10 Common Mistakes Made by Beginning Writers

You won’t just find the most common writing mistakes here; also included are ten remedies for writers who make the same mistakes over and over! These writing tips are from Vancouver-based writer and publication coach, Daphne Gray-Grant.

“Effective writers understand that they are lifelong apprentices,” says Gray-Grant. “They learn by reading – constantly. Note: this is not just passive ‘flip-through-a-thriller-while-sitting-on-the-pool-deck’ kind of reading. This is active ‘sit-up-and-pay-attention-to-technique-dissection’ – similar to what a scientist would do in a lab. You won’t want to read this closely all the time, of course (it’s work — although fun work, to my mind). But effective writers do some of this every week.”

Fellow scribes, when you come across an enchanting phrase or passage, try to figure out why it works so well. Is it the words, the pace, the tone, the grammar? Don’t just marvel at the awesome-ness of the writing; explain how and why it’s so effective. This will help you fix mistakes in your own writing.

Word Painting: A Guide to Write More Descriptively will help you find the right word at the right time, and improve your writing skills.

Okay, here are common mistakes writers make…

10 Most Common Writing Mistakes

Guest Post ~ Daphne Gray-Grant (with commentary from Laurie)

Leaving writing to the last minute

You may hate writing, but the smartest writers do all sorts of preparatory work first, to ensure their writing time is as much fun as possible. Think about your topic. (And go for a walk while thinking.) Research. Prepare a writers’ mindmap. All of these activities are easy, and don’t even feel like writing! Don’t let the pressure of deadlines force you to write too early. Ensure you prepare.

Doing an outline

No, no, a thousand times no! Don’t outline before writing — this is a common writing mistake. This task takes you into the linear, logical part of your brain when you want to be in the creative part. Instead of making an outline, create a writers’ mindmap.

Starting without a model

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! Before you write a word be sure to have a model that you (or your boss) thinks captures the style of what you’re trying to write. As long as you’re only copying the style (and not word for word) you will not be plagiarizing.

Not being conversational enough

You don’t want to sound like a pompous ass when you write — instead you want to be relaxed and interesting and, dare I say it, fun! Even if your topic is serious, a conversational approach will help your audience understand you better. A remedy for writers who make this common writing mistake is to write like you speak.

Here are some examples of writers who were too conversational in their writing: Email Mistakes Writers Make, Plus Tips for Emailing Pitches.

Failing to include stories and examples

Too many writers are in love with the facts and only the facts. Instead, remember that human beings have been telling stories since well before we invented writing! Stories move us and bring us to action. If you’re trying to persuade anyone to do anything with your writing, be sure to tell some stories and anecdotes. (This is the writing tip I need most — I’m horrible at telling stories!)

Editing while you write

Writing is an entirely separate job from editing. Trying to do both at the same time is like trying to clear the table while you are still eating dinner. Instead, write as fast as you can and edit (later) as slowly as you can tolerate. (Oops – I spoke too soon. (This is my most common writing mistake. But, Daphne has emailed me and encouraged me to separate my writing time from my editing time — which is a great writing remedy).

Writing sentences that are too long

If you’ve been through higher education you’ve likely been trained to write  sentences that are far too long for easy understanding. A remedy for writers is to use an internet-based tool to determine the average length of your sentences. Aim for 14-18 words per sentence. (NB: This is an average. Some sentences should be much longer and others should be much shorter.)

Being too sophisticated

Writers who make the common writing mistakes in 4, 5 and 7, are usually trying to demonstrate their own sophistication to the reader. This is always an error. Instead, you should strive to have your readers engaged and, perhaps, entertained. Never try to make them think you’re smarter than they are. This alienates rather than impresses. (This isn’t one of my most common writing mistakes, though my website analyzer says I write at graduate level. This is not good.)

Not allowing enough incubation time after you write

After you write and before you edit your text should sit quietly on your hard-drive for at least a day before you edit it. When you get a writing assignment, be sure to schedule this important “waiting” time. You cannot edit properly without enough distance from your words. (This is one reason I love blogging — I try to regularly edit my blog posts, which is a great way to find mistakes and improve my writing).

Failing to proofread – the most common writing mistake of all

I’m convinced that good proofreaders are born, not made (and, sadly, I was born without the necessary DNA.) But you can be a better proofreader if you take care and pay attention. My favorite remedy for this writing mistake is switching the type to something unusual (I favor Papyrus), bumping it up several notches (I go for 20 pt.) and then reading aloud. All of a sudden all sorts of previously hidden writing mistakes jump out and grab me by the eyeballs. (I proofread my magazine articles about four times before submitting them. Blog posts are a different story.)

Want more writing tips? Read 6 Ways to Make Your Writing Better.

What do you think of these writing mistakes — are you a guilty of them? Comments welcome below…

Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.


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17 thoughts on “10 Common Mistakes Made by Beginning Writers”

  1. Just a quick tip: read each individual sentence backwards – from right to left to proofread. It actually “slows” most people down enough in their reading to catch any mistakes.I look forward to reading some more of your tips of the trade in the future.

  2. Phillip Morton (pen name Pip Morgan)

    Thank you for sharing the above information, I have found that at some point in my writing, think I have managed all 10 of these. Which is not good, but what is good, is that I now notice the faults of my ways.
    I will be looking at the other links that you have included in the article.
    Thanks again.

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment, LK! I appreciate it 🙂

    Do you write in a journal, or do Morning Pages (as encouraged by Julia Cameron)? I think that’s how I developed my writing style, by writing to myself in my journal. Now, I write that way naturally (a conversational style).

    Of course, it’s not a “writing mistake” to write formally. Every writer’s style is different, right?

  4. An excellent article. I think I agree with the conversational tone the most, as this is the writing style I aim to have. I want my reader to feel like they’re sitting with a close friend, having coffee, when they read my book.

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Yes, thank you Karen! Switching to a different font and size is a great way to stop making those common mistakes writers make.

  6. “switching the type to something unusual (I favor Papyrus), bumping it up several notches (I go for 20 pt.) and then reading aloud”

    That is a great tip – kind of saves the old “print it out and then see a dozen errors” scenario

  7. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I think the immediacy of web writing and blogging makes us lazy about proofreading.

    But, I’m happy to report that this writing coach’s encouragement to stop editing while writing has really paid off for me! It’s amazing how it works: if you power through a sentence even when it’s a disaster, you write faster. When you go back to edit, the sentence seems fine! Maybe it could use a tweak, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as your first thought.

    Thank you Daphne Gray-Grant!

  8. Ayden @ Look At BigCommerce

    Proofread is an interesting one. It’s interesting to see some people put quite a bit of time into writing a post, and than not proofread read it before publishing… That can really ruin a post.

  9. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks, Kim! I always forgot how important the most common writing mistakes are…solid writing skills are the foundation of an excellent article, book, or blog post!

  10. Laurie, Great read. Don’t have much experience in content writing and usually outsource that job but i often noticed crap quality of content they generated. This is indeed a definitive guide.

  11. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comments — I love getting feedback from readers!

    Natalie, I’m glad you’re free to ditch your outline 🙂

    I used to edit as I write, but have taken Gray-Grant’s advice and just write through to the end. I think it’s making me a faster writer. I know some writers edit as they go, and others just write as fast as they can. I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way to do it…so I don’t know if it’s a “common writing mistake”! I think John is right: not all writing rules are meant for all writers.

    And, most of us writers are like Brenda: we have blind spots to our own erros. Also, our eye fills in typos, which makes them harder to see.

  12. I feel so liberated now that I have permission to ditch the outline. I’ve always preferred to not down the main points and then just write. And I agree with #10 I’m missing a gene too. It helps to take time to let it sit. I also always have my husband read my blog posts before I publish.

  13. John, If you’re happy editing while you write, I’m not going to argue with you. BUT, really, please give mindmapping a try for articles and blog posts. The idea is NOT to “organize” what you are writing but, instead, to inspire you to write. (Thus, if there’s ever an argument for outlining, it’s slightly stronger for larger projects!)

    Mindmaps are super fast to do, especially for shorter articles. (They generally take 1-3 minutes). What you’re looking for is an ah ha! experience — as in “ah ha — NOW I know what I want to write about.

    I was initially skeptical about mindmaps, too, but they have revolutionized my writing over the last five years. Best, -daphne

  14. Yay!

    Should also be titled: “How not to be a pretentious bore when you write”

    I love the advice about not outlining. Holy toledo, scribes, loosen up a little will ya? Carefree writing also lends itself to a more conversational style.

    As well, us readers can see right through the writers that *try* to be sophisticated. Usually the most obvious sign is when the bloviating takes 5 sentences to say what could be said in just one!

    Another beauty, Laurie!


  15. Laurie, these are excellent suggestions, but not all rules are meant for all writers. I frequently edit as I write, and I’m very happy with both the quality and quantity of my output.

    I also like mindmaps, but I find that a good old-fashioned outline is fine for articles and blog posts. I save mindmaps for larger projects, like books.

  16. Brenda @myquotesofencouragement

    Great reminders. #10 is my Achilles Heel. Not that I don’t proofread, even aloud. But I have a blind spot to my own typos. I see what I wanted to write rather than what is actually there. I’m going to put into practice your suggestion to use an odd font and to enlarge it.
    Thanks for the advice
    Brenda Hendricks