism—it will make you a better writer.

7. But, don’t be susceptible to the barbs of online trolls—you know, those people who post sociopathic comments for the sake of posting sociopathic comments. Ignore them heartily.

8. Don’t ever lower you guard when it comes to the basics: Good spelling, healthy mechanics, sound grammar. They are the foundations that keep our writing houses from imploding.

9. Don’t ever write something in an attempt to satisfy a market trend and make a quick buck. By the time such a book is ready to go, the trend will likely have passed.

10. Don’t be spiteful about another writer’s success. Celebrate it. As author Amy Sue Nathan recalled, “I learned that another author’s success doesn’t infringe on mine.”

11. Don’t ever assume it’s easy. Success is one of those things that’s often damn near impossible to accurately predict unless you already have it in spades.

12. Don’t forget to get out once in a while. Writing is a reflection of real life. It’s all too easy to sit too long at that desk and forget to live it.

13. Don’t ever discount the sheer teaching power (and therapeutic goodness) of a great read. The makeshift MFA program of countless writers has been a well-stocked bookshelf.

14. Don’t be afraid to give up … on a particular piece. Sometimes, a story just doesn’t work, and you shouldn’t spend years languishing on something you just can’t fix. (After all, you can always come back to it later, right?

15. But, don’t ever really give up. Writers write. It’s what we do. It’s what we have to do. Sure, we can all say over a half-empty bottle of wine that we’re going to throw the towel in this time, but let’s be honest: Very few of us ever do.”

I agree with all fifteen to these points.

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