11 Common Writing Mistakes To Avoid

Are you trying to write a book? Avoiding these common writing mistakes will help you become a better writer and finish writing a book faster.

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.

Ouch!

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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