Skip to main content

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Ignoring Your Weaknesses

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is ignoring your weaknesses.

Everyone makes mistakes—even writers—but that's OK because each mistake is a great learning opportunity. The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them early in the process. Note: The mistakes in this series aren't focused on grammar rules, though we offer help in that area as well.

(75 grammar rules for writers.)

Rather, we're looking at bigger picture mistakes and mishaps, including the error of using too much exposition, neglecting research, or researching too much. This week's writing mistake is ignoring your weaknesses.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Ignoring Your Weaknesses

Writing is a uniquely mysterious endeavor. We aren’t privy to the process like we are with most other art forms. Movies have making-of documentaries; television shows have behind-the-scenes specials; even fine artists are able to show you step-by-step progress if they so choose. I grew up on 1990s and early-00s MTV and VH1, and I was obsessed with “Making the Video” and “Behind the Music.” I've always loved witnessing the creative process.

This means many of us have come to writing not because of the craft of writing, but because of the way certain stories felt when we read them. We are presented with the final product, the beautifully illustrated copy with words we pore over and emblazon onto our hearts that help aspire us to our own storytelling. We don’t see the wrong turns, the mistakes, the restarts, and the moments the author felt in over their head.

But wrong turns happened, mistakes were made, false starts occurred, and the author likely learned something new about themselves, their writing, and their goals along the way.

This happened to me recently. A few writer friends and I have been participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and we were having an unofficial “write-in” one day. After an hour of writing, we reconvened and talked about how we felt.

“Honestly, not good,” I said. “I realized something that’s making me feel kind of anxious, and I’m nervous to say it out loud.” 

The Weakness

What I realized is that I don’t feel like I’m particularly good at storytelling.

Now you might be thinking … what? Yeah, me too. But let me break it down a little bit.

I love writing atmosphere. I feel relatively confident writing about setting and characters. I love making a mirror of the details around a place, the particular aesthetics of a season, and how it might reflect a character’s emotions. I love laying the scene—it’s the most fun I have as a writer.

But often when I write with the purpose of propelling the plot forward, it doesn’t feel natural, authentic … good.

Plot has always eluded me as a writer and impressed me as a reader—especially in books that aren’t particularly plot-driven, and I was worried that acknowledging this so-called weakness would be damning to my process. You’re saying you can’t tell a story and you want to be a storyteller? I asked (bullied) myself. Good luck!

But my friends helped me unpack this and move beyond it.

Confronting the Problem

First, they asked me why I feel this way. “Because I know what I want to happen, but I don’t know how to make it happen,” I said.

Then they asked me to describe elements I felt like I could make happen. Easily and readily, I was able to name several scenes and moments that I wanted to write.

“Okay,” my friend Margie said. “Now tell me what you think your plot is in as few words as possible.”

I wrote down the shell of my idea in 11 words. We called this my five-second plot.

“Sounds to me like you know what you’re doing,” Margie said.

“But keep going,” my other friend, Lily, added. “Because there’s something here.”

Moving Forward

And they were right. I was ready to give up completely because I wasn't fitting into what I pictured as a successful writer—not by way of publishing goals, but in the actual act of writing. I was hung up on my definition of plot that I was ignoring my strengths: character, place, and atmosphere. In focusing on what I feel confident writing, the plot presented itself in these moments. Plot can be large, overt, with enormous consequences—or it can be small, subconscious, and personal. Neither is wrong; it all depends on what kind of story you’re trying to tell. I decided to let my story start to speak for itself.

In recognizing what I considered my weakness, I allowed myself to lean into my strengths—and through that, my insecurities started to fade. They will come and go, for writing isn’t painless even after you’ve made a breakthrough, but knowing that I was able to work through an unconfident aspect of my writing felt like I was finally coming into my superpowers.

But it did more than that. It helped reveal just how mean I can be to myself in the process. Above, I mentioned that I felt like my writing wasn’t good when I’d sit down to write the plot. If you do something similar, stop now. There is simply nothing to learn in telling yourself that you’re not good at what you love—you just get in your own way. My friends helping me unpack my insecurity made me realize, too, that the process is beautifully messy, that what is on the page now in scribbles and half-formed thoughts are there for a reason—that they will become something greater in time, and critiquing them for not being perfect now is akin to stopping a haircut midway and saying it doesn’t look good.

So fellow writers, take heed when I advise you not to ignore your weaknesses. Every writer has their strengths, and your strengths are far more powerful than any weakness you think you might have—because a weakness is really just a challenge waiting for you to overcome.

Advanced Novel Writing

In this course you'll spend 15 weeks writing your novel—all the while gaining valuable feedback and getting the encouragement you need in order to finish. You'll also learn specific tips for outlining and how not to write a novel. By the end of this course, you will have the tools and know-how you need to write a great novel.

Click to continue. 

Popular Fantasy Tropes for Writers

21 Popular Fantasy Tropes for Writers

Here are 21 examples of fantasy tropes for writers to consider and subvert when writing fantastical fiction.

Writing Goals and Intentions: 25 Prompts

Writing Goals and Intentions: 25 Prompts

Make this year your most successful writing year ever by considering the following questions to set your goals and intentions.

Is a Personal Essay Considered Journalism?

Is a Personal Essay Considered Journalism?

Journalist Alison Hill answers the question of whether or not the personal essay is considered journalism by defining the genre and offering examples. Plus, outlets for you to publish your own personal essay.

Forth vs. Fourth (Grammar Rules)

Forth vs. Fourth (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use forth vs. fourth in your writing with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Bad Place

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Bad Place

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, make the setting the antagonist.

Gaslighting in Romance: From Jane Eyre to the Present Day (and Why Writers Should Care)

Gaslighting in Romance: From Jane Eyre to the Present Day (and Why Writers Should Care)

Gaslighting can work its way into the backstory of a character, but it can also be misused. Here, author Emma Barry discusses gaslighting in romance.

Brad Taylor: On Real-Life Threats Inspiring Thriller Novels

Brad Taylor: On Real-Life Threats Inspiring Thriller Novels

Author and veteran Brad Taylor discusses the research that led to his new thriller novel, The Devil’s Ransom.

How Roleplaying Helps Our Writing—and Our Marriage

How Role-Playing Helps Our Writing—and Our Marriage

As co-writing partners who fully embody the stories they tell in their writing process, authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka share how role-playing helps their writing, and their marriage.

How To Get Started in Copywriting

How To Get Started in Copywriting

From writing and reading to majoring outside of journalism, copywriter and author Robert W. Bly shares how to get started in copywriting.