Writing Mistakes I Wish I’d Avoided


It’s been a year since I published The Innocent Assassins, and almost a year since I published One Last Letter. Even within the past year, I’ve noticed my writing improve. I sat down at my computer the other day to read a few old manuscripts I typed up (even pre-TIA) and I couldn’t help but cringe at some of the common writing mistakes I used to make. The following list of writing mistakes are ones I’m determined to avoid in future writing, and ones I wish I’d read about in the past!

(1) Adverb usage.

Most of the time, descriptive words can replace adverbs and make the sentence stronger. It all goes back to “show, don’t tell”. Why write she said it “tiredly” when you could write she “paused and rubbed the throbbing temples of her forehead”. When adverbs are avoided, visualization becomes much more vivid for the reader.

(2) Using the character’s title when I could be saying “he”, “she”, or “(Character’s Name)”.

This post from K. M. Weiland discusses what I’m talking about. This means saying “the lady”, “the man”, “his mother”. I’m pretty sure in One Last Letter I used “the cowboy” a bit too many times. I realized I was including “the” nouns as a way to remind myself of the character’s role in the story, but the reader already knows the character’s role. They don’t need to read about “the cowboy” instead of Jesse or “he”.

(3) Writing dialogue verbs like “snarled” or “barked” or “hissed” instead of, well, “said”.

Not only does “said” work for every scenario, but some of the other verbs belong to animals instead of people. “Said” doesn’t call as much attention to itself and often flows better with the story. However, descriptive verbs can be (and should be!) used in writing, albeit every so often instead of on every page.

Again, these are just three writing mistakes I wish I’d avoided in my writing sooner. They are stylistic in nature and based on how I prefer my writing to be. What about you? Are there any writing mistakes you’ve caught in your writing over the years?


10 thoughts on “Writing Mistakes I Wish I’d Avoided

  1. I used to be SO GUILTY of “snarled/barked/hissed.” I think now, though, I may have finally managed to train myself to just go along with “said” and only deviate from that if my work could benefit from it, rather than because I felt like I needed to change things up or something.

    1. I know, it’s a hard habit to break. I remember reading it in a list of writing tips somewhere before and after I started noticing it in my manuscript all the time. Variation between speaking words can be fine, but animal sounds end up being distracting!

  2. I take the avoid adverbs advice to heart, though I sneak some in more academic posts that I consider conversations between the reader and I. I try to avoid using dialogue tags altogether, but when I use them, I use said. Otherwise I show the readers what characters are doing while they talk.
    I disagree with the line “said works for every scenario”. For me, it reminds me I’m reading, and if the characters arent’t just saying it, then it’s also a lie. Writers can make great pieces and there are many twists to come if you deceive the reader, so please don’t take the comment as pretentious; it isn’t meant that way. I mean if the characters are meant to whisper or yell, don’t tell the readers they said it. It may sound harsh, but I find said a distraction sometimes. Said is better than adverb usage or other tags, but I find excessive use of it interrupts the story and takes readers away from if used too much.
    Don’t get me wrong, I used to be guilty of both adverbs and tags big time, (never the two together), but I had a great teacher who taught me out of using them before I started blogging. Thank God for that!
    I found the post relatable to writers, and while my comment may be late, I hope it’s well received. Happy reading, writing, and blogging! -Author S

  3. The list is too long for me re: things I’ve learned to *stop* doing. 🙂 But there area few. I try to limit adverb use to 2-3 per page. They have their place, but it isn’t in every other sentence.

    I try to always avoid the use of the word “just.” It’s a throwaway word and, 99% of the time, not necessary.

    I also prohibit the use of “in that moment.” Again, throwaway words and unnecessarily melodramatic in almost all cases.

    I must admit I do use dialogue tags like “she barked.” To say someone barked is to say they spoke sharp and loud. I don’t use many dialogue tags unless there are multiple voices on a page, but I do use some of the more colorful ones. Using “said” all the time feels awkward to me and doesn’t reflect my voice. (Note: when you use “hiss,” there must be a sibilant sound involved, i.e. the letter s.)

    One of the things I’m currently trying to curb is ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase. It’s not a writer taboo, but sentences can often be stronger by rearranging content and avoiding prepositional phrases to close a thought.

    In all of this, I’ve been fortunate enough to have good content and line editors who have subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, shown me how to become a better writer and hone my craft. I’ll be forever grateful.

    Great, thought-provoking post. Thanks!
    Kelli Ireland

  4. It’s even harder to break when schools teach not to use “said.” We had a “Said is Dead” campaign in middle school to convince us never to use that word in our writing… Looking back, it maybe wasn’t the best lesson!

    1. I had to unlearn this as well! It’s funny how something that English teachers encourage when we’re young (expanding vocabulary, yay) becomes something creative writing teachers warn against when we’re older.

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