4 Mistakes Every New Writer Makes (and How to Avoid Them)

As a writer, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. After five books, more than a thousand blog posts, and over a decade of blogging, I still mess up. And making mistakes is a good thing, because it means I’m still writing.


If you’re not messing up, then you’re not doing your work. You’re not pushing yourself to the utter limits and testing what you’re capable of. You’re just playing it safe.

Furthermore, most mistakes don’t matter as much as we think they do. A typo here or there doesn’t break a career. A blog post that falls flat isn’t the end. Even a book that doesn’t sell is more of a speed bump than a stop sign.

If you want to make sure your blog posts don’t fall flat, I encourage you to use Don’t Hit Publish. It’s a free tool we created to tell you when your blog posts are good enough to publish. Click here check it out.

But there are four mistakes I see new writers making over and over again, and these mistakes actually can end a career. What’s worse, they’re completely voluntary. Writers choose to make them, often unknowingly, and then their career suffers.

So here are four don’ts every new writer does — and what to do instead.

1: Don’t choose a niche

Writers are often told to choose a niche before they start. The advice is to pick a thing you’re interested in, know a lot about, and can teach to others. This isn’t terrible advice. But it’s incomplete.

Because here’s the thing about choosing a niche: eventually, it’s going to bore you. You might love wedding planning or philosophy today, but your interests will change as you further chase mastery.

And one day, you will want to write about other things.

This happens to all of us, even the masters:

  • Edgar Allen Poe wrote first about youth before pivoting to the macabre.
  • Roald Dahl wrote a celebrated wartime story before deciding he was actually a children’s author.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote poems and short stories before penning his first novel.

What would our libraries and English classes look like if these writers had stuck to their original niches?

The danger of choosing any one niche is that when your day of boredom comes (and it will), you will find yourself with a frustrated audience. If they’re there to read your posts on pet training, they will drift away when you start writing science fiction. If you’ve built a tribe around the topic of global travel, you risk a mass exodus when you pivot to online marketing.

Fortunately, there’s a way around this limiting advice to choose a niche.

What to do instead: Choose a worldview.

A worldview is the state of mind you write from. It is not topic-based at all, but perspective-based. It asks that you share how you see the world, and how you and your readers can join forces to either celebrate that world or change it.

A worldview allows you the freedom to chase what fascinates you, write about it from your unique vantage point, and connect with your readers in an enduring way. It allows you to find a connection with your audience that goes much deeper than any one topic.

In the last few years on this blog, I’ve written a lot about writing. But that’s not my only topic. I’ve also written about losing friends, hosting conferences, and productivity. I’ve written about my family, business, and health. What I’ve learned is that when I write from my worldview, the topic doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. The same is true for you.

So how do you find your worldview? It’s a simple formula, actually. Fill in the blanks in this sentence:

Every [BLANK] should [BLANK].

The first blank is where you define your audience (in my case, it’s creative people). Whom do you want to write for? Who is your audience, your tribe? Whom do you want to serve?

The second blank is where you fill in what that audience can expect from you – your expertise, insight, or area of focus. For me, it’s resources and guidance about finding the attention your work deserves.

In my case, the complete sentence reads, “Every creative should care enough about their work to help it spread.” Yours will be different. Here are some examples:

  • “Every parent should teach their kids to cook” is a worldview that gives both freedom and structure to a food writer.
  • “Every entrepreneur should build a personal brand” is a worldview my friend Chris Ducker has used to write books, host conferences, and build a tribe of over a million people.

Whatever it is, your worldview should be broad enough to include all the topics you want to write about, but focused enough to attract only the right readers.

Action step: Fill in the above statement to define your worldview.

2: Don’t hide your talent

Recently, my friend Jon Acuff tweeted,

“Authors, if someone says you talk about your book too much, ask them if they show up for their job Monday-Friday too.”

I love that.

As writers, we must acknowledge our job description. We are not so lucky as to just write masterpieces and then wash our hands of them. In fact, that’s never been the case for creatives throughout history. We sometimes think those who came before us had it easier than we do. They didn’t.

It is part of your job to promote and share your work so that others can find it. Because more than a million books are published worldwide every year, yours will get lost if you don’t do the work of being an author. I’m not talking about the writing. That’s a given. I’m talking about regularly sharing your work. Too few writers do this, and too many suffer as a result.

What to do instead: Establish your platform.

Establishing your platform is new writer code for “build an email list.” You can do this for free starting today, and I hope you will. Email is still the most powerful way to communicate online. I get more “mileage” out of my newsletter than any other platform I have — including my blog. If I send a link, people click it. If I ask a question, people answer.

Your email list is your dedicated group of readers and followers who will be more engaged with your worldview than any other group. They are the ones you’ll turn to when you have questions, want to connect, and are ready to start offering your work for sale.

It is part of your job to promote and share your work so that others can find it.

Jeff Goins

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That’s exactly what happened for my friend Stephanie Halligan, whose email list was still very small and new when she pitched her first motivational cartoon print for sale a few years ago. She didn’t expect anything, but she was wrong. Stephanie made her first sale in just 24 hours, and she’s been making a living with her creativity ever since.

You can do this, too.

To start building an email list, you need only three things:

  1. A good email service. There are free and paid options available for people at every budget level. A great one that a lot of my friends are using lately is ConvertKit.
  2. An awesome signup form. You’ll find walk-through tutorials right in your email service to help with this. Your signup form needs to be obvious and not hideously ugly. If your website doesn’t have a clear opt-in form, I promise that you’re missing out on a lot of potential new readers.
  3. An incentive. You need to give people a compelling reason to give you their email address. This can be an eBook, a video, or a free MP3 download —whatever will help your readers. It’s an “ethical bribe” that allows you to reward subscribers with something other than just your content.

Action step: Pick an email service provider, create a signup form, and develop an incentive.

3: Don’t wait for people to come to you

Once you’ve defined your worldview and started an email list, you’re only partway there. Many writers think they’ve arrived by this stage, then wonder why their work isn’t getting the attention they think it should. They send out sporadic emails to a list of family and friends, and never bother to learn about the broader opportunities available to them.


Because it’s easier to settle for good enough.

This third step involves real, hard work, and it doesn’t always feel creative the way we think our lives as writers should. Sometimes, we’d rather settle for whatever humble success we have than risk it all for the chance to help more people.

What to do instead: Expand your reach.

Expanding your reach starts with finding a tribe that needs a leader. Perhaps your audience of food writers needs someone to write honestly about cooking for seniors. Maybe the readers of your thriller series want to read more about your creative process.

You’ll find the first members of your tribe by following step 2 above, but the truth is that’s much too passive to be sustainable. You cannot just “build it and they will come.” You have to build it and then go find the tribe that needs it.

There are a variety of ways to do this. The good news is that tribes tend to hang out together, both in person and online. When you find a few, it’ll get easier to find more.

Action step: Start guest posting.

Guest posting is still the most powerful way to get your words in front of new audiences. And if you have an email list with some kind of lead magnet (an incentive for joining your list), you can link back to that,  driving traffic to your website and converting those visitors into committed readers.

4: Don’t call yourself an aspiring writer

So you’ve found your worldview. You’ve established your home base and outposts to share your message and draw people in. You’ve learned how to choose and use tools to expand your reach, and you’ve served your way into guest posting opportunities and relationships with influencers. If you’re like many authors, you’re about to make the most critical mistake of all. You’re about to assume you’re done.

Honestly, it never ends, this cycle of serving, building relationships, and growing as a writer. And that’s a good thing. It means you’ve earned the right to do this work for one more day. That’s all success really is.

It’s easy to settle for good enough.

Jeff Goins

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Author Steven Pressfield says you have to turn pro in your mind first. At Tribe Conference this year, his editor, Shawn Coyne, went on to explain that being a professional writer has nothing to do with external markers of success, but everything to do with how you define yourself. If you’re committed to mastering this craft and doing the work every day, you’re a pro. If you get up to write again after a day of rejection and failure, you’re a pro. And that’s all there is to it.

My friend Tim Grahl was up on stage with Shawn at the time. A successful marketer and author in his own right, even Tim struggled with this at first. Are we really pros if we have nothing to show for it? he countered. What does it matter if I say I’m a pro but can’t write a story that works?

Shawn was adamant in enforcing a point that even I have written about extensively: action follows identity. You’ll never be more than an amateur if that’s all you ever call yourself.

What to do instead: Go pro.

All writers have an endgame in mind. At least, they do if they’re smart. You want to publish a message that matters. And you can do that only if you’re committed to the work.

Decide you are more than a hobbyist. Commit to calling yourself a professional writer, then take the necessary steps to prove you are one. Seek out the resources you need to master your craft and promote your work. If you stop now, all your work will be wasted.

Action step: Decide you are a pro. Do it right now. Write it down, and say it out loud. You are when you say you are.

Educate yourself about finding your tribe, building a platform, and mastering your craft. I may be biased, but I think this site is a pretty good (and free!) resource for all that information.

Make friends with the business side of creativity. Money is a part of life. And there’s nothing wrong with getting paid for your words. In fact, building a business around your writing is the only sustainable way to keep doing it. When your art solves a problem in the world, you bring value. You can offer a course or an event. A book or an experience. Something people will pay for. And when you do this, you have peace of mind and the freedom to be even more generous.

So get creating.

If you’ve made any of these mistakes, it’s not too late to course correct. You can get the attention your work deserves if you immerse yourself in the action steps throughout this post.

Have you made any of these four mistakes? Share in the comments.

82 thoughts on “4 Mistakes Every New Writer Makes (and How to Avoid Them)

  1. Thank you Jeff. I know that I need to write more in order to get better at writing. For too long I’d hide behind “my writing isn’t as good as X, Y, or Z’s”.

    While I don’t plan on posting junk, I take comfort in “If you’re not messing up, then you’re not doing your work.”

  2. Thanks for the inspiring words and advice. I’ve made those mistakes and have recently begun the task of digging myself out. Everyday I learn something new. So thanks again. Keep on posting!

  3. I love your idea of choosing a worldview instead of a niche. This is something that I have been struggling with a bit, since my chosen “niche” is very narrow and it is hard to write exclusively about that one thing. Your idea of choosing a “worldview” instead is incredibly helpful. Now, I feel better about writing related posts informed by the idea I am trying to convey, but not exclusively about that one topic. Thank you!

  4. Thank you, Jeff, for these four action items. I am a published writer and trying to move in new directions (fiction and blogs), but I still struggle to call myself a writer and a pro. I have no excuses.

  5. I agree with Marie. I think too many writers (_especially_ bloggers) feel that they have to decide on a narrowly-defined niche and tribe from the outset. Rather, I see writing as almost a spiritual practice in and of itself. Only through that practice can you improve and discover your true voice.

  6. Hi Jeff,
    I really enjoy reading your posts because I always learn tons of things I didn’t know or want to ackowledge before. I think one of my biggest mistakes was not treating or respecting my work as art. By not doing enough research to really learn my craft was another mistake. I understand some people tend to over analyze or research to a point where it can be polarizing. I’m learning to strike a good balance.

    Thanks again,

  7. Jeff- really enjoyed wrecked and listened to your video on ListBuildingschool this past week. Your first two suggestions 1) Choose a worldview (perspective based writing vs topic) was so timely for me because while I have been writing over the past year I kept struggling with things like topics/categories and uncertainty kept me from getting my writing out there (as I have another bigger online business I am improving currently). And Don’t Hide Your Talent- because I do more than 1 thing (as most writer do) I have struggled with putting myself out there for my writing (in past I wrote but the pieces were informative or subject based,etc. So thanks for continuing to offer tips, encouragement and perspective. One questions I have and others may as well- any thoughts on writing under personalname.com vs. another domain I have (domainrelatedtoview.com). Best, Kristin

  8. I have been saying “I am a mathematician not a writer” but I have been blogging and have started a book. I need to make the change to “I am a mathematician and a writer” Thanks for the article.

  9. Thank you for this insights. I think all steps are euqual important and I hope that there is no particular order to do this. I already call myself a writer and but I havvent got an emaillist yet.

  10. ”Don’t choose a niche… instead, choose a worldview” is something that I am hearing for first time and I do love it. It liberates me. It implies that I can write whatever I want, given that all my ideas are congruent with my values, principles and lifestyle. Excellent!

  11. Loved the Tribe Conf—that moment with Tim & Shawn was one of my favorites.

    Putting your advice into action:
    1) worldview done!
    2) meeting with Darrell from ConvertKit this Wed.
    3) emailed someone to do my first guest post before posting this.
    4) Hell yeah I’m pro!

    You rock Jeff!

  12. Thanks, Jeff, for sharing the importance of world view. That is critical in another aspect. I write about health–how to build and maintain it. Unless you first establish the world view (or the BIG picture), aspiring health achievers will most often limit themselves by learned fragments or tunnel vision. Clarity in the big picture is part of laying a solid foundation leading to greater impact, transformation and growth.

  13. Looking to a worldview rather than a niche really does open so many more doors – and it’s good for new writers to hear in this new world of writing where everywhere you turn you’re told to get extremely niche specific or you won’t find readers. That means you have to segment yourself very narrowly – and when you run dry, then what? But I do have a question, Jeff: how would a fiction writer fill in those blanks in the worldview statement? The “should” seems much easier for writing nonfiction.

    1. Maybe, cj. Still, I find fiction writers doing this well. For example, take YA novelist John Green whose worldview statement might look something like: “Every teenager should be taken just as seriously as an adult because of the choices they have to make.”

  14. “If you’re not messing up, you’re not doing your work.” So. Much. Truth. We get so good at trying to avoid making a mess, we end up doing nothing. But life is all about Turing our MESSES into MASTERPIECES!

    1. Hi Liz, you don’t know me but I “think” I just became a “follower” of yours. I’m so illiterate to any of this, but am interested in blogging and would like to connect with you if possible. My problem(one of them), is I can’t figure out on this page, how to do that. I thought clicking on your “face” might take me to a blog of yours, but not luck. If you’re willing and able to help me, I would greatly appreciate a reply from you. Thank you so much and I apologize for any inconvenience I may be. Jan

  15. Hi.
    Just wanted to notice that your mentioned point to not hide your talent is the most important thing for me. Every writer should fully use his potential. That means for me to write stories, talk with the other writers, meet new people with the same interests through social networks etc.
    Today I’ve read that writing can become a therapy for your body. http://www.theglobaldispatch.com/medical-and-psychological-effects-of-writing-86083
    Can you believe it?

  16. Jeff, good gravy as usual. My worldview includes cats, bourbon, Rilke, weird roadside signs, semicolons, sly glances and more. And is expanding all the time. Oh, writing a bunch of stuff is in there too.

  17. Jeff — nice blog and great sharing of your knowledge. The world view alternative is a liberating niche concept to broaden the creative possibilities. Thumbs way up!

      1. Just mostly technical stuff. One of the biggest blunders was when I set my book up for pre-order on CreateSpace, I hit publish immediately. This was about three weeks before my official launch date!

  18. Regarding the world view statement, I couldn’t help but fill in your “Every ____ Should ____” with “Every writer should write.” Because in the end, it’s the dedicated routine of thoughtful writing every day that moves the needle. Great advice as always!

  19. Thanks for deliverance from the idea of choosing a niche. Defining a worldview makes so much more sense and immediately guides message and voice. Email list building is the heartbeat of permission marketing—I love the idea of simply asking. Guest posting freaks me out. I have to review your relevant posts and the sections in the Tribe Writers course.
    #4 is where I hit the wall. It’s always next year I’ll be a _____________.

  20. Great stuff! For me the most amazing idea was the first one. A worldview instead of a niche… That’s a game-changer I think. Thank you!

  21. Thanks for the encouragement not to “hide your talent.” Although I just launched a blog last week, I’m already sick of mentioning it to my friends. I’m thankful to them for their support, but can’t help thinking of them as “sympathy subscribers.” Only when I saw people I have never heard of sign up for my newsletter, did I realize that I must share because people want to hear what I have to say.

  22. A character in a movie my wife and I watched the other night said, “Greatness never occurs from holding back.” This post reminded me of that. It concurs with, “Results follow action.” I like the idea of the worldview rather than a niche. I’ll admit that I have been struggling with this one. I have many areas that I want to write about, but have been worried about burning out after having established myself in that area. The worldview will prevent that. Thanks for the words of wisdom.

  23. So practical—thanks for sharing! As a multi genre author, narrowing down my audience is always tricky for me. “Don’t choose a niche”—now that one I have mastered! 😉

  24. This is fantastic! I’ve been calling myself a writer for some time now. So that one is off the books. The rest could use some work. Thanks for the fabulous tips!

  25. I agree with dropping the “aspiring” from your title. Instead, say, “I am a writer.” I had to start doing this recently. I would like to test the waters of tech writing , so I switched from “freelance writer” to “technical writer”.

  26. I love the steps in this post. Honestly I have struggled with “going to broad” and worrying if I was trying to do too much. But the worldview concept is more clear. I have always pulled back from calling myself a pro, even after writing 6 books and three of them bestsellers. Why? I struggle to believe, as if any success I had was just getting lucky. I’ll be reading this post everyday for the next 30 days and working on forming closer relationships with my tribe.

  27. Thanks, Jeff. I can always count on you to refill my tank when my motivation dips. I’ve slowly been realizing that my niche, telling stories of amazing people in the special needs community, is too limiting if I want to write at least once a week. I’ve started to mix it up a bit and my readers are telling me they like it. Thanks for confirming that I’m on the right track!

  28. Great post and great points. My biggest mistake so far, based on these 4, is that I’ve succumbed to social media pressure and not envisioned myself as a pro. I’ve just made that commitment within the last few weeks and it’s made a tremendous difference in my ability to set priorities around my goal.

  29. Wonderful post, very encouraging. I’m guilty of all these, particularly #4 since I have nothing published. I can definitely see how my attitude can make a difference. It is, after all, one of the few things I truly have control over.

    I found #1 liberating, because I have several genres I like to write in, and the thought of picking only one never set well with me. Your way makes a great deal more sense!

  30. Great post! Today I started a mini-course about finding a blog topic (I have one but keep questioning it). The whole course is aimed at finding a specific topic. Since I have so many interests and have many talents, I struggled with nailing this down. I like your position of using a worldview. Bingo! That completely resonates with me. it makes my topic choice clearer. Thanks Jeff!

  31. Jeff,

    You’ve clarified a lot of myths for me when it comes to writing. The mistake that resonates the most with me is no.1 don’t choose a niche. I’ve heard so many folks talking about narrowing down your subject and such and sure it may be profitable but it can also get way boring as you go deeper into that same topic over and over and over.

    And the best part is that you also offered a solution of focusing on a world view, on how you view the skills/ resources that your audience needs to achieve their goal.

    Thanks for sharing and making me think. 🙂


  32. This article came at just the right time (of course.) I hit the “boredom” wall because I’ve been writing to a niche, not a worldview. Brilliant! I felt a shift as soon as I read that. I’m feeling re-inspired…thanks!!

  33. I can’t hear this too much: “If you’re not messing up, then you’re not doing your work.” – I think I have that down. I have been stumbling through this process. I love your line in The Art of Work “failure is a friend dressed up like an enemy”

    I didn’t choose a niche. This is more like what I did – “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway. I just one day, finally, sat down and started to write my personal story. One word after another and another, learning as I went and when it was finished I (with much fear) released it to the world. (I had no knowledge of book launches etc) I started a blog following your direction (email list, sign up & incentive). You also helped me call myself a writer. Although I need to add the word “pro” to it. “If you get up to write again after a day of rejection and failure, you’re a pro. And that’s all there is to it.” Thank you Shawn Coyne.

    I am still struggling to define my “worldview”. I think this has caused me to shrink from guest posting. Is “Every Person” or “Every Individual” too broad if what comes after the should applies?? If so, how can I narrow that?

  34. The line that stuck with me was about how writers don’t necessarily need a niche but a worldview. Definitely helpful when you consider the fact that people change over time in their interests, but their core remains the same.

  35. This was incredibly helpful! I especially liked mistake #3. I realize how much more proactive I need to be to market myself. Thanks for this!

  36. This is fantastic Jeff. I’m right smack dab in the middle of creating an online course for the first time. And every day I hit emotional highs and VERY emotional lows, with all the self-doubting. This post was a great reminder to keep going! Thank you 🙂

  37. Mistake number 1.. you cannot be all thing to all people. Pick what you love and sticky with it. Sure you can vary off the path occasionally but do it too often and no one will follow. Great content as always.

  38. #1 was the best advice for me. For the longest I’ve heard about choosing a niche. I felt like I needed to write about my niche and stay there. To have this advice of choosing a worldview opens up more opportunities for me in my writing. Thank you so much for this post!

  39. I especially like No 4: ‘Don’t call yourself an aspiring writer’. I always wondered what I’d have to do to be able to call myself a ‘professional writer’ – Write a novel and have it become a huge success? Get some of my short stories published (at last!)? Write loads of articles that magazines were delighted to publish and pay for?

    Thanks to you now I know: keep on writing no matter what and, most important of all, call myself a professional writer. I think this might be hard to do initially, but I’m determined to do it from now on.

    Thanks, Jeff, for the excellent advice.

  40. Excellent article, particularly about adopting a worldview instead of a niche. I’ve been struggling with a niche for too long and it has stalled me in my writing. The worldview really opens up some wonderful possibilities. Thank you!

  41. After I just finished describing myself as an “aspiring author” in a short bio, I read this.

    Thanks for the tips, Jeff.

    I also just dl’d “The Writer’s Manifesto” and “Building an Audience”. I’m good at the whole getting up and practicing my craft every single day, but building an audience can get discouraging as my mom and grandmother are still my most verbose commenters. Will be putting your advice into action, immediately.

    Starting now,
    Reanne, the PROfessional writer

  42. Hii Jeff Goins

    I agree with your words… in my case also i am thinking like that only because so many friends and bloggers suggested me that take a perfect niche and start your work.. but its totally weird thing. I don’t know about those things and niche comes under that then what is the use right. as your words interest is the main keyword for your niche thank you for posting this… best domain hosting

  43. #3 is my mistake: “Don’t wait for people to come to you”. My blog is a simple blog for the beginners because I’m also a new blogger. Definitely, I can write the simple articles which is easy to understand but I can’t bring people to read my blog because I’m not good enough at SEO and I don’t so many times on blogging.

    But #4. is my habit: “Don’t call yourself an aspiring writer”. I never say I’m an aspiring or a pro writer, indeed, I always called myself a blogging beginner and ask readers to share their experiences with me so I can learn from them too.

    Thanks for the simple article but full of explanations, Jeff Goins!

  44. The whole idea of niche had me stalled as well. I could never figure out how to limit myself to just one writing topic and figure out how to sustain it long term. I’m much more comfortable with the idea of a world view, so taking the template you provided, Jeff, I have come up with this as my world view: Every voice should be heard and understood.

  45. I don’t get the Niche thing… I write science fiction, fantasy, I’m a trained historian (political and military) and blog that. I write humor. In fact the only thing I’ve tried, and utterly failed it is romantic comedy… just don’t like the genre.

  46. Ah, that last one. Following your description of a professional writer, I’ve actually been one for years. Since high school, really. But because I’ve never had what you’d call a “big break”, I never let myself believe I’d gone pro, even though I’ve written almost every day for something like eight years. It’s still hard for me, even after two years of serious blogging and building a platform that people actually follow. I’ll have to try and get better at that. Thanks for this post, Jeff. It was really helpful and encouraging, and I’ll be sharing it with my writer friends.

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