How Not to Be a Writer: 15 Signs You're Doing It Wrong

How Not to Be a Writer: 15 Signs You’re Doing It Wrong

Ever wonder if you’re doing this whole writing thing wrong? We have a bad writing session. The words are all glomming up in the back of our minds and refusing to flow across the page. Our editor hits us with a tough critique, in which he offers the humble suggestion that we change, well, pretty much everything about our story. Someone reads our story and, instead of laughing and crying in all the right places, his best response is a half-hearted, “Meh.

In the face of evidence like that, it sure doesn’t seem like we’re quite acing the How-to-Be-a-Writer checklist. Maybe we’d do better on a How-Not-to-Be-a-Writer checklist.

Let’s take a look at fifteen sure signs that maybe we really are acting more like non-writers than writers—and how to remedy that.

1. You’re trying to be the next Janet Evanovich/J.K. Rowling/G.R.R. Martin.

If we’re investing all our energy and hopes in surpassing some of the biggest names in the industry, we’re focusing on the wrong thing. Worse, if we’re trying to imitate great authors’ styles in hopes of one day mimicking their success, we’re dead in the water before we even start paddling.

2. Your time is better spent on activities other than reading.

First, if you don’t love reading so much you can’t stay away from it, you’ve probably signed the wrong job application. Second, if you aren’t absorbing storycraft through every pore, you’re missing your most important opportunity to better your understanding of what it takes to write an amazing story.

3. You’re obsessed with following The Rules.

The Rules may be very important guidelines, but writing is about so much more than that. Don’t get so hung up on The Rules that you lose touch with your own guiding story sense.

4. You’re protecting your originality by avoiding instruction on the craft.

The techniques of writing and the theories of storytelling are so much bigger than anything we can realize all on our own. The more we study our craft, the better our art will be—and the sharper our ability to create original material.

5. You change your writing process every time an expert suggests something new.

Writing experts may know a lot, but they don’t always know what’s right for you. We all have to find the processes that best suit our personalities and lifestyles, and once we find them, we need to stick with them.

6. Your genius doesn’t need to be critiqued.

The worst mistake any writer can make is that of claiming a genius that, ahem, doesn’t really exist. Much better to assume you’re less skilled than you really are, so you’ll then be able to ask for (and accept) the help you need to improve.

7. Your tender ego can’t bear to be critiqued.

Yeah, critiques hurt. Sometimes they’re about as much fun as a hug from the Iron Maiden. But delicate writers die. Only the strong survive and, more importantly, write better stories.

8. You believe everything everyone tells you about your story.

Joe over here says your main character is awesome. Lucinda says your ending is a stinkfest. Angus likes your ending but hates your main character. Don’t believe all of them—or even any of them. Weigh their opinions for exactly what they’re worth and make up your own mind.

9. You spend more time checking your email than working on your manuscript.

Procrastination is a parasite. Most of us struggle with it from time to time. But if we’re going to be writers, we must learn to purge it and gain the discipline to focus on what really matters—our writing.

10. You start ten stories for every one you finish.

Sooner or later, every story gets tough, and when it does, we become vulnerable to the lure of shiny new ideas. But writers finish stories. Cultivate discipline and force yourself to bring at least eight out of ten manuscripts to an end.

11. You don’t believe you’re really a writer until you get something published/you’re a bestseller/you get a movie deal/Stephen King blurbs your book.

Writing is not about glory. It is not about acclaim. It’s not about being published. Writing is about writing. Enjoy the journey, do your best, and let the chips fall where they may. You’ll be much happier for it—and your stories will probably be all the better.

12. You’re only writing a book in order to sell a gazillion copies, quit your day job, and retire to the Bahamas.

The other thing writing is not about is money. If you’re very, very lucky, you’ll get to quit your day job. But, honestly, just forget about the rest of it and focus on more productive and probable dreams—like winning the Powerball.

13. You talk about your story more than you write about it.

Talking isn’t writing. Talking won’t get that manuscript finished (see Sign #10). There’s nothing wrong with sharing a little of your story-fueled enthusiasm with friends and family, but for every time you mention your story in conversation, you’d better have written a least a page in your manuscript.

14. You only write when you’re inspired.

Inspiration is like a very cute puppy dog. You can’t depend on it worth beans. And you sure as heck don’t want it being the master. You have to leash it, take charge of it, and train it. And sometimes that means sitting down to write even when it may appear that inspiration had stood you up.

15. You’re not writing.

Writers write. Bottom line.

Tell me your opinion: What is your worst writing habit?

How Not to Be a Writer

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. What an awesome post. I am from Nebraska as well (Lincoln), and currently live in Arizona, all the while wishing I could have a cheese Runza.

    You’ve got yourself a new follower and I’m definitely guilty of #10.

  2. Great article!

    Another few signs:

    – You obsess over your stats, checking your sales reports several times a day.
    – You often change your working methods because other writers claim higher productivity by using product X or software Y.

    The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with checking your sales, or changing your methods if the old methods don’t work, but don’t obsess and don’t fix what isn’t broken.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      You’re right. In truth, there’s not much wrong with many of these things I’ve listed here – in moderation. It’s only when we allow a habit to knock the overall balance of our writing life out whack that we get ourselves into trouble.

  3. One huge problem I have is the lac of investment/cash! I would love to afford a really great editor (who could be as critical as they pleased by the way). In the absence of such an expert I have had to use many beta readers and one cheaper, newly qualified editor. I imagine the difference in learning and story development is huge. This is one part of being an Indie I begrudge. I envy the trad-published writers who have the benefit of an editing team.


    I also procrastinate. I think I’m a tad obsessed with keeping my inbox empty. And reviewers opinions have begun to get to me. I have make a concerted effort to accept that we can’t all love the same books and leave it at that. I’m still new at this, I’m always learning, I’m still developing my style even, so I will absolutely stumble over one or all of these at some point, if I haven’t already. Great advice Katie (Which I’ve shared). X

    • K.M. Weiland says

      You might want to check out the editors I’ve listed here (both of whom I can personally recommend). Both are comparatively very reasonably priced.

  4. Just wanted you to know that I have signed up for all of the comments on this blog because I’m learning a lot from you and your other readers/writers. Thanks for the constructive advice, everyone! xoJulia

  5. Great article!
    For me, I seem to spend too much time researching history for my historical fiction book than actually writing it.

    Kateri Maloney

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Research can be addicting! I like to set a time limit on my main research (usually a couple months), then strictly limit my Internet surfing for various factoids during actual writing time.

  6. 9 and 10 are my flaws and number 12 would be nice but thats not realistic sadly. I do try and work on it but then life or ideas just get in the way. But there is nothing else for it then keeping at it (and to think some people believe being a writer is glamorous LOL).

    • K.M. Weiland says

      At the end of the day, the most successful authors are those who, if nothing else, have mastered the art of keeping on. Determination and discipline vanquishes many foes.

  7. The biggest issue with sharing a story idea is that, someone else will come and say that this is wrong, write this way. (Notice they don’t say try this way. Its like they are ordering us to work as they want)
    Three of my manuscripts have gotten into dump thanks to just telling my mother since she insisted. So one lesson I have learned the hard way is; don’t let anyone in your mind. Apply noise cancellation filter and only let those ideas, which is good for your WIP come in.
    It is hard, but worth it. (Since not every idea others have is bad. So we need to learn to filter them in our minds)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve learned the hard way not to share my unfinished drafts or even talk about them too much. Until they’re finished, they belong only to me.

      • Yeah! Now recently, I have learned in harder way not ever mutter a word about what I am working on. Keep it top-secret classified document. At least, in your personal life. In internet, you can get some good enough tips and advice, so share them every now and then (writers have enough dignity to know how much to tip others and from where to start challenging the writer himself to do it himself)
        But, non-writers simply don’t. My advice to everyone, don’t share early. You can even burn up your enthusiasm and suffer a tremendous writers block. I know it, I am just recovering from it.

  8. Honestly, a couple of these hurt. I won’t deny it. UGH LIFE. Being fourteen and having just moved half way around the world is no picnic and certainly an obstacle to writing. My first major story has been in the making for about five or six years and I’m still only one third way in. WILL IT EVER BE DONE? I just have to persuade myself to do it. It’s hard for me to put the right words down when all I see in my head is picture. I don’t write for the words, I write for the story. If making a movie was just as fast, as cheaper, and as difficult as writing a book, I’d make a movie. I can see it. I just need to translate it from picture to word. *facepalm* It takes forever.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m exactly the same way. When I was young, I called my stories “my movies.” The best any of can do is try to capture a piece of the perfection that lives in our imaginations.

  9. Hey! Great article! I’m sticking some of these on a sticky note and paste it somewhere where I can read it everyday! (By my laptop).

    I have this one problem, one…certain confession to make.

    I call it the “third chapter curse”. One moment I’m writing , writing , making a great introduction then suddenly during or before or even just AFTER the third chapter…I freeze up, my work is I finished and I never touch it again…though it constantly haunts me in the back of my mind.

    There has been many cases where I start writing story then…get scared of it. Scared that my characters aren’t well developed (even after lot periods of meet n greet session and the hundreds of questionnaires) scared that the plot is slipping away, scared that everything was a complete waste of time and now I have to scrap it!

    It’s frustrating, to see people successfully finish their story and I can’t even pass the third chapter.

    Is there any way I can make past this wretched obstacle?

    Thank you!

    • my work is unfinished**

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My first recommendation would be to focus on properly structuring the story, so you know *how* to move forward. But it sounds like plain ol’ insecurity is what’s getting you, and that’s a problem most writers have to confront sooner or later. For better or worse, the only way to conquer it is to just keep writing. You might find this article helpful; it’s about how I learned to stop over-analyzing my first drafts.

  10. Harvey Bannister says

    The biggest problem I have is number 15. Straight up can’t bring myself to write up and finish what I have written. The problem lies in what has been written, personally I don’t think its particularly any good. I am also distracted by various rules and suggestion which bog me down in doubt.

    I could just keep pushing ahead and write, I have done so before. Then it becomes a crumbling process of this paragraph is bad, this chapter is bad, the storyline is bad. Will anybody ever want to read this? Why am I writing this? I have the story in my head, a set of imaginary pictures and characters with events, just not codified. I could write it all down for myself but I don’t think I derive pleasure from that.

    I write so that others could read what I have imagined, with no desire to write for myself. I think I fail rule 15.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Perfectionism and doubt dogs many writers. The fix is easy–but also hard. We simply have to shove those doubts aside and keep writing. Try writing as fast you can without censoring yourself. Write to the end of the book without editing. Just enjoy the process. Editing is where we get to worry about making everything shiny.

  11. Ok so 9, 11, and 15 is true for me. Sadly.
    I just need to do this. 🙁

  12. I think I’m wasting my time. If that is true, I guess time will tell me.


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