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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

5 Terrifying Mistakes I Made as Newbie Writer

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love swapping ghost stories, going on tours of supposedly haunted places in the city, and watching movies that make me scream and hide my eyes.

But nothing scares me more than thinking about the mistakes I made when I launched my writing career. Honestly, it's a wonder I'm still in business! It took me some time to figure out what I was doing wrong, and more time after that to fix it. I think I'm finally on the right track…at least until the next scary mistake comes along.

1. Not "Vetting" Potential Clients

When I first started writing, I was desperate for work. Any work. I latched onto the first client who came my way without bothering to ask what kind of material he needed. Long story short, he turned out to be a pedophile. I "fired" him immediately, of course, but ever since then, I've refused to sign onto a project until I know exactly what sort of material I'll be working on.

2. Working for Peanuts

Actually, I didn't work for peanuts. Peanuts would have cost more. Because I was shy about identifying myself as a "real" writer, the first job I accepted was one that paid $5.00 for each 500-word article. After falling behind on my rent and utilities, I decided I had to start going for the bigger game, intimidated or not. And you know what? Once I gathered the courage to apply for them, I had no problem finding jobs I enjoyed that paid a living wage.

3. Not Building a "Cushion" into My Estimates

I used to look at a large project and think, "Oh, I can knock that off in a couple of days." And maybe I could have, if it hadn't been for a broken water line in my apartment, or a horrible toothache, or a sick cat, or being hit with three other projects, all due on the same day. Now when I accept a project, I usually add at least five to ten days as a cushion. That way, if I can deliver earlier, my customers are thrilled. If I can't, at least they're not disappointed.

4. Working with Jerks

Being a writer means being open to feedback and working with your client to get the finished product he or she wants. It does not mean making yourself a target for flames, verbal abuse, and insults. In my early writing days, I just sort of assumed that working with a (mercifully) few rude clients was just the cost of doing business. Since then, however, I've decided that life is simply too short to spend around toxic people. Now I give disrespectful clients a single warning. The second time they call me names, yell at me, or abuse me in any other way, they're gone. And I don't miss them!

5. Not Planning My Day

I learned the hard way that if I don't take control over my own schedule, there are plenty of people out there who are more than happy to take control of it for me. Now I plan for 15 minutes each night before I shut down the computer, so that the next morning I know exactly what I need to get done. My days don't all go exactly as planned, but at least now I have a map that can guide me in the right direction if I get distracted.

What was/is your most terrifying writing mistake, and how did you overcome it? 

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