5 Common Mistakes Writers Make That Sabotage Their Success

Today’s guest post is by Bella Mahaya Carter.

I’m neither unique nor alone in having made mistakes as a writer that have potentially sabotaged my chance at success. I’ve witnessed these same mistakes among my clients and students.

They aren’t limited to writers, nor are they the first things that come to mind when considering mistakes, but I wish I’d had a clearer understanding of them as a young writer. It would have spared me years of heartache and confusion.

Let’s dig in to the 5 common mistakes writers make and what can be done to correct them and avoid self-sabotage:

  1. Not believing in yourself

In my twenties, my sister gave me a knickknack: a three-inch-square photo frame of a shooting star with the words “Believe in Yourself.” I don’t recall the circumstances that prompted her to offer this support—but I imagine it had to do with a fresh writing rejection, or maybe I was thinking of giving up on writing.

I’d revisit that idea every so often, but the thought of giving up writing was excruciating. I could give up success (whatever that meant), but not writing. Never. I needed it like I needed air.

In retrospect, I didn’t understand that the disappointments I’d experienced were par for the course.

I kept that knickknack for forty years. It now sits on an altar in my office along with the three books I’ve written.

Today I picked it up and dropped it and the glass cracked, which reminded me of the Leonard Cohen quote: “The cracks are where the light gets in,” and awakened in me the realization that this message has finally penetrated my own crevices.

I’ve lived with this message in my head as if it were a suggestion from on high. I didn’t think it was practical or possible to believe in myself—at least not as a constant state. But now I feel bathed in this wisdom. It has seeped down into my core.

I believe in myself—finally—and this is both a relief and a revelation.

  1. Seeking validation outside yourself

It’s more common to seek validation outside ourselves than within. I did this most of my life and still do.

But there’s a fundamental difference in my now versus then for me. Simply put, I’ve learned how to validate myself.

How? By understanding that there’s a part of me—a part of us all— that is solid, intact, resilient, infinitely creative, and eternal. It’s always here whether I feel it or not.

Once you experience this recognition, a reckoning occurs where you ask yourself these questions:

  • What choice will I make?
  • Will I trust myself or not?
  • Will I lean into my innate wisdom or assume I don’t have what it takes to do, be, or have what I want?
  • Will I live according to someone else’s standards and expectations or pave my own way?
  • Will I define my own life?
  • Will I love myself no matter what, or will I abandon myself?

These are choices we make, often unconsciously. The trick is to be definite with the infinite. To commit to living and acting from a place of trust and faith rather than turmoil and fear—and to forgive yourself when you fall off the proverbial bandwagon.

Seeking validation within is a practice, not a destination. Mastery requires repetition. Keep validating yourself, and people “out there” will reflect back to you the light you’re shining.

  1. Believing your fearful, limited thinking

We all have lots of thoughts swirling inside our heads, so it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we can choose which ones to believe. In other words, we don’t have to be fused or identified with our thinking mind.

Thoughts are ideas the brain conjures to help us stay safe. They contain a negativity bias, because one of the brain’s jobs is to alert us to danger. A deeper, intuitive part of us can decide which thoughts to believe and take on and which ones to lay down and ignore. It’s a creative triage that enables us to consciously choose what to believe.

This takes practice—it’s hard sometimes to see when and how our mind is taking us for a ride—but it can be done. Awareness of this process is the place to start. Once you see a glimmer of how this works, more insights will follow.

Start by asking yourself, What if this xyz limiting thought isn’t true? Our thoughts are not made of concrete or stone. They are amorphous, fleeting, transitory, and imagined. As such, we have more power than we think.

  1. Feeling entitled to success

In his book The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama describes a crushing defeat following his 2000 campaign to represent the state of Illinois in the US House of Representatives. It was a sobering moment. He was forty-one years old and realized, “Life is not obliged to work out as you’d planned.”

He goes on to write: “I began feeling the way I imagine an actor or athlete must feel when, after years of commitment to a particular dream, after years of waiting tables between auditions or scratching out hits in the minor leagues, he realizes that he’s gone just about as far as his talent or fortune will take him. The dream will not happen. Now he faces the choice of accepting this fact and moving on to more sensible pursuits, or refusing the truth and ending up bitter.” He adds, “At some point, though, I arrived at acceptance—of my limits, and, in a way, my mortality.”

It was this acceptance that led him to make a bid four years later for the US Senate, and the rest is history.

Success isn’t guaranteed. What matters is doing the best you can with what you’ve got.

Accepting your limitations is not the same thing as giving up—it’s giving yourself a break. It’s allowing yourself to be where and who you are. Appreciating what you’ve got. It’s about enjoying life no matter what, and embracing opportunities that present themselves, even if they look different from your original expectations. It may also mean checking your ego at the door before entering a room.

  1. Underestimating the time it might take to become proficient

It takes time to develop skills needed to gain mastery as a writer. Countless craft books discuss the intricacies of character, plot, setting, time, narration, voice, and more. People have studied the power of stories for thousands of years; great philosophers from as far back as Aristotle have written extensively on the subject. The art is more complex than you might think.

Take the time to learn the rules before you break them. Study and practice your craft by reading and writing as much as you can.

It also takes time to understand the business of writing. Patience and good literary citizenship are tools worth cultivating.

The good thing about mistakes is that we learn from them (if we’re paying attention).

Although it took me decades to grasp these lessons, others will no doubt catch on faster. Writers obviously aren’t the only people who navigate doubts, fears, entitlement, and the need for validation. These are human challenges.

When we learn to see the myths embedded into limiting ideas, we can break free from them. For writers, this paves the way for self-expression and streamlines the creative process from inspiration to publication and beyond.

Bella Mahaya Carter is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, speaker, and author of three books—most recently, Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? Finding Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. Visit her website and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.

Featured Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

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One Comment

  1. These are all very good points. I think the last one is especially true, especially for younger and less experienced people.

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