How to Avoid Common New Writer Mistakes

By on January 31, 2015
How to Avoid Common New Writer Mistakes - Writer's Life.org

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So you're ready to follow your passion and take the plunge into writing for a living.  Great!  This will no doubt, prove to be both an exciting and scary new adventure for you.  But like any other profession, writing is a job and requires structure and development of hardened skills.

Writing is like any other skill in that you have to do a lot of it to get better.  There isn't any way around that, but you can identify mistakes common to new writers and learn to stop making them become they become a habit.

Here are the most common mistakes new writers make:

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Trying to sound really, really smart at the expense of clarity.

Writing for publication is extremely competitive (some say as competitive as Hollywood). Which means that writers are often anxious about how others perceive them. But using archaic, complicated words and convoluted sentence structures won't make you sound intelligent; it will make you sound out of touch, or worse -- it will confuse and frustrate the reader, convincing him/her to put down your article or book. Say what you mean as directly, honestly, and clearly as you can.

Saying too much.

This falls under the sage advice to trust your reader. Don't insult your audience's intelligence by including every shred of minutiae when it's not needed.

For example, if the crux of a scene is going to be a big blow-up at the breakfast table between a teen and her parents, you don't need to show the girl waking up to the alarm clock, brushing her teeth, getting dressed, putting on her makeup, stuffing her backpack, etc., before you get us to the kitchen table. The reader will fill in the blanks and understand that the girl had things to do before she headed downstairs.

When details don't contribute to character development or move the story along, skip them. Also, resist the urge to "oversay" (bludgeon the readers with unnecessary repetition because you assume they must have forgotten things).

Saying too little.

This falls under the sage advice to be specific.

Although readers fill in the blanks all the time (as we saw in the above example), sometimes new writers assume that readers can fill in crucial gaps on their own. Because we often have a vivid, detailed picture of our subject in our heads as we write, we get wrapped up in that picture and forget that it needs to be equally vivid and detailed on the page. If you leave huge gaps that even the most attentive reader can't possibly leap over alone, you aren't saying enough.

Be sure there's enough on the page for the readers to make meaningful connections and draw informed conclusions. Include relevant, interesting details in your writing. Make things specific so that your writing is memorable. Remember: seasoned is always better than bland.

Abandoning the promise you made the reader at the beginning of the piece.

If you've written anything that really mattered to you from start to finish, you know how the act of writing stimulates new thoughts and therefore you might end up in an unexpected place when you finish. New writers sometimes forget that ending up somewhere else means that you have to change the starting point.

For example, if your novel opens with unexplained murders and then introduces an armchair sleuth, you're setting the reader up for a mystery. If you change the premise mid-way and shape the work into a romance involving a minor character (and ultimately leave the crimes unsolved), you're breaking the promise you implicitly made your reader. Or maybe your article starts off promising a look at Cleopatra's final days and ultimately ends up with anecdotes about modern-day travel in Egypt.

Forgetting that readers want to be entertained.

Because the story you're working on is so compelling to you, it's easy to forget that others need to be convinced that it's fabulous (especially if it's book-length and you want them to stick with you till the end). This advice applies to fiction and non-fiction writers alike. Unless your book is required reading on a college syllabus, you have to make it worth the reader's while. Since there are so many entertainment choices out there, people won't slog through something that they don't enjoy.

So, now that you know the mistakes, how do you avoid them?

Be aware of them.

You shouldn't cramp your style when you write your first drafts (because you'll get the richest material if your self-edit feature is "OFF"). But click it on when you revise, and look for places you need to correct the above errors in subsequent drafts.

Ask a trusted reader for feedback.

Keep in mind that a trusted reader isn't the person who always tells you how brilliant you are and that your work is perfect (that's "Mom"), but the person who is willing to give you honest feedback, even when it may be hard to hear. Ask that person for very specific feedback. Ask your trusted readers to note places in your work where they felt confused or bored or frustrated.

Read as much as your brain can hold. And then go back for more.

Read loads and loads in the genre you're writing, as well as other areas that interest you. But don't just read for the sake of reading -- read like a writer: reread things that really worked for you. Locate patterns, identify structures, look at the ways experienced writers you admire have avoided the most common mistakes and try to consciously apply that to your own work.

But don't just stop at books you love. When you come across books or articles that make you say, "I could have done this way better," note where the author lost you and think of how you would fix it if you had the chance.

Keep a writing journal.

And the more specific you are, the better. Keep detailed track of your progress, including the things you're reading and what you're learning from them. Describe the steps you're taking in revision. Keep track of how you're faring overall with addressing and avoiding the most common pitfalls new writers face.

 

Originally posted as Common Mistakes New Writers Make and How to Avoid Them on fictionfactor.com.  Photo by makingalivingwritingromance.com. 

URL: http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/commonmistakes.html

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About Rebecca Scott

I'm Rebecca Scott. I'm a fighter, a writer, a child of God. I write thriller and mystery fiction and mentor authors.

7 Comments

  1. David Price

    February 12, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    I’ve always written for myself just to keep a record of my thoughts and dreams. Now that I’m old enough to write a memoir, I’m trying to tell the story. I’ve noticed that my habit of writing for myself is a two-edged sword. First, I’m notice a reluctance to tell the unvarnished truth since it’ll make me look like an idiot, and then I have to actually tell the story rather than recount my thoughts and opinions about the story. I can see that structure is going to a lot more important than I realized.
    Your advice makes a lot of sense to me.

  2. Debbie Dunlop

    February 13, 2015 at 7:21 am

    I am a writer of poetry and short stories, have been published a few times. I am not a published author yet but that is my dream goal!

  3. Joe

    February 13, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Thanks for the tips Rebecca! I am inspired to improve using the reading and journaling tips mentioned at the end of your article. I have never tried that before and it intrigues me. The point on entertaining your reader is crucial in my eyes and I am as guilty as anyone in forgetting about that. Many thanks for sharing!

  4. Marie DaiRe

    February 20, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Love the article. It is well written, very informative as well as enlightening. Thank you. I must say after reading through each of the nine common mistakes new writers fall victim to, that I am thankfully doing something right. I am however a victim to still a few, however, but on the right track. Thank you so much for sharing. Truly appreciated, and I will continue to read and share your articles.

  5. Lynn Hubsch

    June 17, 2015 at 1:32 am

    I started writing about my Mom after her death a few years ago. One thing led to another and I was writing a book about my adventures in Viet Nam. I sat in a motel room for 6 months and just wrote. No experience to speak of. No editing or revisions. Just pumping out the stories. No plot. Just events. Then I started reading about writing and taking classes and taking advise from people like you and now I don’t know where I am. I was confident when I started but now I’m insecure as hell. Thanks for the advice.

    Actually the advice has seemed pretty good but I am awed at how much there is to learn. My head spins. I’m too old for all this new information. I just turned 70. I’m old and tired and I tend to be lazy. I thought it remarkable that I wrote a god damned book. 80 chapters. Now you tell me I have to know all this other stuff. People liked what I wrote when I was uninformed of the proper way to write. Crap!!

  6. Virginia Welch

    December 27, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Rebecca,

    I have been writing short stories for a few years now. They were mainly for cathartic reasons. Being in a emotionally and physically painful BDSM relationship, I used writing as a way to release the pain. I can write very tame or very sadistic. I am wanting to enter writing short story contests, but I don’t know how the judges would feel about what I endured. Should I keep it vivid or tame it down?
    Thank you for your opinion. Virginia

  7. Ohita Afeisume

    August 20, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Thanks , Rebecca – child of God for yet another interesting post. I am a writer of fiction and poetry. I am working on honing my craft of writing. Reading your articles has been like a breath of fresh air for me.

    This article has highlighted for me areas in which I am doing well as well as those ones in which I need to improve.

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