I have been writing for a little over 10 years now, and I still have much to learn. I started out when I was about 11 or 12 years old, writing fanfiction on Quizzila. Scary, huh? I’m not ashamed of my beginnings though, it shaped me to be the writer I am today (hopefully a better one than when I started out).
When I started writing, I thought, “How hard can this be? String a few words and voila, a story!” You can imagine my disappointment and frustration when my first comment was that I had made a Mary Sue. I’m still friends with him after 10 years, nevertheless.
Turns out writing is hard work, and it’s an art that takes lots of practice and learning from your mistakes.
Here’s an overview:
- Casual Dialogue
- Dialogue Tags
- Procrastinating The Story With Research
- Inefficient Editing
Here are my five writing mistakes I made when I first started writing!
Resources will be linked at the bottom. Please take all of this with a grain of salt. In no way is my advice supposed to discourage you, rather help guide you to be the best writer you can be.
1. Casual Dialogue
I’m too scared to even open that fanfiction file to give concrete examples. The embarrassment still remains (and I also can’t believe I let my mom read it, she even told me I was really good). But one thing I can say for sure is that I didn’t have a grasp on dialogue. You don’t really have a grasp on it from day one, it’s like telling a student nurse to administer a shot perfectly on the first try.
One thing I regret not doing is looking to books and seeing how their dialogues flow. Using real life dialogue is all good and dandy, but is it actually relevant to your plot? Does it move your story forward? Does it slow down your pacing to a stand still? Is your dialogue a little too real?
Basically, my earliest dialogue looked something like this:
“Hi Henry, how are you?” Martha said.
“Oh, Martha! I’m doing great, how about you?” Henry chimed.
“Not bad, not bad.” Martha replied. “How’s work?”
I’ll spare you the rest. It was only years later did I realize how actually pointless this was since it didn’t move the story forward per se. It can be used in different contexts though! Let’s say, Martha is creating a diversion so that the security guard, Henry, doesn’t see that her heist team is currently breaking into a vault. But in the case of a romance genre, this kind of dialogue (which was constantly repeated throughout the 17 pages I wrote) was bland and filled up empty space that could have been used for description of action, place, or even had dialogue revelations.
My advice is to read up on blog posts about having effective and good dialogue. Watch a movie or TV Show and analyze the way they talk. I think one of the most interesting dialogues I’ve read were from J.K. Rowling’s books, Harry Potter, because of her pacing, the way it drove the story forward and of course all of her characters having distinct voices (I’m thinking of Hagrid and Ron Weasley among others).
Of course, this won’t come easily, and will only be achieved with practice. I suggest getting other people involved so that you may have a different perspective on your work!
2. Dialogue Tags
Following up on dialogue mistakes, when I had just started writing I noticed I used said a lot and I found it killed my story. My English teacher always stressed that repeating words in essays was never a good thing unless it’s the topic. So after 20 or so “saids”, I thought I should find other dialogue tags.
Now I know I’m not the only one who’s seen it. There’s an infographic with a tombstone and beside it the words: Said Is Dead. I took that as a golden rule in writing, using said sparingly. You can imagine the very colorful and overly-expressive text that resulted in.
I’ll say it here and I’ll say it forevermore. Said isn’t dead. Use the other tags equally as much as said or even less. Sometimes other tags aren’t even properly used in the context that your characters are in. I say, before actually looking at other words, analyze the situation that you’re in. If said conveys it just fine, then go for it! If your character is seething with rage or crying their eyes out, then maybe said is a little too light for them.
You have no idea how many stories have been abandoned because I became discouraged with them. They never led to anything, the characters started resembling one another, there was so much out of character that I didn’t know who stood for what, and it all became a royal mess.
I have learned in the last two years that it’s completely okay to take a step back. As long as the story makes you happy, there’s no need to abandon it because you can’t work it out. Leave it for a while. Be it a week, a month, or even years. But don’t give up on it. Most times it’s because you don’t have the resources yet to unstuck or develop your story. It’s okay to come back to it later. You don’t have to finish writing it in record time. All good things take time. Every story is worth telling, even if you tell it in 20 years. I’m still mad at myself for never finishing the stories I have started all those years back while I was still passionate about them. I’ve moved on since then, but a part of me is still yelling at my past self.
Moral of this story? Don’t make your future self yell at you for abandoning what you love.
4. Procrastinating The Story With Research
Who else is guilty of this? I had a story (God I love that story, I should get back to it) that centered around a girl who collected precious stones. And I started writing it just fine, until that topic came up. My parents lost me to my room and computer for about four days. I learned a lot, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t actually help me write the story. Turns out I was so caught up with wanting every detail to be perfect that it led to procrastination. That’s not the point of a first draft. It’s supposed to be messy. The point is to have something to edit later.
If it’s a quick research, I go for it. But if I’m in the middle of my script and I suddenly talk about something I don’t have much knowledge on, I just make a note on Scrivener to find later when I’ll be editing. I don’t want to break my muse anymore because I know I’ll just procrastinate and then end up not writing anything.
Preliminary research is important, and I encourage it. But don’t let it become procrastination and hinder your writing time (especially in the middle of it all). Keep your writing flow, make notes in your manuscript to revisit later. After all, that’s what editing is for!
5. Inefficient Editing
This is mostly geared towards my early years in writing when I always posted my work online and that unfortunately seeped into my writing practice today. I would finish writing a chapter or a short story, reread it once, twice, then publish it. Then after publishing it I would notice everything wrong with it (including typos).
I’m pretty sure a lot of novice writers do this (as I still do today unconsciously). You want to put your best work out there! You want your first draft to be absolutely perfect! You become consumed with editing the same chapter over and over again before moving onto the next one!
I don’t touch editing until much later in the process now. I have learned from my mistakes. If I’m not happy with what I’ve written and don’t want to wait until I’m at the editing stage of the manuscript, I edit the day after or even a few days later. The real trick is to actually wait until you’re at the editing stage, but being a perfectionist keeps me from that. After hours of writing your brain is tired. You’ve been looking at the screen until you feel your eyes are on fire, the words start melting together and you’re just yelling internally.
Beat back your inner editor as much as you can. At least don’t let it run wild while you’re still writing. It’s hard, I know. I think the best thing to do is to catch yourself when you do it and try to avoid it. I’m still struggling with this, but of course, we’re all taking baby steps towards growth as both people and writers. The point is to never stop going forward.
Here’s a few resources for some of the topics I’ve covered. Happy writing everyone!
How To Find Your Writer’s Voice – NY Book Editors
19 Ways to Write Better Dialogue – well-storied
Use These 18 Apps To Improve Your Writing – NY Book Editors
Novel Writing from A to Z – Writer’s Digest
The 3 Questions That Will Solve Every “Plot Problem” You’ll Ever Have – Steven James (Writer’s Digest)
11 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing (Plus a Checklist) – constantcontent
7 Editing Tips That’ll Make You a Better Writer (with Examples!) – Smart Blogger