The 5 Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Fix Them

No one wants to publish to the sound of crickets, but too many writers do. Often, it’s the same 5 mistakes over and over.

Linda Caroll
Feb 25 · Unlisted

No one wants to publish to the sound of crickets, but too many writers do.
Often, when a writer is struggling, it’s the same 5 mistakes over and over.

Problem #1. Weak writing skills

“The easiest reading is d__d hard writing,” — Thomas Hood

Adam Johnson, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize believes hard work trumps talent. He should know. He had no talent for writing, but took it in college thinking it’d be an easy credit. He found his calling.

We love the idea of talent. Talent is just a natural inclination, whether it’s for painting, music or telling stories. It’s nice — but not necessary. If you work hard, skill can take you to the finish line before talent gets its shoes on.

Novice writers often have weak skills. They show. Most literary agents reject their books in less than achapter. Editors reject submissions in a paragraph or two. Why? Because while good writing is subjective, bad writing is not.

Unskilled writers make all the same mistakes, and they’re so common, a skilled eye sees them instantly. Divorce talent, marry skill.

Help with writing skills…

Problem #2: Fluff and verbosity

“The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.” — Dr. Seuss

Noah Lukeman is a New York Literary agent who rejects books before he’s read 5 pages. In his book, The First Five Pages, he says the first things he looks for is fluff, excess adjectives and rambling. They show up immediately.

We tell writers to write plainly, write how you talk. The problem with writing how we talk is that we all have verbal tics that creep into our writing. They’re not as noticeable in speaking, but they make writing harder to read.

There’s tons of them. Any one writer doesn’t make “all” of the mistakes, but we all make some of them. Repeatedly. The point isn’t to be pedantic about words. It’s for us to identify our own bad habits and correct them.

Help with concise writing…

Problem #3. Weak & boring beginnings

“The beginning is the most important part of the work”
— Plato

Novice writers tend to start weak and “build up” to the good part. Writing is not like making a ham sandwich. If you put the meat in the middle, most people will never get to it or know it’s there.

If you’re an established writer with a strong following, you have more leeway because your regular readers know what to expect from you. If you are hoping to build an audience, you must start strong.

A strong title and opening sentence can make all the difference in the world.

Help with starting strong…

Problem #4: No reader loyalty

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. — Milton Berle

Before Medium, I used to write on another writing site. I had thousands of followers, and then the site shut down. Poof, gone. That stunk. All my readers — gone.

Writers do this all the time. On Facebook, on Instagram, on GoodReads, on Medium. If you haven’t made an effort to build your own following, you don’t have a following. Medium does. Facebook does. Etc.

Having followers on any social site is great. But they’re not “your” audience unless you can still reach them if the platform disappears. That doesn’t mean you need to turn into a shouty marketer. It does mean you need to think a little bit about how your direction as a writer.

Help with growing an audience…

Problem #5: Credibility mistakes

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt

One author I know spent $1500 to hire a professional editor to edit her book and then put a $5 cover from Fiverr on it. She thought it was pretty. It was awful, and no one even clicked.

A publisher I know said he prefers his authors not have a website because it’s going to be bad and will reflect poorly on both of them.

Another author I know spent $1800 on a professional cover but didn’t hire an editor or proofreader because she blew her budget on the cover.

Mistakes like that cost you credibility.

Often, what bites us the hardest is not knowing what we don’t know. There are 4 stages of learning and the first is unconscious incompetence. That means we don’t even know enough to know what we don’t know.

The second stage is conscious incompetence, which is when we don’t know how to do something, but we’re aware of the gap in knowledge.


Once you start trying to put your work into the world, there’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of hats to wear. You can’t know them all. Thank heavens for the internet, because it allows us to learn from other people’s experiences.

Help with common presentation mistakes…

Before You Go…

If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably like my emails on writing & marketing.

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