8 Traps Writers Will Discover

Every one of them has snagged me.  Every last one of the following traps for writers is something that has happened to me along the wriggly road to publication.  And though they haven’t hurt physically as much as the awful bear trap at left, they’ve changed me.

8 Traps Writers Will Discover

1. Believing your writing needs no revision. When I first began this novel-writing journey, ‘darlings’ were people and I certainly wouldn’t cut them out. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, a dangerous spot to be in when you go to your first extreme editing course, armed with your 100,000-word novel and people start to snip away at your treasure which took a year to write.  Luckily I’ve changed and learned.

2.  Ignoring the story arc conventions. Who ever heard of those and of what use are they?  Surely a writer can just start at the beginning and let the story happen.  Not so much.   Take a look at Donald Maass` Writing the Breakout Novel for some excellent information on story arcs, among many other topics.

3.  Going to courses or workshops which don`t help you.  Don`t get me wrong.  Courses and workshops are vital.  The absolute must skill you have to develop is distinguishing between those that are and those that are not.  Look at the credentials of the people there, both instuctors and fellow participants.  Listen to those who have walked the walk and are published in a genre similar to your own.  I once had a new writer working on her first children`s book tell me to make sweeping changes to my historical fiction, even though she freely admitted to never having read the genre and not liking it.  Lovely person though she was, her comments were not helpful to me.

4.  Getting stopped by critiques.  This links closely to the last point but a writer must learn to take criticism because there is a lot of value to it.  What stopped me up was learning how to distinguish between helpful points and critique which did not fit with my vision, even though it came from published authors.  As a writer, I`m still learning to listen to what everyone says but use what I want.  There is a fine line between having respect for others`opinions but then choosing not to use them.

5.  Sending your manuscript or query letters out and getting rejection letters.  Ouch, they hurt!  But remember the boy`s answer as to why he kept hitting himself in the forehead with a hammer–it felt so good when he stopped. Submitting is a little like that.  Terry Fallis said he first sent his ms for The Best Laid Plans to 48 people and only had a reply from one of them.  And that was a no.  The rest never even answered but Terry kept going and self-published his novel, submitting it to the Leacock award contest on a whim, and winning that award.  Check out his website to see where this determination has taken him.

6.  Ignoring conventions about developing fully rounded characters.  I really love plot when I read.  What happens next is paramount to me, so that when I started my novel, I did do character sheets but did not realize just how authentic my characters had to be.  It came up time and again before I realized I had to make those characters so real my readers would go to bed at night, expecting to get a call in the morning from my hero.

7.  Resisting suggestions to do a total rewrite of your manuscript.  This is so hard to do that many of us put the reviewer suggestions in a special part of the brain, never to be revisited.  We have spent so many months and years to get to this point, only to be asked for a complete rewrite.  Double ouch.  But consider how much you have learned on your journey and then apply those lessons to this tired manuscript.  Imagine how much better it can be and just plan it out and do it.

8.  Walking away for days, weeks, months, even.  I have done this, telling myself we were downsizing, or my brother was desperately ill, or even just that I deserved a break.  Each time I came back, having lost time but still with a great desire to finish what I started.  Sitting at the keyboard for hours a day with my door closed and my eyes firmly averted from the sunshine just outside my window is the only way to get the job done.  And when I finish my three pages for the day, I am alive as never before.  My grilled cheese tastes amazing, the jokes my husband tells are delightful, and cleaning the toilet is so rewarding.

My wish for you is that you spring all the traps quickly and  positively as you write to success.  Consider leaving a comment to tell a story of your own writing journey.


20 thoughts on “8 Traps Writers Will Discover

  1. These are great tips, and include a few I haven’t thought of yet. Thanks for the heads up!
    Right now I am in the land of woe called revision, and the first point really hit home. I am discovering the power of killing my darlings and fixing plot craters in a targeted rewrite.
    I do love how writing enhances my experience of the world, so I’m sticking with it though. 🙂


  2. I think I’ve lived every one of these. I loved it when I didn’t know what I didn’t know–writing books was so easy then. Character development has been the issue I most stumbled over. I’ve now written a booklet on it, assimilating everything I’ve learned over the years, so I can get into my character’s head and not wonder what they’re thinking.


    • You’re one of the people who has helped me with character development, Sharon. Your sheets last fall were excellent and I’m using them now as I rough out book two in my series. So glad that you have collected your wisdom into a booklet. Also I’m working my way through Donald Maass, another recommendation of yours. You are definitely walking the walk AND talking the talk.


  3. I totally agree with you and I would add one more for myself; getting trapped in research. I simply love research but I tend to let it run away with me. As always, Elaine, a brilliant article.


    • So true! I get into finding out what happened 200 years ago and forget I’m actually researching for a purpose. It’s just so interesting to imagine life as it was with the clues given in history books. Maybe that’s why I’m writing historical fiction:-)


  4. Good points. the last is especially true for me. I do stay away from my writing for periods of time and when I come back, it’s because ideas are again whirling in my head and I have to get them on paper. This “fresh” start is a real boost for me.


  5. Learning to be selective about which comments are relevant is a big one. That comes with experience, of course. And making your characters real. I think those two traps stand out for me.


    • And if I have to choose, those are my biggest ones, too. Translating those real characters in your head to people readers immediately relate to is hard to do but paramount. Thanks for visiting, Beryl!


  6. Do we get a prize for each one we’ve fallen into, or is the reward in being able to look back and say, ‘That’s what I learned from that experience’? For myself, I found the flip side of critiques could be just as much of a stoppage; fulsome praise leads one into the first trap. Now I’ve learned I am not so much a writer as I am a ‘re-writer’, especially since I can see how each ‘trap’ helped me to become more skilled, more committed, and more amazed that I haven’t stumbled into the fatal last trap that will make me — oh dear, mixed metaphor — throw in the towel.


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