Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Top 10 Mistakes New Writers Make

A little less than five months ago, I sat in front of my laptop, nervously chewing on my
fingernail, staring at the first chapter of my very first fic. It was ready to go — all I had to do
was hit ‘Post New Chapter’.

A series of doubts ran through my head as I hovered over the button, taking ragged breath
after ragged breath. What if I misspelled a word? What if there’s a paragraph out of place?
What are people really going to think of this chapter? Of this story in general?

With one last sigh, I finally took the plunge, said screw it and hit the damn button.

The decision to post my first story was definitely not a mistake, but the weeks following
were full of them. Yup, I did misspell that word. And no, people really didn’t like that part of
a chapter. Also, I won’t pretend that bad review didn’t hurt a little bit, and yes, it did make
me rethink the direction of my story for more than a few seconds.

I try to use spell-check, I try to proofread several times, I try to ignore the critical reviews,
and I constantly remind myself this is my story and not to change it for anyone. But the truth
is, I’m still a new writer — five months is nothing compared to others — and I’m still flying
by the seat of my pants most days. It’s an uphill battle and I haven’t quite reached the top.

So with all my own mistakes still fresh and bleeding, I figured who better to tackle the
subject of the top 10 mistakes new writers make than me? Like I said, I’ve made plenty, but
I also took a similar approach to my last blog post and invited a few fic-writer friends who’ve
been around the block a few times to share with me the biggest mistakes they made
themselves, not to mention common mistakes they see others making.

We’ll just forget about how many of these I may or may not fall under...

Lack of Planning

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had a plot bunny sneakily infiltrate our brains to the point
where we can’t think of anything else and absolutely MUST sit down at the computer and
get it out on “paper.” We’re so excited, and we’re certain this could be the best thing we’ve
ever written. In our excitement and our haste, we give it a quick proofread, think of a title,
whip up a summary and scramble to our posting site of choice and immediately publish it.

This happens with a lot of new writers and a lot of seasoned ones, too. You start a story,
post it, but then you realize you have no idea where you’re going with it. Many fics have fell
to an untimely, premature death because of it. The point is to make a plan. Set a goal.
Think out, write out, blurt out some kind of rough outline at the very least so you have a

focal point and know what your story and what each individual chapter is working toward.

Grammar, Punctuation and All That Entails

Not even sure where to start on this one. When I asked my fic-writer friends their biggest
mistakes, I was shocked how many responses I received that fell under this category.
Punctuation, grammar, tense changes, dialogue tags, POV changes, over-description,
under-description, lack of description, he-said-she-said, “don’t these people own a
thesaurus?” Phew.

Fixing and improving many of the things on the above list is a grueling process. Personally,
I feel these are the hardest mistakes to rectify because many of them are rooted in us. We’ll
never stop doing them if it’s already something we do because we’re probably not aware
we’re doing them in the first place.

Which segues perfectly into my next point...

Flying Solo

It’s a common term you hear flying around the fanfic world — beta. It’s the place a chapter
goes between you and your readers, a person you trust to call you out when you veer off
the plot, put commas in the wrong place, give you constructive criticism to help you
improve, and offer you a supportive and helpful ear when you need help brainstorming your
new chapter.

But many new writers decide to fly solo, whether by choice or blissful unawareness that
such a thing as a beta exists. Yet, here’s what I gathered — FIND. ONE. As Dragonfly76
put it, “I wouldn't have been able to finish my first fic (which was a monster) without my
betas and pre-readers. Since then, I have gained so much value from that relationship. It
has made me a better writer in many aspects both creative and technical.”

Rushing the Plot

This is one of those mistakes I’ve had to stop myself from making on several occasions. It’s
easy to get ahead of yourself - one, as a writer, you tend to get bored. You’d much rather
get to action-packed, ooey-gooey or angsty bits and skip over all the build-up and plot
development it takes to get there. And it’s easy to think your readers might jump ship if you
don’t get things moving and get them moving right now.

But here’s the thing — most readers WILL stick with you through the “boring” parts. They

have more patience than we tend to think, and would probably be more apt to peace out if
you throw a curveball plot twist in completely out of left field. Don’t let anyone fool you
because most readers love the build-up, so long as they know it’s working toward
something juicy down the road.

Reviews are NOT Everything

Oh, reviews. We have a love-hate relationship with them. Publically, we claim it’s not about
the reviews, but we’ve all sat in front of our email inboxes, staring holes through the screen,
refreshing every three seconds, waiting for that first notification to come in after we post a
chapter. Reviews are like straight-up crack — addictive, damaging, life-altering crack. When
we get them, we feel validated. When we don’t, we assume our stories are horrible and
therefore, we suck at life entirely.

Take a deep breath. First and foremost, HAVE CONFIDENCE in yourself and what you’ve
created. Even if you don’t get the reviews you hoped for, don’t let it define your work or you
as a writer. There are tons of stories out there with way fewer reviews than they deserve,
and many with way MORE than they deserve.

Letting Bad Reviews Affect You

Speaking of reviews, the love and encouragement for your story will usually pour in by the
dozens. You’ll feel all warm and fuzzy inside, send a heartfelt thank you note and move on
to the next.

But then you get that first bad review. In the case that it’s not a fellow writer trying to provide
constructive criticism to help you improve, this usually comes in the form of unnecessary
critiquing or even the inappropriate, anonymous flame. It might just be one, but you likely
won’t forget it. In fact, it very well might make you question everything about your story, not
to mention ruin your day, just because one person didn’t have the tact to keep their mouth

Buck up, buttercup. Don’t let it. People suck, and that will never change. I’ll let my friend,
Niamh, close this one out: “The sooner you learn to take the good with the bad, and
remember that there are people who will patiently wait to see where you're taking them
before they get all gutsy with the keyboard, the better your story will be.”

The Need to Please (trying to please readers)

Moving on, I’ll step up to the podium and admit this is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes

I’VE made as a new writer. I feel this incessant need to please people in various aspects of
my life, which probably stems from the fact I hate people being angry or frustrated with me
for ANY reason. Sadly, I’ve come close to letting this cross over into my writing as well.

This is where you really have to step back and remind yourself, repeatedly if necessary,
much like I have, that this is YOUR story, and the more you try to please every single one
of your readers, the less it becomes so. If readers don’t like the way you’re handling things,
developing your characters or advancing your plot, they are more than welcome to push off
and write their OWN story. Also, even if readers don’t agree, it doesn’t necessarily mean
they won’t stick with you and trust where you’re taking them, even if they’re not a huge fan
of the means to your end.

The Green-Eyed Monster

Why can’t we all just get along? Good question. Much like the real world, you will encounter
a variety of personalities who write for the same fandom as you. These competitive
personalities won’t always be supportive and they won’t always be encouraging. As a friend
of mine put it, jealousy is a bitter pill, and there always will be someone out there who thinks
their work is better than yours and might come up with “theories” to explain your success,
i.e. riding on the coattails of your friends in the fandom and capitalizing on their success via

As my friend also put it, no matter what anyone might say to you about who you know or
why you may have or have not won awards for your writing, pay no mind. The jealousy and
the anger that goes with it can eat you alive. Do this for you, and don't allow anyone to have
that kind of power over you.

All Smut, All the Time

As we all know, one of the beauties of fanfiction is giving us those more, ahem, tender
moments we never got in the canon stories. Traditional, slash, femslash, BDSM, poly, you
name it — there’s something out there to satisfy every sexual appetite.

As a new writer, though, just don’t be fooled into thinking sex is the ONLY thing readers are
interested in.

Granted, that IS going to be the only thing SOME readers are interested in, but there are
authors out there who fill that niche just fine and it doesn’t have to be you, unless you want
it to be. If that’s the case, more power to you. If not, just keep in mind when someone tells
you “this is the slowest moving story they ever read” (read: where the hell is the smut?),

there are many more readers out there who are just as interested in intriguing characters
and a unique plot as they are lemons.

Not Getting Involved

There is a big old world outside of, which to me, is the least personal, socially cut-off
place you could possibly post your story. It works to gain readership and it definitely gets
you reviews, but for the most part, you’ll find your tenure in the world of fanfic writing to be
more fulfilling if you branch out and find other places to share your work.

There are smaller, more personal “communities” scattered around the Internet willing to
give your story another home. These are communities where you won’t get lost in the
shuffle of hundreds of thousands of stories, communities whose members will support you,
encourage you, promote you and offer you friendships you probably won’t gain over at My first story is posted in three of these places, and it goes without saying this was
probably one of the best decisions I’ve made as a new writer.

But being there isn’t enough. Get involved. Start a discussion forum, weigh in on other
topics, throw out a hello in the chat room. Cultivate those relationships and don’t be shy.
You won’t make friends being a wallflower, and once you stop, you’ll truly be getting the
best out of this experience.

Author: Megan aka @Meliz875



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