5 Mistakes (Most) Beginning Writers Make


I’ve been in the writing game for almost two decades now. But once upon a time, I was a newb. I had no idea what I was doing. (Like, seriously, none.) But looking back, it’s easy for me to see where I went wrong and might have done better. Because I believe there is room in the writing industry for everyone, and because I genuinely don’t want you to struggle as I did, I’m breaking down the biggest mistakes I made (and see across the board from new writers).

1. Charging too little

New writers often start with no portfolio. So, the first of the big mistakes they make is to take low-paying jobs to build one. The problem with this is that you start building your client network among individuals and companies who do not value a fair wage. This isn’t desirable, because those clients are not going to provide the higher-paying referrals that naturally will build your writing business.

Instead of working for free or for a below-minimum-wage rate, create some client personas representing individuals and organizations. Create a variety of documents for those clients. Then find someone you trust with great writing skills to help you polish them. It’s OK if the documents have to go through many rounds of revision. But the idea is to bring the quality up to a level worthy of a better rate. When you feel as though you can consistently produce documents at that level, you can start looking for paying clients. The only requirements are that you’re clear about the fact you’re building your client list and that all of the documents are labeled as personas. Clients care about experience, but when the rubber meets the road, what matters the most is that they can see what you’re capable of writing.

2. Not acquiring some business savvy

Many new writers have excellent wordsmithing skills. Accounting? Time management? Negotiation? Often, not so much.

Before you head out of the gate, hone your business skills. You are your own CEO and have to act accordingly. Get familiar with contract basics and copyright law. Spend time with professionals so you understand their expectations and aren’t caught off guard by their standards. Even if you plan to write fiction 100 percent of the time, you’ll still need to understand the economics and logistics of publishing. Even self-publishing on Amazon will require you to understand how to manage accounts and engage in regular analysis of reviews and sales.

3. Not having writer friends

Writing is an incredibly tough job. Even if it offered better respect from others, it’s often unpredictable, and it requires playing the long game to build a following and earn a good editorial reputation. People who are outside the writing industry often do not understand how the isolation, lack of security, and repeated need to produce can wear a person down. Many writers have no friends or family who routinely read their writing.

So, if you don’t already have some, get some writing buddies. Your local library can be a great starting point if they host any kind of writing workshops or clubs. But if that’s not available where you are, find some support online. Social media can be a good way to connect informally, but check out more formal organizations such as the Author’s Guild, too.

4. Not tapping expertise

There are two prongs to this problem, the first of which is that writers often look for writing topics that are in high demand. The pay on those topics is often good, but if you’re not familiar with the subject, it can make the project cumbersome, and you might produce a disappointing result for the client. So, consider what you already have experience in and look for clients or publishers who want content on those topics. Learn and practice writing about other topics on the side as you let your current expertise bring in paid assignments.

The second prong of the problem is that writers don’t allow others with more clout to pull them up. Say you’re writing an article about depression. You might know the topic well and have good citations. But most editors will take your article more seriously if you can pull in an expert, such as a psychologist. So, don’t be afraid to reach out for interviews, as the insights from the experts can sway editors to accept your work. Bonus? The experts you interview are often more than happy to share your finished content, as it gives them positive publicity and shows they’ve been sought after for their knowledge and skills. The more they share your work, the faster your network will grow and the more people will look into your services.

5. Not anticipating revisions

When you’re new to writing, the mentality is often do-submit-done, especially if you’ve heard that writing is “easy.” Your ego can get the best of you. But it’s exceptionally rare for a client or publisher to accept a first draft as is. In fact, the more advanced you get, the more likely it is that your work will be under a microscope, because editorial standards get more demanding as you start working with higher-tier publications with huge readerships. More often, the client or publisher will ask for at least minimal changes. If you don’t anticipate these requests when you accept assignments or plan your content schedule, you can end up trying to push unrealistic timeframes for completion. You might take on new assignments only to end up scrambling as revision requests on older work come in.

So, leave yourself some extra time for corrections. If you end up not using all the extra time you set aside, use it to address tasks that writers often neglect and get behind on, such as updating your blog or reaching out to previous clients to maintain the relationships.

Every new writer is going to make some mistakes, just like any new worker anywhere else will. And as the field evolves, you’ll likely continue to make some mistakes as you adapt. But the mistakes outlined above don’t have to be part of your story. Set yourself up to avoid them and you’ll get more published for better pay in no time.