Everyone goes through that awkward toddler stage of writing. There are mistakes. Lots of them. And frankly, the writing sounds weird, clunky, and just plain awful. The mistakes are extremely common, though. It’s not that difficult to avoid them.
Question 115: What are some common mistakes for aspiring authors?
Since I consider myself to be an aspiring author as I’ve only been published via my blog posts, I would love to know some mistakes to avoid. Based on what I’ve learned from the writing I’ve done thus though, I would say one common mistake that is made is telling instead of showing. It’s quick and easy to tell me what happened. However, it’s much more meaningful if you show what happened. Give the reader details. Another mistake is editing. I know it’s one I struggle with time to time. I don’t do it enough. It’s annoying to read a book with spelling mistakes, tense inconsistencies, etc… It takes tons of editing and revision to get to a final copy of a book.
C E Aylett
He-he… Where do I start? Well, let’s see…
– believing the first draft is where all the hard work goes! But that’s because there’s so much to learn to begin with, so it’s not just about writing the story. It’s also about learning technique, about effective structure, and pacing is so ‘out’ there to be almost obscure. It’s all very overwhelming to begin with.
-Expecting that what plops out on the page the first (or even 2nd) time is the way the story should be and is not in need of change, aside from tidying up some errant commas and smoothing out a little bit of grammar.
– Not seeking out vigorous critique partnerships. There is a belief out there that the way to learn how to write well is solely through the act of writing and reading. And yet, for all the books people have read and writing they’ve all done throughout their lives, the majority of people will have their manuscripts rejected. This just goes to prove that reading and writing alone do not work as effective instruction. If you don’t understand the why of fiction (why does this work and this doesn’t) then you won’t understand the how of fiction (how to improve, create desired effects, etc). I’m of the belief the key to good fiction is not only to read and write, but to learn about and practice techniques, plus — crucially — critique fiction too. That last one in particular. It develops your skills as an editor and I’m always flabbergasted as to how many writers I encounter who don’t participate in vigorous critique, not just of their own work but in giving it to others’ too. Many people are too scared of what readers will say, but I go on the premise that everyone will think my work is shit, or at the very least it won’t be to the tastes of the majority, so it can only go upwards from there, surely?
– Being apologetic — if you write stories, even if they are flawed, you are a writer. Own it and don’t feel guilty or undeserving of it.
– Writing stories as a reason to rant about politics, religion, or any other highly emotive subject involving society and/or its ills. Ranting is rarely attractive, unless it’s funny and a part of someone’s ‘brand’ (think Victor Meldrew: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46flaThCYhE).
– Not swatting up on the publishing industry/book marketing early on. This is probably because when we first start writing our inner critic/lack of confidence says our writing is purely for our own pleasure and we’ll never be good enough (or sometimes arrogant enough) to assume we’ll ever be published. However, I think it is prudent for writers to learn about how publishing works as early as possible because, for those of us who find ourselves hitched up to this passion, talent, instinct, or whatever you want to call it, in writing, there will come a day when we will want to step over that threshold between bedroom writer and professional and give publishing a serious whirl (be that self-publishing or trad). Once you feel your MS is as perfect as you can make it, you want to to be as industry savvy as possible so that if you get any offers of representation you’ll be well-prepared or, if you decide to self-publish, you will have a plan. Which brings me onto the next point…
-Lastly, self-publishing a novel and believing that marketing it is all about bombarding social media with free links. This doesn’t convert into sales for a new author with minimal online presence. Someone more established, yes. They can send out freebies to their fan base in order to seed the market, but when no one knows you and you’re yet to prove your massive talent, it’s just white noise to the majority. Tempt potential readers with intriguing morsels of book blurb that will work as (honest and interesting) click bait, get a decent front cover, make links to your book and it’s sales outlets available wherever you socialise online (without mentioning every five minutes that your book is for sale), socialise with people in your niche. Blog about your book. Written a book with a bear in it? Socialise in wildlife forums. Spy novel? Socialise where people have an interest in things like the cold war period, or wartime espionage (Bletchly and the enigma box, etc.). I know a historical fantasy author whose books bazookaed in the self-pubbing charts because of her membership in a historical society who happened to also have as members some other best-selling authors in her niche. They got to know her and her books then publicly rated her series and — boom! — she was away. DON’T socialise with writers as a means to find readers! Not saying writers don’t read, but they are there for the same reason, and that’s not to find books. Here’s a great free class from Leah Berry for more ideas.
Most importantly, bear in mind it takes time to accumulate a fan base. Get on with the next book. Write short stories and get them published in reputable publications, and put some on your website. Short stories are your best marketing tool — people get a taste of your work and that might lead to a book sale if they are hungry for more. Plus, short fiction markets are popping up all over the place. That’s where you’ll find audiences.
Anyway, bet you wish you’d never asked now! Hope I haven’t hogged your page space too much…:S
D. T. Nova
Thinking that writing the first draft is the bulk of the work.
Overuse of near-synonyms that aren’t common parts of their vocabulary (the thesaurus, like so many other things, should be used only in moderation), and overwriting in general.
Linda G. Hill
Aspiring authors have much to learn – we all go through it, and really, there’s no easy way to get around all there is to know before we publish. It’s a matter of experience. If I were to pick a single thing, it would have to be the one that causes me the most worry on behalf of the author, and that is the belief that a raw, or even a self-edited manuscript is readable. Even editors who are writers have editors. At the very, very least, as few as six and as many as twenty beta readers — ones who are unbiased — should read a manuscript before it goes off into the world. Sure, it may sell. But if it’s not the best work it can possibly be, the author risks ruining his or her reputation.
There are so many mistakes to make. Let’s see. Not finding a critique group or qualified beta readers before submitting or publishing. Your best friend reading your novel doesn’t count. Getting so fixated on what your trying to say or do with the story that there’s no plot. Rewriting the first chapter twenty times before ever starting the second one.
The biggest trap, in my opinion, is the same one in which I fell. I got too excited about finishing Jasper and released it too soon with minimal outside input. Looking back at it now it definitely could’ve used more polish before it could be considered ready.
Gregory S. Close
Editing! If you’re going to spend money on your first effort, your first priority should be a good editor. Covers and presentation can be improved upon in a later edition with minimal effort. Editing is vital to ensuring that the work itself is seen positively, and gives you a fighting chance to be recognized and successful (and have the nice-to-have problem of wondering if you should upgrade your interior/exterior etc).
Tracey Lynn Tobin
I’ve spent a bit of time on Critique Circle in the past, and one of the most common “mistakes” that I saw there was that many aspiring authors simply haven’t taken the time and put in the effort to really learn how the English language works. I hate to discourage anyone from continuing to write, but it was always frustrating to read a piece from an aspiring author that was so riddled with spelling and grammatical errors that you could hardly discern what they were trying to say. That’s not to say that these people couldn’t become wonderful writers, but if you can’t write a single proper sentence, you should probably work on that before trying to string several thousand of them together into a coherent narrative.
The other big mistake that I’ve seen most often is simply being too proud and too arrogant, or else too hard on yourself. Every aspiring author seems to either think that they are beyond criticism – that they can do no wrong – or that everything they write is drivel that no one will ever want to read. There needs to be a happy medium of tentative confidence. You have to be able to deal with criticism, but you also have to have the ability to stand your ground and recognize when you’ve actually done genuinely good work.
Paul B. Spence
Hmm. I have met people that wanted to write books, but didn’t like to read. If you don’t read genre fiction, don’t try to write it. That said, I think the most common mistake is giving up. Not believing in yourself. If you have a story that needs to be told, then tell it. You can do it. Aspiring authors always talk about what holds them back, life, family, jobs, etc. Guess what, we all have these problems too. Just set aside some time, and don’t think about anything except your story. Then type it out. And finish it!
Today seems to be a day for lists, I do believe.
1.) Excessive adverbs. Adverbs in and of themselves are not evil. But they can be a crutch for lazy writing that has no energy. We walk slowly when we could meander, stroll, or wander, we run quickly when we could dash, sprint, or rush. We walk unsteadily when we could blunder, stumble, stagger, or limp. Each one of these more active verbs has a different and energetic meaning. I allow myself three adverbs per 10,000 words.
2.) Excessive speech tags. There are countless creative ways of letting us know who is talking without using “He said” or “she exclaimed.” I won’t go into a lesson here about that. But it’s worth looking into.
3.) Assuming everyone who reads your work is going to “get it.” This includes everything from writing as though your reader can see your world, to assuming that the first editor who receives your manuscript is going to tearfully write you the biggest advance check in history. Write like you want to communicate. And still expect your message to bounce off a few thick skulls. And if it does, remember, it’s not a rejection of YOU.
Jay Dee Archer
There are so many mistakes. As an author who has not published yet, I can probably mention some of my own mistakes.
First, my earlier dialogue sounded more like written language. The problem that many people have is they write the dialogue, but don’t say it out loud. You need to read it out loud to see if it sounds natural.
Second, spending too much time editing while writing. Just write the damn thing, then edit. That’s one of the biggest problems people have. They never finish their first draft because they’re so caught up in trying to make it perfect. The constant editing can kill a story. Just write it, then make the changes. But don’t do it right away. Leave it for a few weeks, then come back to it from a fresh point of view.
And my final mistake is infodumps, especially character descriptions. My earlier writing had characters described fully right from the start. Don’t do that! It’s dull. Put descriptions in a little at a time, and it’s great to do it from the perspective of the point of view character.
How about you?
What mistakes do you think aspiring authors tend to make? Let us know in the comments section.