Novel-Writing Mistakes You Didn’t Know You Were Making (Until Now)

You’re worrying too much about things that don’t matter yet.

I’ve written a lot of books.

I don’t say that because it makes me sound cool. (Does it?) I say it because I have written a lot of books, which means I have made a lot of mistakes.

It’s hard to evaluate the quality of your own work. But it’s easy to spot the things you aren’t doing right — the way you’re approaching your writing time, the way you plan, the small things you worry about when you should be sitting there writing — once you know to look for them.

I see writers making these mistakes. And I don’t want you to waste your time making them!

Trying to write “the perfect book”

Let’s keep this short and sweet: this isn’t possible, so stop trying. The first draft of every single book you write is going to be terrible, and I’m not saying that because I’m a mean person. Your first draft is your foundation — from which you will eventually build an award-winning novel (let’s be optimistic, while we’re at it). You need the pieces to build with before you can create something good. So write your book, finish the first draft, don’t worry about how imperfect it is. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. At least you’re aware that your story is flawed. That’s a really good place to start.

Trying to have everything figured out … before you start writing

I’m all for organization — spreadsheets are as much a part of my life as caffeine and this keyboard are. But I’m willing to guess there are “writers” who have entire book series plotted out, either in their heads or on paper — yet they haven’t actually ever completed a single book. If knowing what’s coming next helps you stay focused, I’m not saying you can’t have a plan. But you have to be willing to let the story flow. You don’t have to know every single detail — not if it’s going to take away from your very valuable (and probably limited) writing time.

Worrying about your word count

I see way too many writers worrying whether or not their book is long enough before they even come close to finishing it. Does word count matter? Yes — when you’re trying to sell a book. But you will never sell a book if you do not finish writing one. Especially when you’re writing your first draft, don’t even look at your word count. (Well, if it motivates you, only glance at it every now and then.) You need to write your book before you can determine whether or not it’s the right length.

Obsessing over your query letter (or the fact that you’re going to have to write one)

Can I tell you the honest reason I’ve never written a query letter? It’s because I haven’t had to yet. I’ve never gotten to a point in my relationship with a story that required me to start querying. That’s because I’m still focusing on writing a book I’m comfortable with … and I haven’t finished a book since 2015. Do not think about what’s far off in the distance until you have to. Because if you’re thinking about your query letters, but you don’t even have a finished product to query, you have things a little backwards. Writing the book always comes first. Always.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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