It’s easier to think of what I did right before I was published than what I did wrong. I’m not sure why that is; maybe I prefer the glass half-full. It is a good review, though, to remember the near misses and flat out mistakes so that I don’t go there again.
1) Impatience: Once I knew I wanted to be a published writer, I was focused. Determination was my middle name. Finding a balance between that eagerness and the rush to get into the market was hard for me. I made the mistake of mailing a manuscript before it was the best it could be. And I didn’t just mail it once; I mailed it about 30 times. That story will be revised someday. Maybe.
2) Talking: I talked about my story too much. I should clarify. I talked about my story to non-writers too much. Being excited about my new venture, I would share my ideas, and bubble over excitedly about the writing experience only to be shot down by an Eeyore-type who declared that those books don’t sell, it’s hard to get published these days, or don’t get your hopes up. I’ve learned to offer a snippet and hold the rest close for me and only me. I’ve also learned to see it from the other side. It does look a little crazy from the other side, but don’t look at it from their side—that would be another mistake.
3) Peer pressure: Early on I was willing to do anything to be a better writer. I still want to be a better writer, but I’m not willing to be trampled in the process. I let someone be rough with her critiques and I didn’t speak up. I knew her harsh words were unnecessary, but I knew they had originated from her own pain, so I let them go. In retrospect, I see that I wasted her time and my own by letting it go on too long.
4) Perspective: I only gave up on myself a few times in the ten years it took me to get published. Each time I was exhausted and had lost perspective. I was a weeping, inconsolable mess who declared that all the doubters were right—I was wasting my time. It’s good to have a singular focus, but it’s also important to turn around and look at how far you’ve come on the journey.
5) Stopping: The biggest mistake I made is not writing. What I mean is that there should always be something going on in the background. When I was working on Buried, I wasn’t working on anything else. I had put away my manuscript that had been rejected 30 times and was so grateful for Buried being picked up that that’s all I worked on. I don’t do that anymore.
None of those 5 things are really mistakes, though. I truly wanted to learn to be a better writer, and I wanted to be a published writer, so I did what it took, and when I screwed up I tried not to do it again. But I didn’t let it stop me.