10 Most Common Writing Mistakes, Plus 10 Remedies
You won’t just find the most common writing mistakes here; also included are ten remedies for writers who make the same mistakes over and over! These writing tips are from Vancouver-based writer and publication coach, Daphne Gray-Grant.
“Effective writers understand that they are lifelong apprentices,” says Gray-Grant. “They learn by reading – constantly. Note: this is not just passive ‘flip-through-a-thriller-while-sitting-on-the-pool-deck’ kind of reading. This is active ‘sit-up-and-pay-attention-to-technique-dissection’ – similar to what a scientist would do in a lab. You won’t want to read this closely all the time, of course (it’s work — although fun work, to my mind). But effective writers do some of this every week.”
Fellow scribes, when you come across an enchanting phrase or passage, try to figure out why it works so well. Is it the words, the pace, the tone, the grammar? Don’t just marvel at the awesome-ness of the writing; explain how and why it’s so effective. This will help you fix mistakes in your own writing.
Word Painting: A Guide to Write More Descriptively will help you find the right word at the right time, and improve your writing skills.
Okay, here are common mistakes writers make…
10 Most Common Writing Mistakes, Plus 10 Remedies
Guest Post ~ Daphne Gray-Grant (with commentary from Laurie)
Leaving writing to the last minute
You may hate writing, but the smartest writers do all sorts of preparatory work first, to ensure their writing time is as much fun as possible. Think about your topic. (And go for a walk while thinking.) Research. Prepare a writers’ mindmap. All of these activities are easy, and don’t even feel like writing! Don’t let the pressure of deadlines force you to write too early. Ensure you prepare.
Doing an outline (this is a common writing mistake?)
No, no, a thousand times no! Don’t outline before writing — this is a common writing mistake. This task takes you into the linear, logical part of your brain when you want to be in the creative part. Instead of making an outline, create a writers’ mindmap.
Starting without a model
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! Before you write a word be sure to have a model that you (or your boss) thinks captures the style of what you’re trying to write. As long as you’re only copying the style (and not word for word) you will not be plagiarizing.
Not being conversational enough in your writing
You don’t want to sound like a pompous ass when you write — instead you want to be relaxed and interesting and, dare I say it, fun! Even if your topic is serious, a conversational approach will help your audience understand you better. A remedy for writers who make this common writing mistake is to write like you speak.
Here are some examples of writers who were too conversational in their writing: Email Mistakes Writers Make, Plus Tips for Emailing Pitches.
Failing to include stories and examples
Too many writers are in love with the facts and only the facts. Instead, remember that human beings have been telling stories since well before we invented writing! Stories move us and bring us to action. If you’re trying to persuade anyone to do anything with your writing, be sure to tell some stories and anecdotes. (This is the writing tip I need most — I’m horrible at telling stories!)
Editing while you write
Writing is an entirely separate job from editing. Trying to do both at the same time is like trying to clear the table while you are still eating dinner. Instead, write as fast as you can and edit (later) as slowly as you can tolerate. (Oops – I spoke too soon. (This is my most common writing mistake. But, Daphne has emailed me and encouraged me to separate my writing time from my editing time — which is a great writing remedy).
Writing sentences that are too long
If you’ve been through higher education you’ve likely been trained to write sentences that are far too long for easy understanding. A remedy for writers is to use an internet-based tool to determine the average length of your sentences. Aim for 14-18 words per sentence. (NB: This is an average. Some sentences should be much longer and others should be much shorter.)
Being too sophisticated
Writers who make the common writing mistakes in 4, 5 and 7, are usually trying to demonstrate their own sophistication to the reader. This is always an error. Instead, you should strive to have your readers engaged and, perhaps, entertained. Never try to make them think you’re smarter than they are. This alienates rather than impresses. (This isn’t one of my most common writing mistakes, though my website analyzer says I write at graduate level. This is not good.)
Not allowing enough incubation time after you write
After you write and before you edit your text should sit quietly on your hard-drive for at least a day before you edit it. When you get a writing assignment, be sure to schedule this important “waiting” time. You cannot edit properly without enough distance from your words. (This is one reason I love blogging — I try to regularly edit my blog posts, which is a great way to find mistakes and improve my writing).
Failing to proofread – the most common writing mistake of all
I’m convinced that good proofreaders are born, not made (and, sadly, I was born without the necessary DNA.) But you can be a better proofreader if you take care and pay attention. My favorite remedy for this writing mistake is switching the type to something unusual (I favor Papyrus), bumping it up several notches (I go for 20 pt.) and then reading aloud. All of a sudden all sorts of previously hidden writing mistakes jump out and grab me by the eyeballs. (I proofread my magazine articles about four times before submitting them. Blog posts are a different story.)
Want more writing tips? Read 6 Ways to Make Your Writing Better.
What do you think of these writing mistakes — are you a guilty of them? Comments welcome below…
Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.