Thursday, December 8, 2011

Top five Noob mistakes

A lot of people want to be a published writer, but very few people make it. There's a lot more to writing than just having a great idea and getting the words out of your brain and onto paper (or into a computer as the case may be).

I get to read a lot of aspiring writers' pieces of work and I regularly see the same mistakes, which are often a sign of poor research. Just like anything else, if you want to be good at it you need to study it and work at it. I'm not saying you have to go to uni, but you should at a minimum be researching online, or trying to make it to conferences. (WriteOnCon is free and it's online so there's no excuse!)

But here's the top five newbie writer mistakes I see:


As a former journalist, I had correct dialogue formatted burnt into my frontal lobe by my uni lecturer  editor.

"I can't believe how often people dialogue wrong." She said.   WRONG!
"I know. It's crazy," he replied.  Right!

When you're using a verb for talking after the speech, it's still the same sentence so it needs a comma, not a full stop (period for those of you in the US) and if it's not a person's name then it's lower case for the next word.


I think when everyone starts out, we do a bit of telling. Especially if we're writing in a hurry. But we need to look for opportunities to use showing instead.

Bob's hair is brown and he doesn't brush it. Telling!

I resist the urge to reach out and sweep the clumps of unbrushed hair from Bob's eyes. Showing!

Mary Sue

Hello Mary Sue, how do you do? Still perfect? Still beautiful, but denying it. Still having "everything coming up Milhouse" for you?

If the character has no depth and flaws, then they will be uninteresting, uninspiring and flat.

Rushing queries

I've just finished this MS and it's the total bomb - time to query!

Stop it! You should revise yourself, get multiple Beta editors to have a squiz, workshop your query letter too - then maybe you'll be ready to query.

Writing to trends

If you write to something is hot now, remember, by the time you finish writing it the trend is probably on the decline and the chances of you getting picked up are low.

In saying that, you should also try to write the story that is in your heart. Listen to your muse. But always try to come up with a unique concept as the last thing you want is to be rejected because it's too similar to something on an agent's list or something on the bookshelves already.

Not listening to advice

I think by nature, most people who have a desire to write also have a personality that LOVES affirmation. That can make it hard for us to listen to constructive criticism *raises hand* and means that we can ignore advice because our pride is hurt, rather than looking at it constructively.

I've learnt to mill over advice for a couple of days if it doesn't ring true to me at first as it might be my ego getting in the way.

So, that's the top five things I've noticed with writing noobs. How about you? Got any stories from when you were a noob, or anything you've noticed. Let's share the wisdom.


  1. "YES," I said, pointing at your #1 Noob mistake in glee. Nothing makes me grind my teeth more than dialogue mechanics. When folks screw it up, it's like throwing rusty screws in a blender. Unpleasant.

    I do have to add my own input on "Not listening to advice", though. I think some people try to listen to -every- piece of advice that rolls across their screen. With writing not being an exact science, this is pretty much impossible to function with. Some recommend being a plotter, others recommend being a pantser. Can't do both fully, right?

    Add to that the fact that some people take advice as gospel. One that I've noticed getting out of hand is adverb hunting. There's a lot of advice swirling around about NEVER USING ADVERBS!!! As though some writing God will descend from his lofty heights to smite you, your writing, and your puppy. Adverbs are just like any other word. If you overuse them, the reader will notice and call shenanigans on your prose. They shouldn't be singled out any more than other word choices. The unfortunate truth is that people -do- overuse them, though. It's earned them a bad reputation, and people hunt them down indiscriminately. (SEE. IT WORKS.)

    But that is just my advice. And I haven't had my tea this morning, so it may just be the chattering of the parts of my brain that dare to be awake at this hour.

  2. I definitely think getting a critique partner was my best move as a writer. She really helped to firmly, but gently, point out the things readers and reviewers will NOT be so gentle about pointing out! I've now amassed a small village of trusted readers who range from proof-readers for my final drafts to out-and-out editors/advisors for my rough stuff. I love getting a few different perspectives and seeing what comes up consistently as a like or dislike. Great post!

  3. I'll add cliches and crutch words to the list. Cliches are the old adages you cling to because they're what is comfortable and familiar. Crutch words are different for every writer, but notoriously pop up throughout the book. Mine used to be "just" now it's "own". Beta readers are the best and finding both cliches and crutch words.

  4. These are excellent, they're definitely the top things I've noticed. I would add to it, poor pacing, bad character development, and bad sentence structure.

  5. Good pointers for the beginners *raises hand* :-) I am trying to work on my "showing" and I know I still have a lot of editing to do (well after I actually finish the draft).
    I will also be looking for a crit partner :-)

  6. Not doing the most basic research beyond, well "I've read a novel, so now I know how to write a novel". This kind of noob infuriates me. Read a few books and websites, go to a class or conference, please!

  7. I had an issue with character depth when I started out. And the person who explained this to me? An agent who had requested my full. I am SO thankful she told me because it's been something I've really been trying hard to look for and work on.

    Yes, I agree with Ian. Listening to advice but not ALL advice. I've known a few writers who stick so closely to all the "rules" of writing that their stories end up lacking a creative luster.

    I'm a comma mis-user among other things on your list. ;)

  8. I think there's too much emphasis on ONLY showing nowadays. Sometimes you need to directly tell the reader something, esp. at the beginning, when certain establishing information should be, in my opinion, directly conveyed instead of making the reader play guessing games. But then again, I grew up reading a lot of old books, when telling instead of showing was a lot more common, so I'm merely writing what I know.

  9. I see the dialogue issue a fair bit, and I also understand how hard it is to take criticism, even if the aim is constructive. Like you, I usually have to step back from it, and think about it. Something I'll do if I'm not sure about a critiquer's suggestion, but I think it's worth considering, is I'll "test write" a section. I did this with my WIP, and - kudos to the critiquer - it worked a lot better. Joining CritiqueCircle was definitely one of my better moves.