5 Ways to Fail At Writing by Vicki Keire

1.       Mercilessly compete with other writers

You are an island of genius alone in a sea of sharks. Cooperation? What’s that? Collaboration? For the weak! If someone else is doing “better” than you, with higher word counts or rankings or more adoring fans, you’ll just work harder.

The problem is that, rather than focusing on your own strengths, you’re comparing yourself to others. That’s an uncomfortable way to live, not to mention creatively stifling. So what if Superfast Writer cranks out a novel every month? Perhaps speed isn’t your thing, and you’ll only wind up with tire marks all over the intricate plot lines or snappy dialogue that is the true strength of your writing.

2.       Never, ever ask for help

If you ask for help with Sticky Plot Point #4, then everyone will know. They will know you don’t have all the answers, or that you are farther behind schedule than you would like. Perhaps your ms will somehow let slip the embarrassing fact that you sing off key when proofreading. Nope. Best keep the whole mess under wraps and deal with any hitches on your own.

This is also known as “imposter syndrome.” Everyone hits speed bumps in their writing, if not pot holes and even bottomless pits. This is one of ROW80’s founding principles; we’re here to help each other. We’ve all struggled with “imposter syndrome,” and will happily help kick the bugger in the face. Most of us also eventually find that creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Giving another writer the chance to help can be a real boost to his or her work.

3.       Don’t read

Reading might rob you of precious word count-increasing minutes. Besides, the other writer’s voice or style might somehow creep into your own ms and taint it. You must protect your ideological virtue at all costs.  And there’s certainly nothing worthwhile outside of your own genre.

Faulkner once said, “Read everything.” He really meant everything: trashy romances, newspaper articles, religious tracts, bathroom graffiti. (Okay, I’m not sure about that last bit.) Reading extensively can help show us what a well-built sentence looks like, or how exquisite dialogue leaps, unspoken, from page to tongue. Conversely, the really awful stuff becomes more and more obvious.

4.  Never take a break

The harder you work, the more productive you’ll be. Forget that five minute breather between chapters. Who cares if you’ve been writing for four hours straight? You’re on a roll! And don’t even breathe the word “vacation.” You can squeeze out a chapter or three in a weekend. The leaves turn this color every year. Who cares?

There’s a worse word than “vacation:” burnout. Burning out can leave you half-mad with exhaustion, frustrated, and snapping at loved ones. You may find yourself yanked off your imaginary planet from chapter nine and forced, instead, to converse with mortals who insist they are something called friends. Taking frequent breaks or even longer, overnight ones (I won’t use the “v” word!) can mitigate this. So can noticing the brilliant red maple at the end of the street, or powering the computer down long enough to have tea and chocolate, or sharing your accomplishments with those sketchy beings called friends.

5. Play it safe

Epic novels about Roboraptors are all the rage, burning up the bestseller charts. No problem. You can write that. So what if your heart harbors a prose-poem novel about a guard in a Japanese internment camp who falls in love with the treasured youngest daughter of an imprisoned family? No one buys prose poetry, no matter how romantic and tragic and mad. Best stick to Roboraptors. Besides, think of how much time you have invested in a manuscript you know, on some level, isn’t working. Starting over would mean ditching everything and, well, starting over.

Perhaps your idea is the next big thing. And odds are, with everyone writing about the same thing, the market will be glutted by the time your work is ready for the public anyway. We writers invest an enormous amount of resources into our work. It is not an exaggeration to think of our novels, poems, and stories a part of ourselves. Starting over is literally like cutting off a limb. But if our stories are no longer working, if they have grown stale and gangrenous, then the alternative is much worse. We should carefully consider the risks of staying with a stalled project without losing sight of the rewards of change.


Vicki Keire

15 thoughts on “5 Ways to Fail At Writing by Vicki Keire

  1. Vicki, if I were my sons’ age, I would say Oh Em Gee. You hit on so many of my insecurities–I mentioned Imposter Syndrome in my check-in yesterday.

    Your first and last points are particularly hard for me. I write slowly; I constantly have to fight the jealousy and self-doubt that plagues me when I see others’ word counts, especially during November.

    Also, I write historical fiction–no Roboraptors in sight; I have a constant stream of people (none of them writers) telling me what I “should” write to become rich and famous. Pah! If my heart isn’t in it, the plot is thick as molasses, the characters cartoonish and flat; the whole thing turns to dreck. When I love the story and the characters, the thing lives and breathes on its own, even when it needs a lot of work to become really good.

    And that needing work is when I need to sing out. Ironically, I’ve told ROWers that so many times, but am reluctant to do it myself. I’m not afraid of people knowing I need help; I was brought up not to impose on people, and that training is hard to overcome.

    Oh, and the story about the internment guard–now that is the prose poem I could write! Thank you for this excellent post. The timeliness of it for me personally still give me chills.

      1. Imposition–or rather the fear of it–is a hard thing to break. I too share that phobia all through my life, writing and not. My mother used to complain about my grandmother saying “Sorry” all the time, but I understood it. I still do.

        Thank you (all of you, but especially Vicki) for a post that reminds me of my own need to admit my humanity and get help where I need it (even if it’s solely through reading blog posts)

  2. That’s a great post on Impostor Syndrome. Although I struggle with all these at different points, that one is probably the hardest.
    That prose=poem idea has been haunting me ever since I put it down! Who knows, maybe one day the guard and internee will have a happy ending. Also, my daughter says oh-em-gee all the time these days. Glad to know it’s a trend!

  3. Excellent advice, Vicki. One of the things that I love about ROW80 and that I feel is one of its greatest strengths is that it represents a community of writers that have all “been down the lonely path” and realized the need and power of communal support.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!

  4. Reading is more important than people realize. If you don’t read, you won’t see what works. What a great point. Obviously you want to have your own voice in writing and obviously you don’t want to take from others work, but reading will sort of make that happen…in a good way.

    I often find myself saying, “if only I could write like this” and I think that’s good. Sometimes it gets a little too close to your point #1, but you can’t let it get THAT far. When you’re reading, you’re truly finding out what works and what doesn’t; what sells and what doesn’t.

    Great post.

  5. Great advice. I was afraid to ask for help prior to ROW80, afraid more experienced writers would think my questions were immature or inexperienced. By embracing the writing community they’ve embraced me back.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. I fall into these traps myself! Well said. I have just discovered your ROW80 project. It sounds like just what I need, so I will be back to check it out in the new year. I’m visiting from the Carnival of Creativity.

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