Pitfalls for New Writers

There are many potential pitfalls for new authors. Not for me. Not that I ever was a new author. I was born an old author. Like an older, wiser Hemingway with more of a drinking problem, but without the suicide problem. Still, it is hard for me to watch others make mistakes that I have seen people of lesser worth than myself make.

One thing new authors do is think they are hot shit. This happens a lot. It happened to a friend of mine. He got paid to write at a very young age. He was the hotshot writer in all his classes. Then he moved to San Francisco and got his ass handed to him. Actually, he was still fairly good, but he definitely wasn’t the best, and he definitely didn’t get better until he ate some humble ramen.

I have another writer friend that obsessed too much about his writing. Too much editing. Everything had to be perfect. This held him back. He spent a year working on a story that consumed him. It was published in the Berkeley Fiction Review (and also accepted by the Chicago Quarterly Review), but the point is that it was as good as it ended up being after a month. He just couldn’t let it go.

After the success with that story, my friend got a LOT of rejections. Tons. It was daunting. It didn’t make him want to stop writing. It did make him want to stop submitting. But he got over that.  He is a man of extremes. And extremes are stupid.

So, a lot of beginning writers are too hard on themselves. A lot are too generous. Some are too self-indulgent. I play guitar, so I think of it in those terms. I appreciate good guitar playing. 15 minute solos make me think the player is on drugs, an ass, or both. Probably both. Same thing with writing. If you find yourself trying to impress the reader, you have taken a wrong turn. You’re trying to entertain, inform, transport. You don’t want the reader to put your work down and say , “well, SHIT, that’s some writing right there.” You don’t want the reader to put your work down. Dig?

A lot of new authors smoke. You should quit. It’s bad for you and you can’t afford it.

A lot of new authors get jealous. A lot of new authors get intimidated. A lot of new authors get discouraged. A lot of new authors get jammed up. A lot of new authors get frantic staring at a new blank page. Frightened of what their friends will say. A lot of new authors read great books and think they aren’t even worthy to be in the game.

A lot of new authors don’t know some of the things seasoned, experienced authors do. There are times when you will feel confident. Times when you will feel weak in the knees. Embrace these. There are times when you will write something convinced it is brilliant and it will be shat upon. There are times when you will write something for a lark and it will be revered. There are times you will succeed and times you will fail. But there is really only one way to really fail at writing.  And that is to stop doing it.

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JD Mader is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novels JOE CAFÉ and THE BIKER. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his blog:www.jdmader.com.


Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

40 thoughts on “Pitfalls for New Writers”

  1. You're right…I should stop smoking, but when I do I can't sleep. Been four days now and I'm the walking dead. That might work if I wrote zombie novels but I don't, so I strayed and bought a pack today. I got ideas, I got notions, but if I don't get some sleep, they're useless.

    And why is is that so many authors are jealous? I truly want to see my fellow scribes make good. There's enough readers out there for everyone. And you know what really pisses me off? When someone marks a good review on Amazon as "unhelpful" yet doesn't leave their own review. Don't get it…

      1. Good post — "First and foremost, we are a team. Indie writers have a tough row to hoe and if ANY of us accomplish something, we all accomplish something. Especially if we were in there swinging and helping out like we should have been."

        Yup, yup & yup 😉

  2. Nicely written post, made me smile, thanks. Disagree with the smoking thing though: if I didn't smoke I'd have to do something really outrageous involving a laxative and envelopes adressed to all the mainstream publishers who rejected my books. Better to smoke.

  3. Another excellent post, Mader. The correlation you drew to music and your comment about how sometimes you will write something for a lark and it will be revered clanged together in my head and made me think of Warren Zevon. The man was a musical genius, recorded twelve albums, wrote a zillion hits for other folk…and the only song most people associate with him (if indeed they know who he is) is 'Werewolves of London' – a fluff piece he wrote off-the-cuff without actually meaning to write a hit song. Thirty-odd years later, we're still howling along.

  4. Good article. A lot of those things linger long past the new writer stage though. And no I am not speaking about myself, well not entirely…

    Damn right on the smoking issue too. It's difficult to write while coughing up the gangrenous gore of rotten lungs and it makes a mess of the screen too. As for what all that fag ash does to the keyboard, well it's just too horrible to contemplate.

    1. Thanks Mark. Smoking…I smoked for ten years. Hundreds of thousands of cigarettes. Thousands down the drain. I wish I had it back.

  5. Lordy, I feel like you're a fly on the wall of my literary life. Glad me and my peers are not alone in falling foul of those sins! Found this blog post oddly comforting : ) x

  6. Get out of my brain JD Mader! It's a bad neighborhood up there and it's dark, you shouldn't be there. I can sure relate to the bi-polar emotions of sometimes confident and sometimes weak at the knees. Definitely a comforting post.

  7. The confident/weak in the knees comment reminds me of a quote by John Hiatt (paraphrasing here b/c I don't have the liner notes): "…I was your typical artist- an egomaniac with an inferiority complex…"

    We're ALL like this, to some extent. Every last one.

    Wouldn't have it any other way.

      1. Yup. Knees shaking, plot shakey, thinking of an exit strategy. I wrote a bunch of words and sold them for less than a tourist trinket on a half-hearted texan's shirt.

        1. Now I'm in my car, I got the radio on, I'm yellin' at the kids in the back seat, 'Cause they're bangin' like Charlie Watts…

          And you can learn to live with love or without it, But there ain't no cure. (I know that's not from the same song, but this is my favorite John Hiatt)

          1. I was gonna get up off that barstool

            Just as soon as I could figure it out

            Whi I was overlooked at the carpool

            Stood up at the dance with no twist and shout

  8. If it helps, I just crushed out my smoke to reply. Your (smokers cough) welcome.

    This is one of those topics that happens to be near and dear to my heart. It's very easy for a new writer to run into obstacles. In my case there were many. Some still crop up from time to time.

    A few of these pitfalls that you describe seemed to have been taken right out of my own life. In 'The Learning Curve' column this month (read it next Monday here at IU), I talk a bit about perception. In particular, how we perceive ourselves and our writing. Even though it's already written, I think it's a proper reply/comment to your post here.

    Loved your advice…

    "But there is really only one way to really fail at writing. And that is to stop doing it."

    Well put my friend.

  9. What Mark Cantrell said – they linger on.

    I have walked into lecture halls and shuddered twice: at my own lack of confidence, and the smell of envy in the room. I have wondered how come writers with about a third of my ability managed to sell fourteen times as many books.

    Smoking to me always seemed like rolling up dollar notes and setting them alight, so I never really got it. But other vices litter our paths, don't they? What's a writer without vices?

  10. A writer without vices isn't trying hard enough. And I hear you. The longing lingers, the shame lingers, hell, the lingering lingers long past the final awkward reading stutter.

  11. As always, great perspective. I've never understood the jealousy thing. I wish all of us the best success. I buy others books and know I'll never read them (not my schtick and too much other reading to do.)

    Thanks for keeping our heads in the right place.

  12. Quite the litteral assassin aren't you 🙂 I agree and appreciate your comment on this matter. Do you have any input for new writers who have or may be taken by fake ass book review persons/editors.

    1. Don't let it happen again. Sounds snarky. But that's the best advice I got. Don't let your guard down. Soulless people prey on the egos of writers and artists.

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