11 Common Writing Mistakes To Avoid

Common writing mistakesIt’s exciting, isn’t it?

Writing your first book and then sending the final version to your editor and later it being available (and SELLING!) on stores like Amazon.

The months (or even years) of hard work are over, and now you can watch with pride as your book goes out into the world.

Now, you can sit back as your ideas and stories make an impact on readers and earn you a side-income.

You can finally call yourself an author.

But, what if you’re not there yet? What if you’re still struggling to finish writing your first book?

Then, I think you’ll agree with me that writing a book is tough work.

Like really tough.

But, don’t worry.

In this post, I’m going to be honest with you.

I’m going to reveal some of the most common writing mistakes writers must avoid (and how you can do it).

These are the common writing mistakes that tripped me up before I published my first book. They’re not all grammar-related either.

Let’s dive in.

1.Writing Many Projects at Once

A short story.

A blog post.

A book.

The great American novel.

There are so many tantalising and exciting new ideas to explore.

Often new writers work on different writing projects at once, and they struggle to make real progress.

Writing lots of things at once is fine if you’re Stephen King, Neil Gaiman or a pro author who has been at this for over 10 years.

However, if you’re starting out, it’s a common writing mistake.

Here’s why:

I’ve observed the science, and when you switch from one project to the next, it takes between 20% and 40% of your creative energy to associate yourself with your new creative project.

It gets worse.

Because you’re getting distracted and working on multiple projects, you’ll find it harder to create a consistent writing routine that sticks.

What’s more, you delay finishing writing your drafts and postpone the feeling of accomplishment that comes when you finally publish your first book.

This feeling is an essential reward if you’re serious about your writing.

2. Not Arranging Your Ideas

Do you sometimes feel so excited about an idea for a chapter that you can’t wait to write about it?

When it’s time to write a chapter, instead of writing just 500 words, you get lost for hours doing research.

You spend hours clicking and browsing from one blog post to the next or reading books you love, and you struggle to organise ideas for your book.

Or, you get so excited about a new idea, you either get distracted from writing your book, or you have to force yourself not to abandon it entirely.

Here’s the problem:

Jumping rapidly from one idea to the next is the quickest way to waste your time, and it won’t help you pursue any idea to its conclusion.

To finish writing your book, you need a system for capturing, sorting and reviewing your ideas regularly.

Then, you need to pick one idea and stick with it until it’s done and then move on to the next idea.

When you do this, you’ll be able to keep on writing your book.

3. Writing Only When You Feel Inspired

I’m all for feeling passionate about your creative work, but let’s be logical about this…

Let’s say you’re training to run a marathon.

(I picked a marathon because writing a book can feel like a long intensive slog.)

So, if you want to run 26.2 miles for the first time, you can’t turn up on the day of the marathon and expect to finish the race.

You’ve got to train when you don’t want to, practice when you’re tired, and squeeze your sessions into your otherwise busy week.

Now, you might feel passionate about training when it’s sunny outside, but what about on a cold, wet Tuesday evening?

You’re going to have to do the work anyway.

The same applies to writing.

When you turn up in front of a blank page, it takes precious creative time to warm up and figure out what you’re trying to say. And if you haven’t practised writing in days or weeks, it’ll take even longer.

Look, inspiration and passion are nice.

There’s nothing better than sitting down in front of the blank page with a hot idea and an urge to write your book.

But, if you wait around all day to come up with an idea and for inspiration to strike, what will you do if nothing comes?

Will you wait till tomorrow, next week, or next month for inspiration to tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, it’s time to write chapter five of your book’?

Because that’s a sure-fire way to never finish writing your book.

Believe me, I’ve been there.

4. Writing Only at the Weekends

Between your job, family, and personal life, finding time to write your book is difficult.

Now, I don’t want to upset you but…

….deciding it’s okay to write a chapter in your book only on the weekends is a sure-fire way to finish nothing at all.

Sure, there’ll be the inevitable Saturday morning when you write for two or even three hours, produce 1000 great words and say, “That was a morning well spent.”

But, what happens if you don’t find time to write on a Saturday or Sunday and you miss a weekend?

Or what happens if the weekend’s writing session is a flop?

It’ll be an entire week before you put your butt on the chair, hands on the keyboard and turn up in front of the blank page. And if you miss a weekend?

You’re putting 7, 14, or even 21 days in between writing sessions.

You’ll never get into the rhythm and momentum of writing your book.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait that long to finish what I started, which is why I changed how and when I write.

Getting a writing schedule in place or even finding time to write is a real struggle when you’re new at this.

What you need is a writing routine to set yourself up for the day, so you can accomplish your most important work before the demands of the day take over.

Now, this brings me too…

5. Telling Yourself To Work Harder

When you’re working on a book for the first time, telling yourself to ‘work harder’ or ‘don’t be lazy’ is TERRIBLE advice.

Here’s why:

Telling yourself to work harder might get your ass in the chair on day one, but when you miss a day, you’ll feel bad.

And if you miss two days, you’ll feel even worse.

Then, your book becomes this BIG THING you’ve got to do.

Like any hard and difficult task, you’ll procrastinate about it, put it off, and even forget about it.

Again, this is a common writing mistake.

I once stuffed a manuscript in my drawer and ‘forgot’ about it for three months because I felt guilty about my lack of progress.

Yes, writing a book is tough when you’re starting out (remember my marathon analogy?), but don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

Once I discovered telling myself to “work harder” wasn’t helping me write a book and would never help me write a book, I found a solution that helped me get better results.

And my secret?

Tools (like grammar checkers are useful) but you need a way of breaking down your book into milestones that you can reach one-by-one.

What you need is a way of tracking your progress until you reach The End.

(God, I love getting to The End.)

6. Writing And Editing at the Same Time

Have you ever written a paragraph, rewrote it, written another paragraph, and then went back and rewrote that, too?

And on and on and on….

An hour goes by.

You realise you have written nothing. All you’ve done is rewrite the same part of your book.


I used to write like this all the time. I spent hours tinkering with my sentences, and I went back repeatedly to perfect them. I played around with verb tense and verb agreement, switching from the past to present and back again.

This is a terrible way to write your book. Here’s why:

When you try to write and edit at the same time, you’re doing TWO different activities.

The part of your brain that must write to get ideas out of your head and organise them — your internal writer — shies away from your inner editor.

The part of your brain that takes your first draft and turns it into something that shines — your internal editor — does his or her best work when you have a complete first draft.

7. Waiting Until It’s Perfect

When I was in my mid-twenties, I wanted to write literary fiction.

So, I enrolled in an intensive creative writing class in Dublin.

Our tutor was a balding American in his early thirties from Texas.

“Jeff,” I said. “I’m struggling to finish this idea I have for a story… what do I need to do to write something great?”

“Bryan, your writing is full of clichés,” he said. “You write like a 1920s pulp fiction novelist.”

“I can work on that,” I said. “Tell me how I get better.”

“Trying to write one true great sentence is like throwing a typewriter at the moon?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s impossible.”

We laughed.

And, I spent my weekends editing and rewriting the same sentences, until they were just right. I spent hours agonising over using the wrong word.

I threw typewriters at the moon for four years, and in that time, I finished just six short stories. Sure, they had pretty sentences, but here’s the painful truth:

They were lousy.

I was so consumed by my quest for the perfect sentence that I forgot great stories succeed because of the tale and the characters within in them.

That wasn’t the worst part either.

Because I’d failed to finish a lot of my stories, it was impossible for me to get candid real-world editorial feedback about the quality of my writing.

8. Skipping a Proofread

It’s fine to check short pieces for writing errors using a spell checker. Most writers worth their salt will spot an errant or missing apostrophe or quotation mark without much help.

That said, it’s always a good idea to run a draft through a grammar checker like Grammarly or ProWritingAid. I regularly paste my work into these tools to check for instances of the passive voice. These apps also highlight when I overuse certain words.

They will help you find and fix English grammar errors that you might have missed. Those dangling modifiers have a way of slipping past the eye.

I also recommend working with a proofreader on longer pieces of work like a book. He or she will spot issues you probably missed. That’s what you’re paying them for. When I hired an editor, she pointed out I was guilty of breaking the rules of parallel structure in sub-headings.

I’d start one sub-heading with a verb, the next one with a noun, and the next one in a different tense.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees.

9. Worrying About Breaking Grammar Rules

If you’re writing for a critical audience, it’s important to get basic grammar rules from the English language right. 

I regularly break grammar rules, except when it matters.

For example:

When I wrote a thesis a few years ago, I spent a lot of time working on the sentence structure of a near-final draft. My tutor basically said that the language in my draft was overly familiar. 

A friend had got quite upset when she printed out her thesis and saw a misspelling on the cover. She was right to worry, that kind of issue reduced her grade.

Still, it depends on who you’re writing for and where. 

On the other hand, bloggers and other types of writers like poets, don’t have to worry as much about grammar mistakes.

It’s perfectly fine for this audience to use sentence fragments online, once if it’s a conscious choice and makes sense to the reader.

10. Fix Every Run-On Sentence, Antecedent and Dangling Modifiers…

A run-on sentence is basically a sentence that goes for miles and miles without a full-stop. Unless you’re writing literary fiction, they have no place in a finished manuscript. They’ll just confuse or distract readers.

However, if you’re freewriting or engaged in exploratory journal writing, run-on sentences are fun to experiment with. They can take you in interesting directions if you don’t stop to self-edit yourself.

You can always break up that run-on sentence later on with semi-colons, full stops and other traditional punctuation marks. 

Run-on sentence are just the start of it though. Many writers agonise over comma splices, incorrect antecedents and more.

The simple fact is a grammar checker and a proofreader will help you find and fix those errors.

Your real job is to produce quality source material for them to work with.

11. Ignoring a Question of Style

You may know that writers use a hyphen to join two immediately related words: – 

e.g. tie-in

But did you know:

In the United Kingdom, it’s common to use an en dash to connect words that represent a concept: –

e.g. January–March

And in the United States, it’s common to use an em dash to demonstrate interrupted speech or an addendum: —

e.g. —use that grammar checker

Similarly, some publications (and grammar nazis) insist for the Oxford comma while others see it as unnecessary. The Oxford comma basically says that a comma is always used before the word “and” at the end of a list.

So what should you do about all these different potential grammatical errors and rules?

Well, a grammar checker can help, as can a good writing book.

It also depends on the style guide of the publication you’re writing for and where that publication is based. If you’re a freelance writer, Google for these before submitting your work.

A style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style might help too.

If in doubt or writing for yourself, remember that consistency is always the best choice.

Overcoming Common Writing Mistakes

Sometimes, I make embarrassing and common writing mistakes.

Recently, I spent two months rewriting an old book when I should have concentrated on publishing my new book, but that’s okay.

I still fall, but I read as much as I can about writing and our craft. With a little discipline, a good grammar checker and perhaps a proofreader, you can easily overcome these writing mistakes.

Common Writing Mistakes FAQ


What can go wrong in a piece of writing?

Common writing mistakes include spelling mistakes and grammatical issues. Other writing mistakes include clunky language and instances of the passive voice. A piece of writing can also go wrong if the author doesn’t consider what their reader actually wants.

What are some writing weaknesses?

Incorrect punctuation and instances of the passive voice are two examples of writing weaknesses. Other examples include using complicated language and also unnecessary words.

What are some strengths in writing?

A piece of writing is strong if it can invoke an emotional reaction in the reader. Typically, the author achieves this through story-telling and by revealing a personal truth or point of view.

Why do students struggle with writing?

Some students struggle with procrastination. They sometimes fail to reframe a deadline as a tool for shipping a piece of writing and getting feedback. Other students struggle with writing because they believe it’s important to use complicated language impress the reader. And a few students don’t consider the reader or essay question beforehand.

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40 thoughts on “11 Common Writing Mistakes To Avoid”

  1. I am not professional writer but I love to write small stories. I always face problems as you say but now I have decided that I will find time for writing.

  2. Thanks Bryan for your post, very helpful.
    I love to write fictions and used to face those problems, but one of my TOP problems is lack of passion, i’m not interested if someone care about my stories, I can just ask my self IF I care about my story, I just can realize that I don’t like it anymore.

    Maybe you can help with this?

    About organisation of an ideas, I use Evernote https://evernote.com and really happy with that software, it’s really helpful. Also I use plagiarism checker https://unplag.com/free-plagiarism-checker, because I afraid that I can plagiarise somebody’s words without even knowing. Do you use any checkers?

    Again thank you!
    Have a nice week!

    1. Hi Ella,
      You can use Grammarly if you’re worried about plagiarism. For non-fiction, I’d cite your sources and either comment on them or rework them in some way, that way you should be fine.

      For fiction, plagiarism shouldn’t be as much of an issue as well, your ideas and stories, should be your own. That said, a good editor should be able to help.

  3. ‘What will my mother say when she finds out I’m writing about sex?’
    ‘What will my friends think when they catch me writing about the world and all its ugly imperfections?’
    ‘What will my wife/husband do when they see themselves in my book?’

    Oh my God, these is so true. These questions really make me counterproductive.

    And wanting my book to be perfect… Self-doubt kills my inspiration.

    That’s why I’m writing I usually listen to music. I know that many people don’t do this while writing because music distracts them but for me it is a way to concentrate on writing and forget about my self-doubts.

    Thank you so much for writing this blog! It is very helpful.

    As for writing, I use Scrivener (http://get.esellerate.net/get/ALP404895636/default.htm?skuid=SKU82916413320&affid=AFL0030727819&at=) to organize and outline my thoughts, Paraphrase Example (http://www.paraphraseexample.com/automatic-paraphrase-tool/) to find synonyms, and Evernote App (https://evernote.com/) to capture idea if I don’t have my laptop with me.

  4. Doreen Pendgracs

    Great tips, Bryan. I’ve co-authored two books and had two single-authored titles so far. Am currently researching my next book. Each one os quite different, and therefore coincides better with a different writing process. With my book on volunteerism, I was mostly writing from personal experiences, coupled with a few interviews of other avid volunteers, so that book went fast and steady. My last book, as well as the current one I am writing, take a tremendous amount of travel for the research, so they are written over a several-year stretch. It is obvious that I would then have to do other writing in between, to keep the cash flow coming. Thx for directing me to your post. I will refer it to a friend who is having difficulty completing her first book.

    1. Good to hear the writing is going well for you. I try to write from personal experience but I like to balance it with research and interviews. And you’re right, it’s important to take care of other things while writing too.

  5. Thanks so much Bryan for this great advice. Mistake #6 rings true for me. I keep trying to just write fast – ‘put crap on the page’ some experts advice, and keep it moving. Then I slow down, procrastinate and start trying to polish it up, phrase by phrase. Right now I find it hard to get excited by my story – I don’t doubt the big picture of what I am doing but laying out the detail for a scene feels like so much work. The story is historical (Roman times) and despite several years of research I get bogged down trying to imagine the settings and historical nuances. It’s like trying to push my pen through thick molasses…

  6. I know I have short stories to redraft. I’m procrastinating there for certain. However, I’ve been fine to put those away as they were more practice than anything else.

    My issue now is two-fold: I am currently obsessed with running/playing tabletop adventures* which takes up my time and I also don’t know what kind of story I want to tell. I have ideas for short stories and for novels but I’m not sure what to go with. It’s like I’ve got too many jotted down in my writing journals. I think it’s a little like making the mistake of waiting for inspiration to strike, only this is more… indecision? Or fear that I won’t manage to communicate anything interesting or meaningful in my work? I know not every book needs to be mind-expanding yet I also know it’s rarely simply what’s on the surface. Do I want to write about dealing with depression, wrapping it in metaphor? Do I want make a satirical statement? If I simply want to frighten people, in what way do I want to do that? Which fears to settle on? The unknown? Getting old? Stalkers?

    It’s frustrating.

    *I’m autistic and when I get a special interest it truly becomes an obsession in every meaning of the word.

    1. The best way to find out what story you want to tell is to… start writing it. Sometimes in writing something, you discover what it’s about. Plus once you get started, you’ll naturally gain greater mastery over your craft.

  7. Hi Bryan,

    I found your post reviewing it for Quuu – first off, thank you for the submission. I’m working on my first novel in my downtime, following graduating from my creative writing degree. Whilst I’d been told quite a few of these by my university lecturers, it’s always good to read them and be reminded of why they’re important. I’ve been struggling recently, I keep reaching the 50,000 word mark and finding myself going back to change the plot, and I know it’s a bad habit. Thank you for this lovely post that has inspired me to carry on – I can’t wait to get back to my writing now.


    1. Hi Lauren,
      Nice to virtually meet you. I hope the degree is going well. If you’ve gotten to 50,000 words, that’s a massive milestone. If it were me, I’d prioritise getting a draft to an editor rather than rewriting.

      Hope that helps.

  8. Hey Brian, this was a really insightful post. I’m writing my first novel right now and a lot of these tips were very helpful. The one I’m most worried about is point #1 about not working on multiple projects at once. I currently write a self improvement blog and at the same time I’m working on this novel. I do see why it is hard to balance both and yes, I have been telling myself I’ll work both of them during the weekends.

    Thanks for this post and I can’t wait to read more of your stuff!

    1. Glad you liked it Peter. It’s hard to write fiction and non-fiction at once alright, you could always try allocating certain days for certain types of writing.

  9. I suffer majorly in the editing while writing department. It is hard for me to move forward with an idea when I know the structure isn’t correct, yet. Arg! I wish I was better at just putting my head down and writing out the whole scene, and then going back later. It is something I am working on constantly.

  10. I’ve spent the last five minutes re-working this comment, and it’s not gonna get any better: thank you, this advice is gold.

  11. I’m not an author. I just sometimes come up with a great idea for a book, and decide to start typing. I currently have 3 unfinished books that I’ve started and for some reason, lost interest. This annoys me, because I know that I’ll swim think of another great storty idea, and never finish it. What’s happening?

  12. Hello,

    My main problem is that I’ve been writing the same novel for nearly three years. Now I wonder if I’ve let my characters stale to a point of no return. Can I get back the fire I felt at the beginning? I have trouble finishing the things I write, Ive always had this issue. I have other stories in my head, but I can’t let this one go, even though I’ve been stuck on it for years now lol..

    Thanks in advance
    Li Asby 🙂

  13. Hi,

    My issue is that I feel like I have nothing left to say, yet the book is entirely too short to be published. What can I do to add more without It coming off as irrelevant “Fluff”

  14. Oh where do I even begin? First off, wow, this article really articulates almost everything I have been struggling with for my very first book.

    For almost 3 months now I have put off working on it because I fell out of rhythm and built up so much anxiety over it that I just put it on the back burner. This book means everything to me and I have so many plans for when it is finished but the idea of failing is holding me back.

    My thoughts feel chaotic whenever I think of sitting down and finishing my book. I have a fire inside me that explodes on paper but I fear I am going to lose it. Even as I am typing this it feels like a load of humbug but I need help, I need guidance, I need advice. Hopefully this makes some sense, if not trust me, I don’t understand it either!

    Thank you so much for your time!



  15. Bal Krishna Poudel

    Few people can find long stints of time to write as they’d like. The only agreed solution (between the ‘planners’ and the ‘patterns’) is to carve writing hours into a schedule, then stick to them, making them useful.
    You can always break up your writing time with something called the Pomodoro technique, too – 25 minutes of work, then 5 minutes to break – rewarding yourself as you go.
    I also want to add something like there is No doubt, many components to determining how to rank on Google, But, Actually, Google gives the high priority to “quality content,” The content must be original, well-written, and researched. I think you need help from Content2fast. com. It provides quality content and fast delivery. I have used it, the result is very amazing.

  16. The editing and writing at the same time mistake hits the mark. I have so many unfinished works that it hurts. Every time I look at what I’ve written, I see something wrong with it and feel awful and try to fix it until the time I reserved for writing was spent for editing, and it makes me feel worse and makes me stop writing.
    I’m trying to be more serious now though. When I was in high school I thought of writing for fun, but now I’m thinking of profit too. I mean I still want to have fun writing, but now with profit in mind, I need to understand how writing really works.

  17. I have all these problems but my biggest problem is fear. I’ll write the first chapter and smile, thinking this is good. Then I come back to write the second chapter and what i saw as good a day ago I’ll come back and see it as trash. I’ll ask myself “what are you doing? You think you can write a novel people would like?” And then I’ll listen to that voice in my head and stop. But I don’t want to stop. Please help me. Please

  18. Georgia Midwinter

    Thank you for your advice! I am trying to write my first book and have been writing it for a few years on and off. My problem is that I’m on 80,000 words and not quite finished, though nearly there. I’m worried that I’ll finish and the book will be too long. What do I do then?

  19. I regularly make at least 3 of these mistakes. I start to think that I am incorrigible.
    The biggest problem is editing and proofreading. I can write a lot but not reread it, which makes the text not bad but unreadable. And also very often I can’t start writing for a very long time and wait for the best moment (which you understand never comes).

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