- First chapter = all flashback. Hoo boy, it was violent, graphic, and awful. It was detailed. And it had zero emotional anchor to the story since I came right out of the gate with That Terrible Thing That Happened In The Past. Never say never, but in general flashbacks/past emotional traumas can be noodled throughout the story 99% of the time.
- First chapter = all massive infodump. Explainy-explainerton here, going into minutiae of a character’s day/occupation/dietary habits, and nothing really happened. No one – NO ONE – wants to hear about that, no matter how skillfully I described their morning bathroom routine.
- The piece de resistance: flashback PLUS infodump. Oooo. Ahh. Because if those two crutches don’t work separately, they’ll work great together, right? Right?? (hint: not right) Also: no one wants to read a 30 page opening chapter, which is what it takes to fit both burly flashback plus morning shave-and-shower routine.
- No one meets until Chapter 4. Also not good. In the romance genre, we need those main characters to have their meet-cute/meet-crazy/meet-scary in the first chapter, not (as I once did) 60+ pages into the book after aforementioned flashback + infodumping occurs. Maybe they could meet in the second chapter, tops, but only if you’re a super famous/established writer whose legions of fans will tolerate wading through more than 25 pages before the Interesting Meeting Happens. (This error/advice is more specific to romance. I’ve seen literary fiction and fantasy/sci-fi where this rule does not apply and that works just fine. YMMV.)
- Thinking/saying/doing repetition habit-tic. I didn’t pick up that I had this tendency until I saw it happen in a really good writer’s book, and it drove me nuts. Then I went back to my first manuscript (which has since been burned in effigy and no, it was never published and never will be – it was probably the worst book ever written in the history of books) and found too many instances of this habit. Here’s what happens: The character first thinks something internally, then says it in dialogue, and finally then goes and does the thing they thought and spoke about. In case you’re wondering, that would be the opposite of deep POV if I broadcast the character’s actions and motivations like that. It’s the writing equivalent of bludgeoning the reader over the head with The Obvious.
- “Just.” 500+ instances in 1 early manuscript. Just don’t do it.
- F*%#. 300+ page manuscript, at least 4 f*%#’s per page. Per one of my long-suffering editors, I needed to de-f*%# the whole manuscript. Needless to say, word count plummeted after I purged 90% of the cursing.
- Not developing characters before starting the first draft. Trust me when I say going back and redoing a manuscript because an event changes is relatively easy. Redoing a manuscript because you didn’t know anything substantial about your character and their background? Fixing that is really hard. BTDT. Put in the homework early and do that 10-page character interview up front. Get to know them first. Write a few paragraphs of a situation they might find themselves in and how they would typically react. At least figure out what they call their private parts so you’re not having to come up with ten other ways to say “peen” in the manuscript.
- Writing to market. I once tried to write something I thought would be popular but it wasn’t something I enjoyed writing. It was glaringly obvious how crappy that manuscript was. Trash can.
- Comparing my production to any other writer. What is it that makes us feel inferior to full-time writers when we have full-time-other-jobs? My pace is different from your pace is different from their pace. And that’s all okay.
- Pushing until it’s not fun. Hey. Don’t write if it’s a chore or you’ll resent doing it. You will notice, editors will notice, readers (if you get that far) will notice. Your product might be passable enough to get to market, but you’ll always know how it made you feel. My favorite book still gives me the excited tingles, I loved the story so much. And no, it wasn’t in a mainstream genre. That’s okay. I’m proud of my work and that matters.
Okay. I’m going to bare my soul and do a blog post in the hopes that my mistakes will help keep others from making the same mistakes. Without further ado, I give you: all of the writing mistakes I’ve made (to date) (not complete). Please enjoy, with my sincerest condolences.
Author, daydreamer, and practitioner of trying very hard to fix whatever's wrong with folks or at least duct tape them together