Spookiest Writing Mistakes From Someone Who’s Made Them All

October is here, the weather is changing, and Halloween is just around the corner. It’s the perfect time to read ghost stories by the fire. (Unless you’re in Florida like me, in which case you can just watch the local news in the air conditioning. Florida news is enough to terrify any upstanding citizen).

During this month of spooks, I’ve found it prudent to reflect on some frightful moments in my writer’s journey. As a young twenty-something writer, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and I hope to warn other new writers of the pitfalls that I’ve encountered already.

Prepare…to be scared!

Spooky Mistake #1: Being afraid of a terrible first draft

Here’s a tired quote that’s used pretty often (cliche alert!):

“The first draft of anything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway

Most likely, your first draft is going to leave much to be desired. And no matter how much you prepare ahead of time, it’s still pretty humbling to read back over your work-in-progress.

Writing your first draft of anything is destined to be an emotional roller coaster: You take off on a burst of creative energy, you push yourself to keep going when you’re dragging in the middle, and by the end you’re riding high on a wave of accomplishment.

But when you return for edits, it can be a little jarring to see how messy your draft is. It’s like a balloon deflates in your heart. Self-doubt immediately swoops in and forms a dark cloud over your head. Is there a way around this?

Yes. Yes there is. I call it purposeful word vomit.

In other words, you should purposefully open the floodgates of all your words and ideas, fully conscious of the fact that you’ll be able to clean it up later. Remember, it’s always a bad idea to hold your vomit in, so let the creative barf fly. You have all the time in world to go back and fix it.

*If you made it past the vomit part, I’d like to personally congratulate you. Not very squeamish are you?

Spooky Mistake #2: Resisting helpful critiques

They say business isn’t personal. But if your business is writing, then it’s always personal. That’s why when you get negative feedback on your work, it’s hard not to immediately put your dukes up.

When someone challenges creative choices you’ve made, it can be shocking and hurtful. You may start thinking things about your critic like: Can’t she see that this choice was intentional? That part is integral to my entire piece. Is she afraid of originality? She must not get it. And so on.

I’ve been there. And I get it. It’s comforting to defend your choices or roll your eyes at the feedback you get. But it actually can be to your detriment if you shut out your reader’s perspective.

Anytime you get a critique from an editor or a beta reader on your draft, consider it a blessing. As an author, it’s hard to separate your own feelings from your work. But the feedback you get from a reader can help you discover your story’s “blind spots.”

So, any little nuggets you can glean from your readers are opportunities. Take advantage of them. They’ll help make you a better writer.

Spooky Mistake #3: Spending too much time planning/researching

Every writer is different. Some writers produce their best work by writing by the seat of their pants, while others prefer to plan, outline and research before producing something. There’s no correct way to do this, so you’ll have to try it out and see what’s best for you.

However, if you’re a planner like me, it can be easy to get lost in the preparation before. After all, brainstorming and organizing can be pretty exciting. The hype can get the better of you.

But over time, it can start to feel like you have an overwhelming amount of work to do before you can even get started. The pressure can get to you, and you may start to feel paralyzed by the amount of “pre-work” before you actually write.

At some point, it’s ok to let your spontaneous writer self out. Overcoming that fear of the unknown can actually lead you to some really cool and creative places.

Spooky Writing Mistake #4: Doubting Yourself

Writers have a tendency to be their own harshest critics. It’s ok to push yourself to be the best you can be, but just be careful not to spook yourself into self-doubt.

Here’s another cheesy quote:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”

The power of both positive and negative thinking is real. If you believe you can succeed, you will. But if you start to believe that you’re not good enough, it can show in your work.

There is no perfect writer. Everyone needs to practice and work at their craft, and every writer will make mistakes. The trick is to learn from them and move forward. The mental strength is as equally important as talent.

Never give up. And just remember you’re writing something great. You got this.