I originally wrote and posted this on The Writing Cooperative on Medium in 2018. I quit writing on Medium for reasons I won’t go into in this post. Suddenly quitting things is a great way to limit your writing success! I will give the general disclaimer here that 1) I do many of these things even after writing this post 2) I actually believe that there’s a balance to be struck in goal-setting and it’s easy to overdo and 3) I still am not good at “marketing.” Lately, I’m pretty much just blogging and not sending out query letters or searching out freelance assignments other than (sometimes) doing WordPress design for clients. So there. I’ve told on myself…read on.)
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14 Ways to Limit Your Writing Success
Do you write but don’t really want to succeed? We all define success differently. For some, it might mean getting paid for freelancing. For others, it might mean completing a novel, publishing poetry, or blogging. The following are all-purpose strategies for derailing these endeavors. How do I know? I’ve tested all these techniques for limiting your writing success at one time or another and found them to be quite effective:
1. DON’T CALL YOURSELF A WRITER:
You write all the time, blog, have a novel hidden away in your desk drawer, perhaps have poems bundled away Emily Dickinson style in your desk drawer. Yet you hesitate to call yourself a writer because real writers (are published, or have been published more than once, or have been published in the Atlantic…or whatever the next thing is that you haven’t yet achieved). When people ask what you do, minimize. Avoid eye contact, say something like, “Well, I kind of write…but it’s only a hobby…and…”
2. DON’T SET GOALS:
Maybe you’ve heard that you can reduce your stress by living goal-free. You just want to write, and that’s OK. But for some of us living without goals can be an excellent excuse for waffling around aimlessly without moving toward our dreams (though I do love waffles and a certain amount of trial and error is good for creativity and finding our niche).
3. DON’T SET A SCHEDULE:
Or, if you do, don’t show up for your appointments with the page. Find things to do other than write. Here are some of the many things you can do to distract yourself: kayaking, hiking, internet surfing, tweeting, MMOs, binge-watching anime with your daughter, triathlons, rearranging your coffee mug collection, posting cat videos on YouTube, leveling up your High Valyrian on Duolingo, or posting pictures of your dinner to Facebook (which, I’m sure, your friends all appreciate). Some of these things are healthy, and having a life well lived fills our creative well as well as giving us rich experiences to fuel our writing. But if you don’t want to write, do ALL of these things and then kvetch about not having time to write. Alternately, you can…
4. BURN YOURSELF OUT:
You love to write! Why not spend ALL your time writing and blogging, hardly pausing for meals or exercise? It will serve as a form of aversion therapy.
5. LISTEN TO OTHERS WHO “KNOW BETTER”:
Your parents, boyfriend, acquaintances, or even your meditation teacher (all of whom have never really bothered to read your writing) surely know better than you do what kind of aptitude you have for writing and what you should do with your time, hobbies, and career choice. Show your drafts to people who can or will not give you constructive feedback. Alternately…
6. DON’T LISTEN TO OTHERS WHO KNOW BETTER:
You’re an awesome writer, aren’t you? Your communications professor told you that you had the “best final essay she ever read.” 30 years ago. Maybe you don’t remember all your parts of speech, but you tell yourself that you have a great instinctual knowledge of grammar. Be like that person in the old Zen story whose cup was already so full that it would hold nothing new. Don’t have your drafts proofed by supportive others — you don’t need feedback! Don’t take writing classes — you know what you’re doing! Until you realize that using two spaces after a period hopelessly dates you as being over 40, and that you’re a grammar dinosaur! And that it’s a different world since the last time you were published. And that you could use some advice on writing a successful query letter.
7. DON’T SET UP AN AREA WHERE YOU CAN WRITE WITHOUT INTERRUPTION:
Try to write in the middle of a summer afternoon when the children are home from school and you have about 10 noisy imps running with Popsicles through the house and over your carpets. Or try to write at the dining room table, where your spouse insists on reading you news headlines and comics every 10 minutes.
8. DON’T HAVE A PLACE OR A SYSTEM FOR KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR IDEAS:
You know you had this idea that was simply brilliant once but…what was it? Or you have an idea that seems so silly that you’d never want to write about it — until you have a dry spell and are searching your brain for a subject. Don’t have a system for jotting down those ideas that randomly pop into your head when you’re doing other things.
9. HATE AND ENVY THOSE WHO ARE DOING MORE SUCCESSFUL WRITING:
Make yourself feel horrible by comparing yourself to successful writers, especially ones you know personally. Spend your time and energy grousing about the fact that your friend’s tweet this morning about her shitty day got 200 “likes.” Don’t use this energy, instead, to spur you on to more writing.
10. REFUSE TO MARKET YOURSELF:
When you hear things about “branding,” or “being a brand,” start imaging what kind of brand you would be, if you were a brand. Tell yourself that if you were an automotive brand, you would not be a Porsche, but maybe…an AMC Gremlin. Or if you were wine you would not be the Montrachet Grand Cru but, instead, the “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s (which is actually not bad for the price). Don’t create a site to promote yourself because someone once someone shamed you for “tooting your own horn.”
11. STAY IN YOUR COMFORT ZONE:
You want to try writing fiction, but what you’ve always written are nonfiction articles. You find yourself saying, “I can’t write fiction.” (And get chewed out by a writing teacher for this statement). However, I will acknowledge that there is something to be said for exploring your comfort zone. Writing about subjects within that zone is a good place to start and good place to fish for ideas.
12. SAY “NO” TO UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITIES:
Someone contacts you through a friend to ask you if you want to write a post about parenting on their site. But you’re going through a rough patch at the time and you answer “no” because you’re not feeling inspired — instead of writing about how difficult parenting can be and about how to deal with the times you just don’t feel inspired.
13. DON’T EDIT ANYTHING. JUST WRITE AND POST/SUBMIT.
Writing takes work. Most of us write crappy first drafts. But why not just post yours immediately instead of letting it simmer for a couple of days, then taking another look at it and polishing it for public consumption? The inverse of this can also hamper your writing: edit, question yourself, and self-correct so much that you never submit anything. Never simply decide that something is as good as it’s going to get and set it free into the world.
Enough said. Give up because you’ve received a rejection letter instead of determining why the piece or query was rejected. Often the reason for rejection is that the piece didn’t fit the publication, or that it didn’t fit a theme in their current calendar. Often it’s not you — and if it is, you can work on improving your writing or your query letters. But if you don’t want to succeed, take it personally and don’t use the rejection as a learning experience.
If you have any other tips on limiting your writing success, share in the comments! If I didn’t say in this post, I think comparing yourself to others is another great deterrent.
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