All writers make mistakes. That’s why editing exists.
That said, some mistakes are more ubiquitous than others. In this blog post, we’re looking at some of the most common mistakes made by newbie writers – and, more importantly, how to overcome them.
In order to get a good collection of mistakes and solutions, I asked each member of Stokes Croft Writers: “What’s been the biggest mistake you’ve made in your writing – and how have you learnt from it?”
Here is what they said…
AKA Ms. Don’t Know/Won’t Know
“I think a mistake that I’ve made in the past is trying to write about situations that I know very little about, with very little research. Amazing, talented and driven writers can write about things that they have very little ‘real life’ experience of because they spend lots of time researching and building a deep understanding of their characters. I have realised that I am very lazy and should either research properly or stick to what I know. Which is why many of my characters are 25 year old Marketing Execs called Mophie or Grophie.”
AKA Ms. No Plan
“My biggest learning curve (I don’t like to think of them as mistakes or regrets!) was learning to plan: mind maps, scenes written on post-it notes, and most importantly, interviewing my characters to get to know them inside out. When I started writing my novel I had no idea who the characters really were or what was going to happen and it ended up making a lot more work for me in the long run!”
AKA Ms. Overenthusiastic
“My biggest mistake has been getting overexcited once a story is done, thinking it’s an absolute masterpiece and sending it off so that my genius can be recognised as soon as possible. I’ve learnt from the earth-shattering silence I get in response to this that it’s best to put a story away for a bit – even if it’s just half an hour but often the longer the better (like a good curry). With fresh eyes you’ll see all the mistakes an editor/competition judge will see.”
AKA Ms. Procrastination
“My biggest mistake was thinking I’d write ‘when I have enough time’. You never have enough time unless you make enough time. Now I schedule time specifically for creative writing into my week, rather than just vaguely thinking I’ll get round to it at some point… Telling the group I’ll be submitting for the next meeting is always a good motivator as well!”
AKA Mr. Lone Genius
“Mine was not giving my writing to enough people to read so thinking it was good in my head only to find some very unpleasant truths…”
AKA Mr. All Over the Place
“Early on, I used to change viewpoint like a schizophrenic. It spoiled flow and disengaged the reader. Writing in the first person helped me stop making this rookie mistake.”
AKA Mr. Live a Little
“Trying to write about life while having almost no experience of it. As a shy young man I’d had maybe five conversations and zero interesting moments in my life, and there I was trying to write dialogue and plot? I took some time off from creative writing (probably more than I should have) and began to engage with the world despite my terror of it. To paraphrase Michael Chabon (from Keats’s epitaph), I set about writing my name in water.”
AKA Ms. Overly Poetic
“I had to learn not to kill the action with too much flowery description in scenes.”
The important thing to take away from all of these different experiences – aside from the fact that there are a great many ways to write badly – is that mistakes are a great learning opportunity. Each of us has been guilty of committing cardinal writing sins, but it was by making these mistakes and purposefully coming up with strategies to overcome them that we develop as writers.
No matter how long you’ve been writing or how many prizes you’ve won, there are always ways you can improve. So today, why not sit down and make a list of your writing weaknesses? If you’re feeling particularly brave you can even ask your writers group or other devoted readers to do it for you. I’m not suggesting this to make you feel bad – and for this reason alone I suggest you also make a list of your writing strengths while you’re at it, to prevent yourself from getting too disheartened! – but because it’s only by identifying your mistakes that you can set about rectifying them. You’ll see the benefits in no time… and perhaps a few more, hitherto unnoticed flaws as well! After all, writing is just one long learning curve.
Words by Leah Eades.