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Mistakes New Writers Make
- and How to Avoid Them
by Lucia Zimmitti
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 before they become
Here are the most common mistakes new writers make:
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.
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
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
the promise you made the reader at the beginning of the
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.
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
to avoid these mistakes:
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.
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.
as much as your brain can hold. And then go back for
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
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.
© Copyright Lucia Zimmitti. All Rights
To discover more ways to avoid common writing mistakes,
visit http://ManuscriptRx.com and sign up for
"Write Through It," a free, monthly
e-newsletter that offers tips on writing more clearly and
Lucia Zimmitti is a writing coach and independent editor.
She is a member of the Society of Children's Writers and
Illustrators and the Editorial Freelancers Association.
Her fiction and poetry have been published in various
national literary journals, and she has taught writing at
the high school and college levels.
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