Writing

Avoiding Common Pitfalls of Writing: Advice from an Amateur

I’m not exactly an amateur. I’ve been an avid reader of books since the age of fourteen when my grandmother handed me my first historical romance novel, writing since the age of fifteen which…we won’t go into detail on. There are just some things best left unsaid when it comes to writing at such a young age.

But as far as being a published author goes, beyond published Fan Fiction, one poem in a book of collections submitted for a contest, and this blog my portfolio of work is not all that impressive. The content it good, and I can state this confidently as I have been told numerous times that the quality of my writing is something to be proud of. There just isn’t much of it.

That being said, I still know what it takes to be a writer and I know the pitfalls all writers face. So here are a few of my tips and tricks to overcoming those “Curses” of a writer.

 

First up…Writer’s Block.

Many of you will cringe just reading that word. It’s like a four letter word in the community of writers. Once you hit that sturdy, immovable Everest of an obstacle, there is generally no easy way around it. My advice? Get creative in your approach to overcoming this specific hurdle. I’ve tried a few desperate moves when it comes to writers block. I purchased my own muse – a little beta I dubbed Gil who watched over me while I wrote, his beady little eyes constantly locked on me as I sat in front of my computer as if to say “write, damn it.” And he worked here and there, although perhaps that was more of a placebo effect than an actual tool for overcoming writers block. I convinced myself that he required me to write and it worked.

Another tactic I’ve employed and had some relatively decent outcomes with is stepping outside of my comfort zone. If you normally write romance, write horror. If you normally write straight couples, try writing a piece that involves a relationship between two women or two men. If you write Fan Fiction and you are specific to one fandom, attempt writing a short story in another fandom that you know next to nothing about. Make yourself uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. It forces you to write from a different angle, to think differently and to use a different approach. This isn’t only a tool for helping you get past writer’s block, but will also help you enhance your skills as a writer.

The last suggestion I have is writing prompts. Many writers have found these effective. There’s a mass of information that comes up when you do a Google search for “writing prompts.” And these can be extremely helpful, especially if you go into your writing prompt and just write. Don’t set expectations for yourself, don’t follow your usual style. Take the prompt, run with it and leave the editing for when your system has been purged.

 

Repetitive Writing and Technical Errors:

These are big ticket items when it comes to writing. They have the potential to make something beautiful something that has people reaching for the Advil and wondering what just happened to the last twenty minutes of their lives. Repetitive writing can be anything from using the same words several times throughout a few paragraphs to repeating the same idea in a chapter or throughout your piece.

Technical errors can be anything in regards to wording, spacing, punctuation, and correct use of words to name a few.

A way to avoid these is to have an extra set of eyes or even two look over your work prior to posting or submitting. Even on my blog posts, I have one friend who does freelance editing and one friend who is a fellow Fan Fiction writer look over my work. The point of two people is one is very geared towards noticing technical flaws in writing and helping me make the proper corrections. The other looks for how the story flows, where there might be repetition snagging up the flow and if the structure of the sentence or paragraph feels right. Between the two of them (which, by the way, they are the most awesome women I know and I love them both) I am able to post my work feeling confident that others will enjoy it.

Another way to avoid these pitfalls is to really go over your work before you submit it. Be your own worst critic. If something isn’t making sense, reword it. If there is a phrase that’s repetitive, ask yourself if its necessary to have it more than once. If it’s not – highlight, delete and move on.

Telling – Not Showing

When I first started writing, this was something I excelled at. I would take a character and, in one paragraph, describe them – what they were wearing, how their hair looked, the color of their eyes, their height and body shape. I would do the same with rooms, explaining the lay out, the furniture, the colors of the furniture. You get the point.

This is something you really want to avoid doing, something that can drive away readers and discredit you as a writer. It doesn’t hurt to describe a room or a person, but don’t do it all in one paragraph. Space it out and make it natural. Make it flow throughout the first few pages of your piece.

For example, instead of this:

“Her black hair hung to the shoulders of her blue jacket and strands blew across the brown eyes that complimented her olive complexion.”

Try this:

“The wind whipped black strands of hair over her face. She straightened her jacket and impatiently raked them out of her eyes.”

Which one was a little easier to read? The one with less description, probably. But description isn’t always necessary. You can mention the color of her eyes later on in the story or earlier on. You can have her muttering something about how nothing goes with the blue of her jacket when she’s getting dressed. Your readers do not need a detailed description all in one go. Allow them to use their imaginations. Gradually paint a scene for them, show them what is important about what you are writing. Leave some of the guess work to them.

 

Above all, be humble in your writing. On a page that I’m a member of, someone made a comment about how they were not a perfect writer. There are no perfect writers. If there were perfect writers, there would be no need for editors. Know that there is always room for improvement and don’t think that people are being hurtful or cruel when they are offering you criticism on what you could do better. Always look for ways to improve and finesse your skill. Great artists – whether they are singers, painters, or writers – are the ones who take risks, take feedback and use what they’re given to better their work. They’re not the writers that turn their work over and then have a meltdown or throw a fit when corrections or suggestions are made.


Work out of your comfort level, let others help you to improve your work, gradually paint a picture with your words, be humble…and above all else, love what you do. If you don’t love it, it’s not worth doing.

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