Why this is a mistake: I’ve taught thousands of writers over the years. Online; through correspondence courses; at workshops, conferences, and retreats. I would have to say 95 percent of the participants really didn’t improve their writing very much. A good percentage of those, I believe, signed up for the instruction looking for validation, not to learn. When they didn’t get that validation, they shut their minds down. The rest thought they were there to fine-tune their writing, not get the major overhaul they really needed. For many others it was a case of not letting go of their preconceived notions about their writing. They just were not open to learning. More importantly, their minds were closed off to information and concepts that did not align with their own. But here’s the key: If you’re not where you want to be, you have to change. Change requires being open-minded.
The solution: Every year, I learn many new things about writing. My opinions and view of various aspects of the craft undergo tremendous changes as I listen to other writers, study the craft, and try new things. I believe open-mindedness to be one of the most critical character traits a writer must have in order to become better and successful. One of the keys to open-mindedness is focusing on things that you really object to or that make you angry when you see or hear them. We build our greatest defenses around our greatest weaknesses in all aspects of our lives, and that includes writing. So when something that you hear in a workshop or conference really bothers you, put aside your negative emotions and really focus on it with an open mind to see if perhaps you’ve just heard something very important that will make you a better writer.
If you do get published, become a teacher of writing—not only because you owe it to others to pass it on, but also because you will learn a lot by explaining what you think you know to other people.