10 Solutions to the Most Common Writing Mistakes
These ten solutions to the most common writing mistakes apply to all types of writing: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, copywriting, technical writing, etc. Writing tips like these can make you a better writer and self-editor—and increase your chances of getting published!
But first, a writing quip:
“Don’t write down to your readers,” said Jack Bickham, author of 75 published novels. “The ones dumber than you can’t read.”
His point is that writers need to park their arrogance at the door and write directly, openly, and honestly to readers. Bickham gave this advice in The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them). Below are several of his solutions to ten common writing mistakes, plus a few tips I’ve learned in my freelance writing and blogging career…
1. Dropping alligators through the transom. Instead of engineering comets from Venus or aliens from Mars or “alligators through the transom” to kill or paralyze everyone in town but your protagonist and her lover, make sure you stick to “logical but unanticipated disasters.”
2. Describing sunsets. To describe something in detail, you have to stop the action. Readers don’t like inaction, so try to stay in flow as much as possible.
3. Warming up your engines. Instead of clearing your throat before you get to the good stuff, start with an earthquake and work up to a climax.
4. Not letting your characters think. Scenes are peaks, and sequels are valleys. The sequels are quiet times that show what your character’s reaction is, what she’s doing next, etc. In The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, Bickham recommends a “Emotion—Thought—Decision” formula.
5. Lecturing your reader. Let your character or interviewee remember info, or seek it out, or be told it, or read it. Don’t insert huge chunks of info in your novels, articles, or poems.
6. Worrying about being too obvious. Exaggerate your character portrayal, goals, plot development. Spell out everything. “Obvious is mandatory. Your reader is busy, distracted, etc—what seems obvious to you may be obscure to her,” writes Bickham.
7. Letting things “just happen.” To motivate them to make logical (and yet still surprising) choices, make sure your characters have the right background (experience, upbringing, information).
8. Forgetting sense impressions. You’ll keep your readers oriented if you share what the characters see, hear, smell, or feel.
9. Hiding from your emotions. “Strong emotion must be at the center of your stories, Walk on the edge of too much,” says Bickham.
10. Chasing the market. The best books, magazine articles, and blog posts are those that aren’t chasing trends. Rather, they establish them. Hard to do? You better believe it.
Fellow scribes, these solutions to the most common writing mistakes apply to novels, magazine articles, poetry, and even textbook writing! If you have any comments or questions, please fire away below…