Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that's okay 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.
Rather, we're looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, neglecting research, or researching too much. This week's writing mistake writers make is worrying about what happens when you make it big.
Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Worrying About What Happens When You Make It Big
Have you ever done this: Looked at one of those billboards that shows what the jackpot is for a lottery like Mega Millions or Powerball and thought to yourself, "Wow! I wonder what I'd do with millions upon millions of dollars." And then, you start to think about bills you might pay, things you might buy, and perhaps even people and causes you might support. It's a lot of fun, but then, if you're anything like me, things start to get serious.
It's not long before I start thinking about all the taxes I might have to pay and the possibility of hooking up with an unscrupulous attorney or CPA who steals my money. Plus, I might become a target of hackers and real-life criminals who may kidnap family members and hold them for ransom. And before you know it, I'm replaying John Steinbeck's The Pearl in my head and thinking, "Nope. Don't want that money. Don't even want to buy a ticket and have to worry about how all that money would ruin my life. No way."
Sound crazy? Well, okay, but as an INFJ, I own it. And believe it or not, I've witnessed many writers experience this phenomenon as well—not with lottery tickets but with their own potential success as writers. They carry a world of worry on their backs about what life will be like after they hit it big, but they still haven't submitted a query letter.
Writers will ask me questions about the possibility of their writing being stolen and sold in foreign countries or on street corners. They'll ask about what happens if they give up all their TV, movie, and action figure rights. Like me with the lottery ticket, they worry about more serious financial and human safety issues. And no judgement from me; I totally get it. But it's not productive either and can keep you from the most important part: Writing your story.
Mistake Fix: Worry About Each Step As It Comes
This is sometimes easier said than done, but take your writing career one step at a time. Don't stress out about submissions and the prospect of rejections before you're ready to submit. Don't worry about whether you should invest in stocks or yachts with all your royalty statements before you've even signed a book contract (and even then, slow down). In other words, don't put the cart before the horse.
If you're a fiction writer, here's a good breakdown of your steps: 1. Write your story; 2. Revise your story (and maybe repeat this step a few times); 3. Submit your story to an agent and/or publisher (until acceptance); 4. Negotiate incredible terms in the contract before you then; 5. Sign the contract; and 6. Repeat.
If you're a nonfiction writer, you may follow the same pattern if you write creative nonfiction or memoir, but here's another possible breakdown: 1. Pitch your idea (until acceptance); 2. Negotiate incredible terms in your contract before you then; 3. Sign the contract and then; 4. Write the piece (and possibly re-write for your editor); and 5. Repeat.
Worrying about making it big before you've even made it to the contract step is okay, but it's not a healthy thing to stress about until you're facing an actual contract. I'm not saying, "Don't dream about making it big;" I'm saying, "Don't worry about what happens after your dreams come true while you're still making them come true."
Write your masterpiece, get it published, and then, you can worry about whether you need two yachts or three. Until then, enjoy the ride.
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