From Authors for Authors: Five Common Writer Mistakes & How to Fix Them

Hello everyone and welcome to another installment in our From Authors for Authors series. Today we have author and editor Nicki J Markus joining us with a brilliant post on common writer mistakes and great tips on how to avoid them. Just get comfortable and read on!

Greetings. My name is Nicki and I am both an author and an editor. So, when Alina invited me to write a guest blog for her site, I decided to share my top five tips to help you avoid common writer mistakes.

1) Formatting—The Tab of Doom

It goes without saying that you should always ensure your formatting matches the requirements of the publisher to whom you plan to submit. However, regardless of whether or not a specific publisher mentions it, one thing you should never do is use the Tab function to indent lines. This can cause all sorts of issues when it comes to formatting your book ready for publication, and, as an editor, I can tell you that nothing is more frustrating than having to go through removing tabs before you can start work on the actual edits.

If you wish to indent the first line of each paragraph in Word, do this in the paragraph formatting box. In the indentation section you will see a drop down box beside “special conditions”. Simply select “first line” and then set your distance. Most publishers request 1.27cm. All your new paragraphs will now automatically indent and you will submit a document that makes your editor and formatter happy.

2) Comma Splice—When One Clause Should be Two

A comma splice occurs when you connect two separate main clauses with a comma. I see these all too often in manuscripts, yet they are easy to eliminate. Here is an example, followed by three possible fixes.

Nicki sat down to read a new book, she had already finished the first one.

1) Add a full stop

Nicki sat down to read a new book. She had already finished the first one.

2) Add a conjunction

Nicki sat down to read a new book since she had already finished the first one.

3) Use a semi-colon

Nicki sat down to read a new book; she had already finished the first one.

3) Filler Words—When Less is More

Filler words creep in to everyone’s writing. It’s hard to avoid them, especially in first drafts when you’re intent on getting the story down. However, you should weed them out as soon as possible when you edit. What I mean by filler words are those pesky little ones such as just, very, really, and quite. Removal of these words will strengthen your prose and make you seem a more confident writer.

One way to do this in Word is to run a ‘find and highlight’ search. You’ll be surprised, I’m sure, at how many come up. And how many you can remove.

Now, I do not advocate removal of every single one, because occasionally they are needed. Simply read each sentence where they appear and check if they are required for the sentence to make sense. If the answer is yes, leave them be; if the answer is no, delete.

4) Descriptions—The Need to Record Every Step

Another place where new writers often run into trouble is in describing everyday actions. Compare these two paragraphs:

Version One

A knock sounded He walked across the room to the door. When he turned the handle and opened the door, he saw Jane there. He stepped aside and she entered. Then he shut the door behind her.

She walked over to him and looked him in the eye. “I needed to see you, Paul.”

Version Two

A knock sounded. When he opened the door, he saw Jane.

She held his gaze as she entered. “I needed to see you, Paul.”

Some actions are of vital importance to a scene, but most aren’t. Your readers will soon get bored if your prose is full of people crossing rooms, walking down hallways, and getting into cars. If you’ve told us there’s a knock, the reader will assume that the character walks to the door to answer it (unless there’s a compelling reason for them not to do so, which you would then tell us); therefore, there is no need to describe those events in minute detail. As you self-edit, check each sentence for unnecessary information. Stick with what’s important and keep your prose succinct and punchy. 

5) Epithets—What’s in a Name?

An epithet is an adjective or phrase that describes a person or thing by their/its key characteristics e.g. ‘the young girl’, ‘the blonde’, ‘the tall man’.

Epithets are a sign of lazy writing, so you should avoid using them whenever possible. The exceptions are when you introduce a new character whose name we don’t yet know, or if that attribute (e.g. height) are vital for the action taking place. Otherwise, stick to the character’s name or relevant pronoun.

Consider it this way: If you are walking down the street with your friend, do you think of her as ‘the tall blonde’? No, you’d think of her by name. An epithet creates distance from the character, making them seem less real and relatable. Most authors who use them do so because they’re worried that too many ‘he’s and ‘she’s will confuse. In reality, if you write clear and concise prose, readers should have no difficulty keeping track of to whom each pronoun refers.

Five common writer mistakes infographic

About the Author

Nicki J. Markus/Asta Idonea was born in England but now lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has loved both reading and writing from a young age and is also a keen linguist, having studied several foreign languages.

Nicki launched her writing career in 2011 and divides her efforts not only between MM and mainstream works but also between traditional and indie publishing. Her works span the genres, from paranormal to historical and from contemporary to fantasy. It just depends what story and which characters spring into her mind!

As a day job, Nicki works as a freelance editor and proofreader, and in her spare time she enjoys music, theatre, cinema, photography, and sketching. She also loves history, folklore and mythology, pen-palling, and travel, all of which have provided plenty of inspiration for her writing.


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A pleasure to meet you! I’m Alina Popescu, an author, traveler, and hopeless coffee addict. I write urban fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and sometimes even contemporary stories. A significant number of my books are LGBTQ fiction and romance.

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One Response to “From Authors for Authors: Five Common Writer Mistakes & How to Fix Them”

  1. […] My name is Nicki and I am both an author and an editor. Last time I was here I shared my top five tips to help you avoid common writer mistakes. Today I will expand on that with five more self-editing tips to get your manuscript in good shape, […]

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