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  • Writer's pictureGrammar Boss

8 Common Mistakes First-Time Authors Make

Are you making the same mistakes most first-time authors make? I've noted eight of the most common here—check yourself to see if you fall into any of these pitfalls!

As an editor who’s worked with first-time authors in several genres including memoir, contemporary women’s fiction, Young Adult fiction, and romance, I've observed some of the most common mistakes these authors make, regardless of genre. The eight I discuss here are divided into two categories: the writing stage and the planning/editing stage.

First, let’s look at common mistakes first-time authors make in the writing stage.

Weak Character Development

Characters are an essential aspect of any story, and first-time authors often struggle with developing their characters. Characters should be well-rounded, with clear motivations and flaws. This is true even in memoir, whether the character is a “younger you” or someone pivotal in your story, readers want characters who have relatable struggles and believable conflicts and goals—three-dimensional as opposed to “flat.”

Overuse of Adverbs

Adverbs can be useful in moderation, but many first-time authors tend to overuse them, which can make the writing feel clumsy and amateurish. Some of the most frequent offenders include:

  • Very - often used to intensify another word, it can come across as weak and unoriginal.

  • Really - also used to intensify another word, it can sound bland and repetitive.

  • Just - often used unnecessarily, such as in phrases like "just a little bit" or "just wanted to say."

  • Basically - useful in certain contexts, but often overused to the point of being meaningless.

  • Actually - unnecessary and even redundant.

Poor Dialogue

Dialogue is a critical element of storytelling, and first-time authors often struggle with writing convincing dialogue. The dialogue should be realistic, and each character's voice should be distinct. One tip is to replace "said" when writing dialogue, which can help bring the conversation to life and convey the character's emotions and tone. Here are some examples:

· Whispered: "I can't believe you did that," she whispered.

· Shouted: "Get out of here!" he shouted.

· Mumbled: "Sorry, what did you say?" he mumbled.

· Bellowed: "I said stop!" she bellowed.

· Replied: "Yes, I'll be there," he replied.

· Murmured: "I love you," she murmured.

· Exclaimed: "This is incredible!" he exclaimed.

· Interrupted: "Wait, hold on," she interrupted.

· Sighed: "I don't know," he sighed.

· Whimpered: "Please don't leave me," she whimpered.

Ignoring the Importance of Pacing

Pacing is the speed at which the story unfolds, and it's essential to keep readers engaged. First-time authors often struggle with pacing, resulting in slow or rushed storytelling. A good rule of thumb is to remember that each chapter should move the story forward in some way. Whether it’s ramping up the intensity of the story’s conflict, introducing an important aspect of a character, or unfolding a piece of the conflict’s resolution, remember to keep the story moving at a steady pace.

Now let’s look at mistakes many first-time authors make in planning and editing.

Lack of Planning

Many first-time authors start writing without a clear plan or outline. This can lead to disorganization and confusion for the reader. While writing a few scenes in a fevered rush feels inspiring, at some point you’ll need to plot out your story’s arc: beginning, middle, and end, and make a plan for how to complete the writing of it. So many words per day, so many days, etc.

Trying Too Hard to Be Original

While originality is crucial in writing, first-time authors often try too hard to be unique, which can lead to convoluted and confusing plots. No one wants to write something derivative and formulaic, but story tropes are familiar and popular for a reason: use them to help sketch the outlines of your book.

Not Seeking Feedback

Writing can be a solitary pursuit, but seeking feedback from beta readers, trusted friends, or a writing group is critical to improving one's work. We all have blind spots, and another set of eyes (or two or three or four) will see the gaps or mistakes you miss.

Lack of Editing

Editing is essential to improve the clarity, flow, and consistency of the writing. I’ve had authors hire me after over-confidently self-publishing their manuscript after two or three friends or beta readers looked it over. A professional editor is crucial to getting your book in the best shape it can be for publication. See more about the kinds of editing you may need. HERE.

By being aware of these common mistakes, first-time authors can avoid them and improve both the quality of their writing and their overall experience—from the planning stages to the final editing.


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