With more than 100 years of authority, the Writer's Digest team has collected a lot of great advice and tips on how writers have found success over the years. We've also witnessed many mistakes by writers who have not found success as well as anecdotes from successful authors remembering past mistakes that blocked them early in their careers.
It's nearly impossible to find success without making (many) mistakes along the way. However, we don't want to sit on the sidelines and see writers repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
So we've collected 25 common writing mistakes writers make along with tips on how to fix them. The list below shares the mistake with a brief explanation. Just click the link for the mistake to find a more detailed explanation and correction strategy.
25 Common Writing Mistakes Writers Make (and How to Fix Them)
- Waiting for inspiration to strike. We believe inspiration exists; we just don't believe in waiting around for it to strike before trying to write.
- Writing oversimplified characters. Sure, the characters in your fictional story aren't real, but they should feel real to your reader.
- Talking about the work-in-progress. It's natural to be excited about what you're writing, but talking about your WIP too much can lead to writer's block.
- Relying on perfect conditions to write. Let's face it; the conditions will never be perfect for most people, will they?
- Worrying about what happens when you make it big. Don't get caught up fretting about being a famous and wealthy author before you're actually there.
- Providing a lack of conflict. We love our characters and want the best for them, but no conflict means no story means bored (or a lack of) readers.
- Trying to write for everyone. In the real world, you can't please everyone (you just can't), and the same holds true for readers.
- Allowing self-doubt to guide you. This is one of the worst (and most common) mistakes, because self-doubt comes from within, not without.
- Neglecting research. Writers don't need to know everything about everything, but they should know a little about what they write.
- Not knowing when to shelve a project. Writing is not an "all or nothing" activity; it's OK to put a manuscript to the side while working on other projects.
- Refraining to revise writing. Regardless of genre, the writing you read from successful writers is rarely the first draft; it almost always goes through revision.
- Revising while writing. That said, many writers who get too focused on revision while writing their first draft are susceptible to never finishing that first draft.
- Not using your spare 15 minutes. It can often feel like "real life" doesn't want people to be able to write. So writers have to learn how to use their "spare time" accordingly.
- Omitting sensory details. Leaving out sensory details in writing is one of the best ways to make writing feel empty for readers.
- Misusing dialogue tags. Whether you use "said" or not, here are some ways to use dialogue tags with more purpose.
- Giving up. Never do this. Like ever.
- Researching too much. Research is good, but it can also keep you from your writing.
- Trying to shock without value. It may come as a shock, but shocks for the sake of shocks just isn't all that shocking.
- Putting off submissions. It's hard to get your writing published if you never take time out to submit your writing to agents and publishers.
- Following writing "rules" too closely. After all, they're more like guidelines than actual rules, which writers are great at bending anyway.
- Hiding the pitch or selling point of your writing. Whether it's a query or back cover copy, don't hide the main reason people should read your writing.
- Inaccurate genre labels. It's frustrating to pick up a romantic comedy that's actually a domestic thriller or vice versa. So use the right label for your project.
- Chasing trends. This almost never works out, because trends are usually over by time the book is published.
- Characterless characters. Characters without any substance are a drag on a story, so be sure to give them a little something memorable, whether good or bad.
- Ending your story too soon. Pacing is important in storytelling. If you nail the beginning and middle but neglect (or rush) the end, it can bring the whole tale down.
We hope this list of writing mistakes and how to fix them is completely alien to you, but we also know most writers have run into at least a few (if not all) of these at some point or another. We also know this list is not complete and would love to know your "favorite" writing mistake you've had to overcome in the comments below.
Breaking into traditional book publishing can be tough work. After you write and revise the book, there’s finding an agent or an independent publisher, which involves time spent researching instead of what you really want to be doing—writing. So, Writer’s Digest has done the work for you with this 144-page guide. The Get Published in 2022: Breaking In Resource Directory collects the resources you need to make 2022 the year your book gets published.