Thursday, August 15, 2019

Four Mistakes New Writers Make

In keeping with this month's theme of "new tricks" for writers, I decided I'd write a bit about how the Internet has changed things for those of us who ply our trade with words. Not that it is all that new for young writers who've grown up with the internet, but there are a few dinosaurs around, as Linda Lane mentioned in her post on August 12. And there are writers in between the dinosaur stage and those who perhaps learned how to get on the Web before they learned to walk.

More and more I've come to appreciate the fact that there are so many online resources for writers - from help with research, to help with craft, to help with marketing. When looking for some inspiration, as well as good advice, there are three websites and blogs that I visit often: Kristen Lamb's blog, Writer Unboxed, and The Writer. Each offers new information to help writers and most of the folks there are very generous about allowing other bloggers, like me today, to reuse some of the material.

A recent article - Nine mistakes first time writers make and how to fix them - by Toni Fitzgerald in The Writer has some good tips, and the entire article is well worth the time to read. I'm only sharing a few of the tips, along with my take on the topics, so after you finish here you might want to check out her full article.

The first mistake Toni points out is that dreaded over-writing. Our Style Maven's snarky cousin touched on that in a recent post here at BRP, and I second that motion. Toni writes, "Writers toil under the illusion “more is more” when it comes to words. You can address this easily through pruning. Repeat after me: One adjective is enough."

Hear! Hear! Those pesky compound adjectives and rambling adverbs and details of description and backstory that make the reader nod off. They can all end up on the cutting-room floor.

Toni supported her advice with quotes from others, including this from Betty Kelly Sargent, a veteran editor and CEO/founder of BookWorks, “Effusive writing, heavily laden with adjectives and adverbs, is the hallmark of unseasoned writers and, if not corrected in the editing, will result in an amateurish book.”

Don't take too long to get to the story. As Toni says in the article, having a lot of set up before the actual story starts can be tiresome for the reader. Jump into the drama and slip backstory in small doses along the way.

Another mistake is inconsistency in the writing, and the fix entails more than just ensuring the character's name remains the same through the whole story. It's making sure that motivation is plausible and fits the character. It's making sure that things that happen along the plot line are set up in such a way as to make them believable.

“New authors often assume revision is all about commas and grammar, when getting a solid story onto the page should be the very first priority,” says Lisa Poisso, a book editor and writing coach.

Too many new writers think that they only have to write one draft of a story. I've often said, "A good book isn't written, it's rewritten," and I'm pleased to see that I am not alone. We need to let our work settle, to age, to become new to us so we can see the things that need to be fixed. Toni mentioned that she let her article, which is only 1,200 words, sit for four weeks before looking at it again. How long is long enough for a novel? There's no magic number, but I let mine sit for a couple of months before starting the second draft. Which doesn't mean we finish a novel and then relax and do no writing for a few months.

Some writers I know have several projects in the works. They'll finish a rough draft of one story, set it aside and do research for the next one, while working on the second draft of a story they finished earlier. That approach allows for a lot of productivity. I tend to bounce between my latest fiction story, a non-fiction project, and editing, which keeps me busy most days and feeling productive.

Another mistake is writing that is passive. Toni used an extreme example in her article, but it sure  illustrates the point: "The ball was thrown by the three-legged duck. The coffee they were selling was infused with lizard appendix. The adult book store was owned by Dick Cheney. Not even the shock of the second half of those sentences can save the dull first halves."

It's so easy to see how dull and awkward those sentences are, and the point is to let the subject do the acting, even if it's hard to imagine a three-legged duck throwing a ball. Although the adult book store one... Oops, no politics here.

And one final caveat - Don't rely on Spellcheck. It's not going to catch your misuse of a word. I recently visited a very professional-looking writer website, and a glaring mistake jumped off the page like a bug. One does not take a "sneak peak" one takes a "sneak peek". If you don't have an in-house editor to catch those pesky mistakes, or your own eyes don't catch them, it behooves you to hire an editor.

In closing, I urge you to visit the three blogs I mentioned here. Kristen Lamb has an eye-opening post about Amazon and what the signing of Dean Koonz to Amazon Publishing means. On Writer Unboxed, Elizabeth A. Harvey has an insightful post about Toni Morrison, whom we all in the writing world mourn.

Posted by Maryann Miller who struggles with craft as much as anyone. That's why there's a second and third and maybe fourth draft before a book is finished.  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Pageread her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE
Clip Art Image courtesy of


  1. Reviewing the four mistakes made by new writers offers good reminders for old (aka experienced) writers, too. We can slip unwittingly into the bad practices that likely plagued our early writing efforts. Great advice for all of us, Maryann. :-)

    1. Thanks, Linda. Glad you found the post helpful. Toni's original article in The Writer was helpful to me, too, and, like you, I realize that we all can use reminders.

  2. When I signed a contract with Amazon Publishing with my Kindle Scout winner, Indiscretion, I thought the book would get similar treatment that Amazon gives its imprints. That didn't happen. Imprints get all kinds of perks, like ARCs pre-publication, ads on Kindle, and special mailings. The Scout books got sales but not much in the way of advertising. That program has ended, and I got my rights back. Amazon helped a lot of writers get their books published, but it has grown so much that writers like me are lost in the multitudes. I'm even considering sending my next book out to agents and publishers. Not only has the technical aspects of writing changed (see my next blog post), but how and who gets published has changed too. Self-published authors are finding it hard to compete.

    1. Interesting, Polly. It is very difficult to be any aspect! What did I read recently, that there were a million self-published books put out last year? Yikes.

    2. And that's why it's hard to gain any traction. That wasn't the casein 2010-2014, but everyone who wants to write a book can now, and that dilutes the playing field.

    3. 2010 to 2014 were great years for authors. I took my first traditionally published book One Small Victory and self-pubbed the e-book and paperback after the first year of exclusivity was over. I had really good success over a period of several months after doing a freebie offer during "Read an E-Book" week that was promoted by Smashwords and others. That was before the glut of "anyone can write a book." The business is crazy now.

  3. I belong to several writing focused groups on social media and so many times I see a writer post that they've finished their first draft, who do they send it to? I doubt even a Stephen King or a JK Rowling should submit a first draft. And sometimes I can tell when I writer I admire no longer gets critiqued. The work suffers.

  4. There are some great tips in here, Maryann. Thank you!

  5. We could have an interesting, and perhaps heated debate on some of these. For example, to my mind good writing consists of a good blend between active and passive . . .

  6. Excellent points, Maryann. Avoiding them consistantly is the struggle.


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