Don’t Derail Your Writing Career Before it Starts: 8 Ways New Writers Sabotage Themselves


Anne R. Allen has a must-read post for both new and intermediate writers. She lists and discusses self-defeating practices of many newbies, such as: relying on well-meaning but uninformed advice from friends and family, overlooking the advantages of seeking out other writers for support and mutual critiquing, and failing to create and regularly UPDATE a writer’s blog.

But the mistake that stood out for me was “Writing Novels Exclusively.” Here’s what Anne says:

Once I decided I wanted to have a writing career, I dove right into writing novels. I left short stories and poetry behind. People told me they were for amateurs. …

I was short-sighted. If I’d had more publishing credits and contest wins, I would have found a publisher for my longer fiction faster.

I’d also now be sitting on a goldmine, since short stories, novelettes and novellas are hot commodities.

Anne’s absolutely right about this. I’m not claiming prescience here; in fact, I started out writing novels as well. (And I have the rejection slips to prove it!) I turned to short stories as a way to get the hang of writing for an audience as well as learning how to make my manuscripts stand out from the slush pile. I have to say it was a winning strategy — after getting a half-dozen short stories published, I tried long fiction again, and my book Aztec Midnight was finally accepted. Now, in addition to writing short stories, I’m again working on longer pieces.

But there’s another value to publishing short stories, one I learned in my previous career as a manager in the insurance industry. The most important thing you look for when you interview potential employees is a history of getting hired and promoted. A good record tells the interviewer that other professionals in the industry have put their stamps of approval on the person under consideration. Similarly, a consistent publishing history is a testament to a writer’s dedication and ability to write stories other editors like.

Seeing that other editors have accepted your previous manuscripts doesn’t guarantee an editor will accept your next submission, but it might just tip the scales in your favor.

16 thoughts on “Don’t Derail Your Writing Career Before it Starts: 8 Ways New Writers Sabotage Themselves”

  1. Thanks so much for your advice, Mike. I need to discipline myself more and take the submission process more seriously. It’s hard for me to just keep up with the blog! I think I have that backwards and need to pull away from it a little bit, to be honest.


    1. One of the mistakes Anne discusses is failing to create a balance between learning the craft and marketing what you’ve written. Like anything, you have to gauge your progress and make corrections as needed. Best of luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike, back when I started seriously writing in ’02 I was told the path to fiction publication was through short stories–perhaps that’s not being taught anymore! In my fiction writing classes we read short stories like Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” and Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” to get students to KNOW the elements of fiction. In my last class I had two students (out of 7) who had not read ANY fiction in 20 years, yet they’re in a fiction writing class. Read fiction if you want to write fiction and study the short story form.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alice Osborn,

      It puzzles me how folks can claim to be writers (or even aspiring writers) and yet not be serious readers.

      The course of study you took sounds excellent. I think my years as an English major, in which I focused on ferreting out themes, historical context, etc, held me back as a writer. Learning the nuts and bolts of plot structure makes much more sense.


  3. Start with “What I Like to Write” and then pair up with “What The Market Wants.” If you’re into spec fic, is a great place to start. You have to know what editors are looking for. If they want what you write, odds are you’ll get their attention.


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