7 Things Writers Should Stop Wasting Their Time On

IS09AL15JWe all know what a demon procrastination is. But what about the other things that get in the way of actual writing? I have a list of things that (some, not all) writers have a tendency to waste their time with. Whether it’s old habits that need shaking, or creative crutches that lead to excuses, the only way you’re going to write your book is when you sit down and do the work.

My goal, with this post and all of my blogs, is to help writers recognize their personal limitations and push through them for higher productivity and success!

So see if these apply to you, and decide if it’s time to let it go…

  1. Writing with one eye over your shoulder – So many writers hold back, especially when they’re writing their first novel. Whether it’s because it’s painful to go too deep, or they’re afraid what others will think, there comes a time when you have to stop looking over your shoulder and delve inside to find the truth of what you want to say.
  2. Critique groups you’ve outgrown – It’s hard to recognize the exact moment this happens because it’s a progression. I believe critique groups serve many functions: help to schedule ‘you time,’ assist in meeting personal deadlines, teach you observe critiques, and give others feedback. However, everyone knows that growth isn’t predictable or linear. It can happen in leaps or in steady climbs. But someday, you might outgrow your group, so have a plan for what you want to do when that time comes.
  3. Thinking you’re going to please everyone – This is a life skill as well as a writing skill. It’s a fundamental truth that writers learn one way or another. Every writer has the dream that they’ll drop off a manuscript to their agent or editor and they’ll say “I have no critique!” It’s a lovely fantasy, but an extremely rare one–and I think all writers know this; I’m not saying anything new. But don’t let a fear of failing to make everyone happy stop you from writing. Writing happens one word at a time, one day at a time. Do what feels right to you and your voice.
  4. Fancy technology, expensive retreats – These elaborate things don’t make you a writer (but they don’t not make you one either). If you have a habit of thinking the writing will come when you spend money on it, you’re finding a new way to procrastinate. I believe you have to protect your writing time–and if that means a writer’s retreat and you can afford it all the power to you!–but if you’re waiting to start your project once you can afford the retreat, software, workshop, or new laptop it’s another way you’re stopping yourself without even knowing it.
  5. Rewriting your first 5 pages before you finish your first draft – There is no reason to attempt to make a first draft “perfect.” Nothing good will come of it. If you have a habit of tweaking things over and over before you even have the first draft it’s going to lead to over-written work that you don’t want to cut because it’s become a darling. “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” — Margaret Atwood
  6. Twitter stalking – There is a time and a place for research, but sometimes Twitter can be a place that drowns your voice and makes you anxious. I’m all for social media breaks and I think it’s great to have an understanding of the industry, but don’t let Twitter or Facebook take over your protected writing time and take you away from your ultimate goal.
  7. JealousyI wrote this post last year and it remains one of my personal favorites. Please read it again. I think everyone in creative fields can relate. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 are points to come back to time and time again. Moments of jealousy and comparison are a perfect time to reflect on why you’re feeling that way and get out of your funk.

If you want to write, find time to write. You’re the only one that can make your dreams come true!

Q: Did you recently shake a bad writing habit or creative crutch? Tell us about it.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

38 thoughts on “7 Things Writers Should Stop Wasting Their Time On

  1. I think Jealousy has the opposite affect on me. An old friend/acquaintance of mine just won the International Literacy Award for YA and when she shared the news I was thrilled (though also covetous and jealous) and my internal response was, “Okay, Faerl, stop twiddling your thumbs and get on it!” However, number 4 is definitely my crutch. I have to tell myself that the best promotion for my previous novels will be my next one.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m guilty of 1,3 and 5 but I’m working on those. Jealousy on the other hand will always be there. Because just as I’d be envious of another writer, I’ll also be happy for them. And support them as much as I can.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Carly, and I was holding my breath to see if Twitter was on your list . . . and of course, it is. There’s so much to be learned there, and so much time to be wasted there. Appreciate the reminder. Tip #2 resonates for me now, especially with Tip #3 echoing on its heels. You just can’t please everyone all the time. I’m fond of reminding myself to please myself first. Like that oxygen mask mantra.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My worst habit (I think!) is that I allow myself to think I can multi-task, or that I need a good idea of where I’m going before I can get started (especially on a scene in a story already underway). Turning on a show, or staring at the blank page are not going to help me.
    I’ve found that putting online writing groups to use can help that. Jumping on a writing sprint in Twitter forces me to write my way to what I need.
    All very good advice! Thanks.


  5. I am such an avoider! This reassures me that I am not alone. I need to put time aside to do what I enjoy more often (to write), otherwise what’s the point?!


  6. I definitely tweak those first 5 pages before the draft is done. I usually don’t have an ending spelled out, but this time I brainstormed an ending for my draft prior to writing, so maybe I won’t get stuck.

    Though I have a critique group and we often share writing in progress. Since we meet monthly, I don’t always have a finished draft to share. This contributes to the revise-as-you-go mentality.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve been in the same critique group for four years and its been an invaluable learning experience. I consider all the writers great friends. But you are right that there comes a time when the ante needs to be upped and the criticism needs to dig deeper in order to continue growing. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of moving on for a year now. Errr. It’s hard, but I know you’re right.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really liked this post, especially the part about jealousy. I think we all fall into that habit once in a while and realize how useless it is, and how much better our time would be spent if we just focused on our craft. Sharing on Twitter!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Writing Reconsidered and commented:
    I *love* this post from Carly Watters. (Thank you, C.W.!) Definitely give it a read and see if there aren’t any creeping unhelpful (or even downright destructive) habits that you could lose in order to help boost your writing time and improve your writing as well. (I know I’ve battled with some of these before and continue to battle with others of them.)

    “Writing happens one word at a time, one day at a time.” — Carly Watters

    “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” — Margaret Atwood

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I used to be in a writer’s group, but now I write alone. It’s my true life, me and my computer, and I try to stay away from social media while I am working. Belief in your work has to sit with you during the work time. And later, I might read some awesome writer like Marilynne Robinson to make me believe in the process. Great post, Beth

    Liked by 1 person

  11. i learned about number five recently: It usually takes me from six months to a year to future to write a book. Seeing how long it took me to write my books, I had decided to rewrite my chapters as I went. I finally finished the first draft of my new book last month, after rewriting the first five chapters for one year and six months. I also have to keep in mind numbers one and two as I write. I’m relieved to see that I’m not the only writer who struggles through these issues.

    Liked by 1 person

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