Monday, October 26, 2009

Caught in the Act: Common Writing Mistakes

For  your enrichment, published author and kind person Carolyn Jewel has an outstanding Writing Workshop full of advice, all for free and all outstanding. She writes romance, but the advice is sound whatever genre you write. I've used it a hundred times at least, and after you check it out you might end up with a new bookmarked website. 

So today the idea is to throw out a few of my common writing mistakes-- the ones I catch myself making even though I know all about them-- and hopefully hearing some of yours, too. I will be referring back to Ms. Jewel's fabulous workshop with links so you don't have to hunt things out yourself... in case you'd like an author's take.

Diana's Top Three Writing Mistakes
  • Using Overdone Phrases and Cliches. Ms. Jewel lists three types of repetition: Micro, Macro, and Mega. I'm guilty of mega repetition (doesn't that sound bad?). It's when a writer uses overdone phrases; things like "He looked up," or "She turned," etc. Her list is more in tune with historical romance, but the idea of using the same ol', same ol' for descriptions is bad, and it crosses genre-lines. 
Do you have any problem areas? Do you know and understand, just as I do, that active voice is the goal but still find your drafts full of passive when you re-read? (Passive voice would be my fourth top writing mistake. Find some explanations and clarity from Ms. Jewel HERE). What are some writing mistakes you catch yourself making?


  1. I use a lot of phrases repeatedly: sat down, turned around, looked. I'm sure there's more, but that's the ones I can think of now. I am also finding myself telling too much. I usually catch it after a day or two when I read over the last section I wrote.

  2. Nothing. I write perfection as you know, Diana.

    Well, I mean aside from micro-managing my character's actions, head-hopping my POV, adverbing my verbs viciously, and using the same name for multiple characters in a manuscript. That's just the tip of the iceberg also.

    Oh... and I also like to write like a Pirate and substitute "me" for "my" frequently. (Ie. Yesterday, I picked up me daughter with me car.)

    Still, writing quickly and getting things down on paper may lead to rewrite after rewrite, but it also leads to a story... and sometimes sleep.

    Oh... and I also like ellipses... they're sweet and cuddly.

  3. Ooh, thanks for the link, Diana. I have a feeling I'll be referring back to it quite often.

    Like you, I fear I'm also guilty of mega repetition. It's something I've been actively working to curb lately, but I'm afraid if I go too far the other way I may end up writing long, unnecessary passages that might be stated more clearly and succinctly as "He looked up..."

    Sigh. What to do, what to do...

  4. Melane and Sesquip- I know, right! It's the hardest thing not to use the obvious, "He looked up," when all you really want to say is, "He looked up." And Melane, I've come to the conclusion that telling is what first drafts are for. I'll worry about showing when I get back to the beginning. And Sesquip, I'm like you when I try to change those obvious buggers, I end up making things too long. Hopefully now with my wip I can really avoid this!

    Wendy- You write a first draft so quickly it doesn't even matter if its not perfect! And actually, I've read whole chapters of yours that are flawless :)
    I smiled at the Pirate-write. Speaking of picking up me kids, I'd better get moving.

  5. I change POV, but my novel is sort of epic so I think it might be o.k. like in Laini Taylor's blackbringer. I also adverb and -ing my way through and the dreaded to be verb is everywhere. "As" my characters do something is a common mistake that I'm not sure how to change. All of these things I'll worry about later. Plunging on through the rough draft is my goal right now.

  6. I told not showed as a rookie writer. Don't ruin the surprise for readers I learned: let them visualize setting. OH AND ALSO THE WORST MISTAKE ONE COULD MAKE:

    Deus Ex Machina-insignificant plot behind a whole plot ex. War of the Worlds. Yup.

  7. Hi Mary :) I don't think there's anything wrong with POV changes as long as its done at a scene or chapter break, or at least if it flows well. And my characters do things "as" other stuff happens too. A lot. Good idea about plunging ahead... let's plunge together!

    Hi Shigune, that's good advice about letting readers visualize the setting. Sometimes writers can overdo the description, right? And I get what you mean about War of the Worlds, but I did enjoy me some alien butt kicking :)