1. Seeking validation on the outside and getting shocked when you get critique. Validation comes from within, folks. Hard life lesson, but there you are. First of all, every artist of any kind has to learn to tell themselves they've done good work even in the face of their detractors. (One just hopes they balance it out with taking valid critique into consideration so they improve.) If you can't, you're not going to accomplish much. Second, I'm not saying that encouragement and fans and book deals aren't very nice things, but to the creative process they can be massive distractions. I read recently that a core of stillness is necessary to the creative process, and the more distracted I get, the more I understand it. I have seen entirely too many writers (and by this I mean full-grown adults who should be emotionally mature and everything) seek validation in a desperate and pathetic way, and get outraged when — gasp — someone tells them their writing could improve. I have seen people (mostly women) backbite, backstab, cold-shoulder, ostracize, and instill hierarchies of "published" and "not-published" that resemble cliques a high school would envy. And these cliques ain't got a decent writer among them. What they do is flock together so they can all preen and stroke and tell each other how wonderful they are. And those that aren't published latch onto those that are, as if attaching oneself to these people will give up the great secret on How To Get Published. (Psst. The answer is: BE A BETTER WRITER, STUPID.) If your self-esteem is low where your writing is concerned, it can be so, so easy to seek comfort. Especially if your Real Life at large is littered with terrible choices and even worse consequences. But if you fall into that hole, the best you can hope for is writing the kind of stuff in Rule #5 that makes me hate you.
2. Trying to make writing a social event. I don't understand why people do this. From the get-go, I heard the phrase "writing is the loneliest profession." And pretty much accepted that as my lot. But I watch people in Real Life and online constantly avoid the reality that the only way to write is to sit your ass in a chair and hit the keys. Mostly by trying to see if someone'll do it with them. NaNoWriMo is not the worst offender, but it's a good example. Classes and writing conventions can be helpful, but I have seen people pay good money for years on end and never get anywhere. Because they're not writing on their own. They might scribble a few things, but for the most part they want to talk to you about all these great ideas they have. One of the few hard and fast rules of writing I've discovered is: if someone's talking to you about what they're writing, they are not writing it. I guarantee you. I will bet you anything that the babbling ideamonger in the center of the room has barely written a word, while the surly introvert in the corner logged a hundred thousand words last novel. Writing is lonely, people. We explore worlds and journeys and emotions entirely on our own. Because if someone else were there with us, it would screw up the process. Leaving alone the whole "stillness is necessary to the process thing": I don't know if you've experienced the fresh hell that is collaboration, but believe me when I say it's one of the worst things I've seen people try to do. They are ready to kill each other by the end of it. People who collaborate well most of the time can do it because they've completed independent projects on their own in the first place, and bring a certain level of self-discipline to the table. Do not think that there is a magic feather. Writers write. And nobody's gonna make you do it but you.
3. Asking people or conventions to hold your hand. I recall talking to a group of ladies at SCBWI that were talking about a rather elite writer's program (the name of which escapes me) that had resulted in several people getting published. There was quite a bit of clucking and patting of feathers as these ladies assured themselves that such a pedigree ensured success. One of them turned to me and said, "Don't you think that would help you be a better writer?" I was unaware I was part of the conversation and happened to be doodling ponies at the time, so looked anything but the picture of literary aplomb. I replied by paraphrasing Stephen King: "The grit of sand is what makes a pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters." Proverbial pin drop. (I later found out that many people who graduated from that writer's program were still struggling to break into print.) Conventions are good for the uninitiated: if you don't know anything about the marketing side of writing, they're valuable. If you don't know anything about writing: they are less valuable, but still valuable. If you know both, conventions become maddening events in which you shell out several hundred dollars to hear the exact same stuff you've heard before, spend ten minutes with an agent, then get to stand around in a mixer trying to talk over everyone else's ten-second pitch line before you realize all the literary agents are hiding in their hotel rooms because this crap is insane. Conventions and writer's retreats are inspiring. I will give them that. Going to one, it's impossible not to come home fired with new zeal. Therein lies most of their value. But the shine is off the apple in about a day. You're back to the realization: you've still got to sit down by yourself and type things out. And really, talking to some "writers", that's more than they can handle. So they just sign up for the next convention with all their friends to keep that high going.
4. Strangling an idea to death. I've only personally experienced one person who couldn't let go of an idea. I joined SCBWI about four years ago, and met a lady from England who had an idea for a book that was a feel-good romp with five children who travel the world solving mysteries. She kept insisting it was a middle-grade, but it read like a chapter book. I dutifully did my critique, saw her at meetings, and life went on. Four years later: she's still hocking that book. Still going to the same old conventions over and over and trying to pitch the thing. My writing group consists of far more sociable writers than myself, and they assure me this happens all the time. That elite writer's program I mentioned? Apparently one luckless woman in SCBWI has taken the exact same book there three times in a row, year after year. And this is $3k a pop deal. I have also seen people write total staleness into their first chapter. After changing one line and asking me to critique it again, and again, paring down the spontaneity of the writing the same way someone chews their fingernails bloody. Digression is important. You have to know when to let an idea go, when to let it incubate, when to realize when it just ain't gonna work and you need let it die, and when its time to try something new. There are books that have taken decades to write. Your new project could teach you something that will give you a totally new insight into how to solve a problem in your old one. Creativity is about growth. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
5. Writing what's popular, not what you have to say. Uuuuugh. I hate this one. I hate it hate it hate it. This leads me to encountering cookie-cutter Hollywood-model books that are the same thing over and over, and drives me to write scathing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I cannot believe how unoriginal so much YA literature is, or how spineless so much of it is. Between the books that copy the latest bestseller, and the books that copy waning bestsellers, the books that are retellings of fairy tales and myths, and the demand of publishers to publish what's marketable and not necessarily aesthetically valuable: there's not much room for originality. Granted, the ebook market has created an outlet for this, but it doesn't soothe my pain. More than this, I hate meeting writers I want to punch in the face because they think they're being clever by writing Twilight-but-seriously-not-Twilight-nudge-nudge-wink-wink. I swear to god, the worst of them are people who read one book and decide they can be a writer. And odds are it's not even a good book, it's just what's popular at the moment. I'm not saying populist literature is bad (Dickens and King qualify), but a lot of it can be. I loathe writers who have so much timidity they feel the only way they're ever going to say something meaningful is by treading the path of someone bolder or luckier. That their own experiences, however humble and true, aren't as important as something flashy and hollow. And don't give me that crap about "all stories have been done before", because there is a distinct line between stories inspired by inherent structure, and stories that rip off every cliché' known to the genre without even attempting originality. You're writing to express a truth. Be brave. Step out somewhere new and show us the way.