10 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make

Photo credits: Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Writing is something that takes a lot of practice and not everyone has what it takes to be able to sit down and write words, sentences and paragraphs in a cohesive manner. Still, that fact doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying to become a writer. If you’re determined to write, we have ten mistakes that most beginner writers make below. By avoiding them, you’ll be able to jump ahead of the pack and start to get your work recognized.

Ten Mistakes of Beginner Writers

Here’s a look at ten specific mistakes that most beginner writers make at one point or another in their writing career.

  1. Telling not Showing – This is a core rule for writers. It’s much better to show action rather than talk about action. For example, instead of simply saying two people are arguing, show their dialogue and describe their body language.

  2. Switching Points of View – The POV of a story – or even an article – is important in that you want to pick one and stick with it. Nothing is worse than a writer who tumbles from one to another.

  3. Too Many Adjectives (and Adverbs) – While a choice adjective here and there can add to your writing, it’s really easy to go overboard and include too many. Only practice will tell you where the line is for your particular writing style.

  4. Too Vague – It’s important to remember that readers can’t get in your brain. If you’re too vague, they’re not going to automatically know what you mean. Being too vague is a problem many beginner writers face.

  5. Fragments – Sentence fragments are another. Get it? Sentence fragments are another what? Be sure that each sentence you write has everything it needs to be grammatically correct.

  6. Run-ons – Just as bad as a sentence fragment is a sentence that goes on and on. Split it up to make it easier on your readers.

  7. Easily Confused Words – Using your instead of you’re is a mistake that a lot of writers make – not to mention words like bear and bare and so on.

  8. Commas – Most beginner writers usually use too many commas.

  9. No Organization – Stringing words and sentences together is easy, but making sense out of the whole is something only the very best writers can do. The masters can do it in very few words.

  10. Apostrophes – Knowing where this punctuation mark goes is easy, but it’s a mistake many writers make when they’re first starting out.

If you can manage to avoid most or even all of the mistakes outlined above, you’re going to be in a very good position as a writer. The three main things you need to succeed in writing – or in life in general – are talent, persistence and a little bit of luck. If you know of other mistakes writers should avoid, leave a comment below and let us know what’s on your mind.

The Curious Incident of the Biscuit Lost in the Tea

Biscuit about to be plunged into coffee

Biscuit Lost in Tea

Or, why the smallest details count in fiction.

I wrote a book recently. Well, I say recently, it took a while in reality. It was self-published on Amazon a few months ago and it’s slowly but surely making a sale here and there, getting snapped up on free days like you wouldn’t believe and importantly, to me at least, making people laugh.

Laugh, in a good way that is. Not just pointing and laughing at me. The book is a comedy and it’s meant to make people laugh, so the fact it is suggests it’s doing exactly what I’d planned.

You Mean People are Actually Reading It?

It’s been a learning curve though; the physical, mental and emotional hard work that goes into a book, even a light hearted effort, is something that only other writers will fully understand. By the time it’s done and dusted and ready for publication you’re not only exhausted but (perhaps not all of us) you’re also suddenly seized with an almost paralysing self-doubt.

It’s just not good enough, you’re mad, nobody’s ever going to read this tripe. Worse still, if they do, they’ll hate it, hate you and think you’re an idiot. All these, and so many more, emotions flash through your mind with increasing and unwarranted frequency. In the end, you have to be brave, throw caution to the wind and press ‘publish’. After that a terrible silence falls.

However, after a few months (hopefully) the book is getting circulated, people are reading it and, rather worryingly, having opinions. These opinions, however scary, are important. Working out what does work in your book, or what doesn’t, is much easier when you listen to what your readers have to say. Oddly, in my case, it’s taught (or reminded me) of just how important small details can be.

But, But, That Bit’s Irrelevant….

The reception has been good and some really weird things have stood out; in one particular scene at the end of the book, when all the strands are coming together, some major action is developing and a lot of secrets revealed, one character is attempting to dunk a biscuit in his tea, largely unaware of the drama unfolding around him.

It’s a small detail that took only moments to write and was hardly ever edited at all; in the whole book it’s probably one of those moments that took the least effort and lost me no sleep. It’s almost a throw-away line and it could, without any great loss to the story, indeed be thrown away. Or so I thought.

What About My Lovely, Intricate, Well-Crafted Plot?

It was only when it became apparent that reader after reader was picking up on this one, small, comedy sideline, that I began to think about what on earth this apparently insignificant second or two of action did. And why it appeared to be doing it so successfully. I mean, it’s just a biscuit getting lost without trace, something that happens every day to some of us (OK, yes hand’s up, it happens most days to me).

So what on earth makes it stand out?

The Fine (and Familiar) Art of Dunking

Red by Tim Bedford

Red by Tim Bedford

Then it dawned on me, it’s simply the fact that nearly everyone can identify with that action.

We’ve all dunked hopefully, knowing there are risks to the process but on most occasions we wing it anyway. Nine times out of ten, once you’ve become experienced, the operation goes well.

That one time out of ten, that still happens even to an experienced dunker, is familiar to us all. It’s an immediate and very annoying problem. Half the biscuit has gone, lost to history and will never be retrieved.

In addition, it’s now disintegrating in the tea into a horrible, slimy, mushy substance that transforms the beverage into something undrinkable.Given that most of us dunk at the start of a cuppa, the chances are the whole drink is done for. This requires effort on our part, a return to the kitchen to dispose of the offending drink, make another and, for the brave at least, risk another attempt with the next biscuit.

In my story, I don’t go into quite so much detail as I have here about every dunker’s nightmare; in fact, using it as only a passing comment, using so few words is what seems to make it work. It conjures up a simple, quick and easy to picture moment and helps to drop the reader right into the action of the narrative.

Terribly Human, In So Many Ways

There also seems to be another aspect to why this incident, so minor in so many ways, is important in the story.

In the book, the character doing the dunking is an outsider, he’s new to human wiles and ways. He’s attempting very hard to fit in; meanwhile around him a massively chaotic story is unfolding and being wrapped back up again. Perhaps part of the success of this moment is in describing something terribly (in several senses of the word) human.

World War Three can be breaking out around us but we often remain wrapped up in our own little worlds, concerned about minor things; a stubbed toe, a chipped nail, a biscuit dunking disaster. On this level, the incident in the book is about the character, about developing him as real person (that may be the wrong word but you’ll have to buy the book to find out) and placing him firmly in the reader’s mind as a believable character with a life of their own.

Mundane Daily Details and Epic Tales

The devil, allegedly, is in the detail. And I think this is an important lesson to learn in fiction. I’ve read it, heard it and studied it on more than one occasion but “the curious incident of the biscuit lost in the tea” has really brought it home to me. It might have been a throwaway line or two, as far as I was concerned, but it played a huge part in bringing the book, the character and the world I was creating to life.

When it comes to any work of fiction, small, silly humorous tales or great big era defining novels, day-to-day details should never be overlooked.

5 Ways to Self-Edit Your Writing

Edit Ruthlessly

Edit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

Editing is such an important part of writing and one that we often skip. I know I have skipped this at times. For blog posts or smaller projects, it is not feasible to hire an editor unless you are making enough money to support that luxury. Most bloggers are a business of one and self-edit their posts and article writing.

There are a few self-editing steps you can do as the first line of defense that will not cost you anything.

1. Read Writing Aloud

This is something I do often, especially with my paid writing projects. Actually, with my freelance writing projects, I use several of these steps. The last thing you want to do is send a client a writing piece filled with spelling and grammar errors. This may feel funny, but your brain can catch things when reading aloud that it overlooks when reading silently in your head.

2. Use Dragon Naturally Speaking or Speech Software

While the software does have editing features, Dragon Naturally Speaking is more of a dictation tool, but it can be helpful if you get tired of typing. The software will set you back about $50.00 on Amazon.

However, if you are a Mac user, Mac OS 10.8X, or Mountain Lion, offers a read aloud tool that will read any text on the screen when you assign a certain key combination.  I LOVE this feature.

–Go to:  Applications-> System Preferences-> Speech-> Spoken User Interface

–Under “other spoken items,” check “selected text when the key is pressed” and then select a key combination (I use Option+S).

3. Use ProWriting Aid

I use Pro Writing Aid occasionally for longer pieces or articles.  It does more than just spell check and basic grammar mistakes. Here are a few additional writing checks the free software will look for:

  • Overused words;
  • Dull paragraph structure;
  • Repeated words and phrases;
  • Consistency of spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization;
  • Clichés and redundancies;
  • Vague, abstract, and complex words from your writing;
  • Sentiment, alliteration, and writing time-line.

4. Read Writing Backwards

I have not really used this method, but other writings add it to the self-editing process. Just like reading aloud, the brain will catch writing errors when read in different way. I would love to hear feedback on this method!

5. Have Friend or Family Member Read Your Writing

Sometimes, it is difficult to let someone else critique our writing. For longer or critical pieces of writing, I would recommend this. Find someone who is helpful and offer honest, useful advice. Constructive criticism. This person does not have to be a writer, but should have a firm grasp on spelling and grammar along with a fluency in the native text.

Editing should not be something that you overlook in any piece of writing. For long projects, like books, hire a professional. However, for blog posts and articles, you can apply these self-editing tips. Make it a habit.

Developing your Content Strategy for 2013

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Celina Connor.  Please read more about Celina in the bio footer.

While preparing for the beginning of a new year, as a digital marketer and webmaster, you should note and plan for the strategies you will make in the coming year. From presentations and articles we have reviewed, we offer you one great advice: Develop compelling content. If you are successful at this, you can never go wrong. In this article, we will tackle five tips on how to develop your key content strategy in 2013.

content strategy5 tips in Developing an Effective Content Strategy:

1. Make a mission statement.

As our business professors say, a company or business without a mission is one that will fail. Your mission speaks largely on your target. Your target will be your inspiration on how you achieve your goals. Therefore, you need to write a mission statement on what you intend to achieve and work on your content marketing activities following this mission.

Make sure to make your statement clear and unambiguous. A pretty neat example is “achieve additional 1000 followers of my blog by Q2 2013 through Facebook and Twitter posts while spending $200 for promotional ads.”

2. Write cornerstone and original pieces of information.

How do you get unique information and not only reuse or recycle what’s found on the web? Other people can always turn to other websites for the same information. So one good strategy to catch is to interview the experts and formulate your questions for them to answer.

Another is to conduct surveys of user groups and make conclusions to form a white paper or report that you can publicize. These are interesting results that people are thirsty of knowing. By providing unique information, you will be regarded as a leading provider of content for your niche.

3. Be inspired.

You have to keep being creative and innovative in making articles. To do this, you have to have an inspiration to keep you going. You can go places and jot ideas down on a notebook. Highlight the things you want to explore more and research about them. Find if they are of any value or interest with a common mass and use this advantage to target a specific market.

4. Answer your customers’ questions.

The end in your mind is always to answer all hanging questions of your customers. When they cannot have the same satisfying and delightful answers to their questions from elsewhere, they would be in the habit of going to your site to dig for that golden information. Make them feel comfortable in posting their concerns and be persistent in getting them the right explanations for each of them.

5. Find a partner.

Partnership is a key tool in increasing your readership. This is not only done by guest blogging but having one great producer of content to become a permanent non-competitive partner working for your site. You can join a group of brands with similar niches and then present great content together. Your group will be known and trusted, and you can manage to create more compelling content for the same customers.

Conclusion

Writing great content may be challenging in most times but it is a strategic that will make you successful in your campaigns for 2013. Apart from the advice listed above, if you cannot come up with a new story, you can always tell one in a different perspective to set yours apart from others in the same industry.

 

Excuses Writers Make and How You Can Overcome Them

Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post from Jason Miner.  Please read more about Jason in the bio footer.

One thing writers are good at is making excuses about why they do not write. Some of the excuses are valid at times, but most just stem from an underlying fear of failure we all have. Here are some of the excuses and why they just are not true:

I Am Not a Good Writer

I always hate to hear a writer say this. If you have a passion for writing then you are a good writer. While you may have difficulty with some of the technical aspects of writing, like grammar or dialogue, you can still be a great writer. All you need is practice and time.

Like any art, it takes time to learn the techniques. Great writers are made, not born. Every writer had to learn the basics at some point. Do not give up on writing just because you feel like you do not measure up to other writers. Every writer has a style all their own. Find yours and perfect it and you will be a great writer.

I Do Not Have Time to Write

This is one lie we all fall prey to now and again. Of course you do not have time to write. That is because you have to MAKE time to write. Make it a part of your schedule, just like eating or bathing. If you do not make writing a definite part of your life then you will never find time to write.

Another thing that writers forget is that you do not have to write all day or even for hours. Just a few minutes at a time can allow you to accomplish something. Add that together over days and weeks and you can really get a lot done. Do not treat writing like a homework assignment with a deadline to procrastinate against. Instead, treat it like a flower. You have to water it every day and over time it grows into something beautiful.

If you write a little at a time it can get hard to remember where you left off. One thing I do to overcome that is to create an outline of what I am writing. I chart out the key points that I want to hit. You have to get detailed here because you might have a long period of time before you get back to the next point and you do not want to forget what your idea was.

By writing down your idea as a whole you free up your brain to be creative and pay full attention to what you are writing instead of trying to remember what the next thing you were going to do is. I have avoided a lot of frustration by doing this simple thing.

I Do Not Have Any Idea What to Write

Sometimes it is less about writing a great work and more about writing at all. I find that bloggers and journalists have a hard time with this. They feel like they have written on so much that they can’t come up with any new ideas. People that write book or story series also seem to run into this problem. However, this is not insurmountable. Yes, I believe that you are out of ideas, but that does not mean you can’t pick up some new ones.

One good way to always have ideas on hand is to take notes as you are out and about. I almost never come up with great ideas to write on when I am sitting at my computer. Instead it happens when I am out and about. That is why I have gotten into the habit of carrying a pen and small notebook with me wherever I go.

When a great writing idea strikes me I stop what I am doing and write it down. Make sure you are detailed enough to get the whole idea. You can even list your key points. What you do not want to do (and I am guilty of this) is to write down a single word or phrase and hope you will recall the whole idea later. You will not. I know you are in a hurry, but taking the time to do it right now will save you lots of frustration later on.

Sometimes the old notebook runs low. Then what can a writer do for inspiration? Well, there are a lot of things. The news is a great place to get inspired by real world events. The images and thoughts of the world are within those pages and they can inspire you to new ideas and topics you would not have otherwise thought about. Social media is also a great place to take a peek into reader’s brains. After all, these are the people you are writing for, right? Listen to the way they talk and what they talk about for clues as to what interests them and what your writing could do in their lives.

If you are still stuck out remember there is more than one way to write. If you typically write nonfiction then try your hand at fiction. You may find it freeing and fun. If you write fiction then try poetry. It is a whole new world of experiences and rules to follow. If you do not write nonfiction then try your hand at that. You may get new inspiration in doing research and really digging into real life events.

There are also plays and screen plays, short stories and flash fiction, novels and novellas. There are so many styles of writing out there that at least one of them are bound to be a new experience for you. Get out there and try new things. It may inspire you in your current work or even give you a whole new style that you never knew you would like.

If in doubt, go for new experiences. Visit an ethnic restaurant. Watch a live performance. Go to a new part of town or a drive in the country. Opening your mind to new things can help you to come up with new ideas for your writing and can also bring in fresh new perspectives.

These are just a few of the ways you can overcome excuses in your writing life. Now get out there and write!