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Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Collecting Advice (but Never Writing)

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so this series helps identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's mistake is to collect writing advice at the expense of actually writing.

Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that's OK because each mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The mistakes in this series aren't focused on grammar rules, though we offer help in that area as well.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

Rather, we're looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, hiding your pitch, or chasing trends. This week's writing mistake writers make is collecting writing advice at the expense of actually writing.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Collecting Advice but Never Writing

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Collecting Advice (but Never Writing)

Let me begin by saying that I love collecting good advice. Whether it's about writing, running, or cooking, I believe that good advice is worth its weight in gold, because we have so much to teach each other. However, one piece of gold standard advice I believe is that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

(21 Authors Share One Piece of Advice for Writers.)

And that's where we're focusing this week's writing mistake that writers make. I'm guilty of it myself at times, but many writers build a career out of collecting writing advice at the expense of building a writing career. That is, they buy all the writing books and attend all the workshops (furiously taking notes and collecting handouts), but they don't actually make the time to write.

There may be a few reasons for this occupation. First, many people like to procrastinate, and one way to put off writing is to collect advice about writing. This feels productive and allows procrastination to occur at the same time; so it's a win-win for a procrastinator's ego, though a lose-lose for actually writing.

Second, it's easier to collect the advice of writers who have published books and won awards than it is to sit down and face the blank page. Once a writer is facing the page, they have to actually start putting their own thoughts down, and—as much as we love it—writing requires work.

Another possible reason for collecting writing advice instead of writing is that sense of getting it wrong or failure. Collecting advice can make writers feel like they're filling a bank with gold pieces they'll be able to spend as they build the book of their dreams. It's almost like they believe that having the perfect collection of writing advice will lead to a perfect piece of writing. But advice only goes so far.

Writers have to write. Not only to finish bestselling and award-winning manuscripts, but also all the failed experiments that come before the success. Writing advice is golden, but writing is also learned through trial and error.

Mistake Fix: Make Time for Writing

I'm not telling writers to quit collecting writing advice; it is valuable. But I am telling writers they need to make time for writing, even if they don't have an extensive collection of writing craft books or notebooks filled with writer advice. Writers have to write.

(25 Ways to Start a Story.)

In November, writers from around the world participate in NaNoWriMo as a way to get words down for their novels and novels-in-progress. In April (and November), I lead poem-a-day challenges on this site. We also share creative writing prompts, poetry prompts, and plot twist story prompts every week on this site. So if you need a place to start, we've got you covered.

The important part is to start writing. Write a poem; write a scene; or write a character description. But write, write, write.

Of course, writers should continue reading the work of other writers. And they should definitely continue to collect nuggets of wisdom and advice. But beware turning into a writing advice hoarder who fills their writing life with advice to the point that there's no room for actually writing.

*****

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