5 Big Mistakes That Can Set Back Your Writing Career

Loughlin Patrick
9 min readDec 27, 2018


Before you put pen to paper, read this. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

If you’re considering getting into writing or you’re just starting out on your first project, then this is exactly what you should be reading right now. No matter what type of writing you’re planning on getting into – whether it’s a fictional novel, a new blog, or something else entirely – all beginner writers are prone to making 5 big mistakes, and these mistakes have the potential to set you back years in your writing career. From the craft itself to your attitudes towards it, reading this article should give you the guidelines for success in writing.

1. Giving Up.

You’re not going to be the next J.K. Rowling on your first attempt.

Acheiving your dreams isn’t something that’ll happen overnight. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Make no mistake: if you want to pursue writing as a career, or even just dabble in it as a fun hobby, it will not be easy. The actual process of getting your thoughts out of your head and onto the page can be extremely time-consuming, and you’re definitely not going to be the next J.K. Rowling on your very first attempt.

I have two friends who tried to get into writing by penning young adult novels, and only one of them still writes today. The first, who was a very proficient writer normally, gave up after being unsatisfied with the first chapter of her novel. Keep in mind that she hadn’t even written a second draft yet; this was her very first draft.

Her main issue was with the plot. In her words:

“I can’t even write a hundred words without simultaneously plagiarising all of the romance novels ever written.”

Thus, she never returned to her novel again.

I have another friend who persisted. Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

My other friend was not as proficient of a writer. Whilst she had ideas for a plot, she had a shakier grasp of grammar, and thus also wasn’t impressed with what she was producing. However, instead of giving up, this friend took a break, came back, and kept persisting. Now, even though this second friend started off at a worse skill level than my first friend, she didn’t give up and is now the superior fiction writer.

The lesson here is clear: keep persisting. Keep writing as often as possible to hone your craft and then eventually – some day soon – you’ll be able to write very, very well.

2. Seeking Perfection.

The best writing happens when you’re in a flow state.

Focus is the name of the game. Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

You need to turn off spell-check in whatever you use to write right now.

The best writing happens when you’re in a flow state. This isn’t some new pseudo-scientific buzzword, it’s actually a phenomenon proven and backed by psychology that originated way back in 1975 (before I was born!). In fact, the National Center for Biotechnology Information describes the state as something that “expands self-esteem and the individual’s capabilities through learning new optimisations that increase the feelings of continuity and fluidity in attention and action.” In plain English, this means that when your brain is in a flow state, it can figure how to do do things faster and more effectively.

Be as attentive as this cat. Photo by Mafer Benitez on Unsplash

But what does your flow have to do with your writing?

Well, if you do your best work when in a flow state, then it isn’t ideal to disrupt that by turning your attention to other tasks. Multiple scientific studies even prove that multi-tasking can have a detrimental effect on not only your overall productivity, but also your performance in the task at hand. So, if your goal is to stay in the zone and do your best writing for as long as possible, then multi-tasking is going to be very harmful to your writing. This means that trying to be perfect on your first try by editing as you go is not ideal.

So, how do you stay in your flow state for as long as possible? By focusing on the one task at hand. This means turning spell-check off while you write your first draft and banning yourself from using the backspace button. When you stop seeking perfection and interrupting your writing with impromptu editing, you’ll be able to do your best possible writing for longer.

Essentially, by keeping writing time for writing and doing editing once you’re done, you’ll be able to access your flow state and do your best possible work.

3. Writing Without Passion.

I have a third friend who also tried to get into writing by writing a novella, and she had a very different problem from the first two.

She had far too many ideas.

Sometimes, having a head full of dreams can be a problem. Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

This doesn’t seem like it would be an issue. After all, the whole point of writing is the act of sharing ideas with audiences, whether the audience is just yourself or as many people as possible. Hence, I didn’t quite understand her issue at first.

However, I now realise that she lacked passion. This is not to say that she didn’t have a passion for writing, or a passion for making up stories; no one has that many ideas with no passion at all. However, she didn’t have passion for ideas on an individual basis.

Every time she would have a new idea, she would immediately stop work on her current writing project – even if she’d just started it – and start writing her new story. Due to this, she never gave her ideas any time to marinate. She never sat with her ideas and gave her stories space to be fleshed out, and as such, she never had time to develop a passion for her current project.

This is what would lead to a perpetual cycle that she went through for several months. She would have an idea, start writing immediately and let the initial passion fizzle out, and then a new idea would come along to replace her lack of passion for the original. However, all hope was not lost.

In the midst of her unfinished ideas, there was something different. Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

In the midst of the graveyard of unfinished novellas that reside on her devices is a completed short story. It’s an idea that she had sat with, fleshed out and really explored, and thus it became the first completed story that she’s written.

So, never forget your passion; you’ll need it in the long run.

4. Getting Too Attached.

Once you finish writing your first draft, it’s time to trim the fat.

Be ruthless, like this lion. Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

Before, I discussed how editing should wait until after one is finished writing their first draft. This is a very difficult rule to follow for perfectionists like me, and I’ll admit that I actually broke it several times in the process of writing this article. However, there’s another editing mistake that most first time writers make, and that’s getting too attached.

Many first time writers are prone to get too attached to what they’ve just created. This is completely understandable. After all, writing something for the very first time is a massive achievement that takes a lot of work and I cannot underestimate how proud you should be of yourself for that! There are so many more people who haven’t written a thing, including those who’ve considered writing but didn’t go through with it because they’re too scared to put themselves out there; you should be applauded for breaking out of the majority and rising to the top!

Congratulations for reaching the top of your mountain! Photo by Julentto Photography on Unsplash

However, once you finish writing your first draft, it’s time to trim the fat.

Many writers will justify to themselves why it’s okay to include a certain section of the content they’ve created that is clearly sub-par. I’ve fallen into that trap myself several times, thinking that it’s okay for a scene that isn’t good enough for the final version of my novel to remain because I put so much work into it. However, that is never true.

The editing phase of your writing is not a time for mercy.

You need to be willing to cut out anything that doesn’t move your narrative forward, and this doesn’t just apply to novels. Any phrase, sentence or paragraph that doesn’t provide new information, emphasise existing information, or add to the flow of what you created must go. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, it doesn’t belong in your final product.

Be a ruthless editor, and only let the fittest parts of your writing survive.

5. Not Writing With a Plan.

I have a confession to make.

I have to tell you something. Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

I had the idea for this article while planning out lots of my blog content in advance, and because I was in a flow state (discussed earlier), I had so many more ideas for writing mistakes to discuss. In fact, I wanted to expand this article from a list of five mistakes to a list of seven, because I came up with so many ideas.

Unfortunately, I never wrote any of these ideas down.

This led to me not only forgetting the extra ideas that I came up with to lengthen this article, but also some of the original five that I’d thought of in the first place. Some of the ideas came back to me in the process of actually writing this article right now, but one remained elusive.

Writing mistake number five.

The missing piece. Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

As I tried to think of the mistake I’d forgotten in order to finish this article, I realised that I had made a monumental one of my own: I hadn’t written this article with a plan to guide me. This is a massive mistake, as the loss of any idea is the loss of potential. Potential for you to share an amazing concept with the world. Potential for you to improve as a writer. Potential for you to finish an article that you actually expect to earn money from.

When I was writing my novels, my planning documents were some of the most useful resources I had. I used a note on my phone to keep a list of characters in my story, a short synopsis for each chapter I had planned, and then extra details on particular sub-plots that I needed to flesh out.

That’s right – a note on my phone.

Could this be the solution to your planning woes? Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

Your planning document can take any shape or form. If you prefer the feeling of physically writing things down, you can purchase a notebook and pen down all of your thoughts in there. If you have a lot of stuff to organise, you can also use a spreadsheet on your laptop, and have different sheets for different aspects of your book. If that all seems a bit overwhelming, you can take the route that I took and just keep a note on your phone with all the essential details you need to know.

Whatever form your plan takes, know this: you have to write it down as soon as possible.


I hope that this list of writing mistakes and how to avoid them helped you out. To recap, here are the mistakes once more:

  1. Giving up.
  2. Seeking perfection.
  3. Writing without passion.
  4. Getting too attached.
  5. Not writing with a plan.
Thank you so much for your time! Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

Thanks for reading my first member article; I hope it’s up to the standard you expect!

If you enjoyed this article – or even if you didn’t – make sure to let me know. I’d love to discuss this with you below!



Loughlin Patrick

Writer, talker & professional overthinker.