Writing Mistakes We Often Don't Realize We're Making
Here’s what makes writing difficult: we know what we’re trying to say, so we assume everyone else knows, too. It’s hard to get out of our own heads and see our work with someone else’s eyes. The good news, though, is that we can train ourselves to look for the most common areas of confusion and teach ourselves to eliminate the majority of them.
Here are some common errors you need to look for in all of your writing:
Here’s an example: “It started with a trip to…” What is “it?” What started? You, of course, know what you mean, but your reader doesn't. Be specific. Pronouns like “it” always need a specific noun they are referring back to. If you don’t have one, then state exactly what you’re talking about. This sentence could instead say something like, “The worst day of my life started with a trip to…” The goal is to keep your reader from guessing from you’re talking about.
I edit a lot of Christian nonfiction pieces, and I have come to notice many cliches being used repeatedly. Here are some examples: “do life together;” “people want authenticity;” “it’s not about religion, it’s about relationship.” Those phrases are not inherently bad, but when they are overused, they lose impact. Think of creative ways to say what could come across as cliche.
A pet peeve of mine is using a fancy word when a simple one is better. Don’t use the word narrative when you could say story. Don’t say falsehood when lie is better. Your reader will not be impressed that you did well on the verbal section of the SAT; your reader will be impressed when your words cut to the heart of what she is feeling. Keep it simple.
There are so many areas of our writing where we can lose consistency -- this is one of the areas I constantly address in editing. Let’s break it down to a few:
Point of view
Every piece of writing begins in a certain perspective. If, for example, you are telling the story, you use first person pronouns (I, me, my, etc.). If you begin in first person, you must remain in first person. Switching to third person pronouns (he, she, them, etc) is confusing for the reader. When you finish a piece and look over it, be sure you have maintained consistency in point of view.
Depending on the type of writing you are doing, the verb tense may be irrelevant, or it may be very important. Regardless, you will want to maintain consistency in whichever time you choose. If you begin with past tense, stay with past tense. If you begin with present tense, stay with present tense. Don’t go back and forth -- it causes confusion for the reader about when events occur.
As the writer, you get to choose the style of your piece. Formal, funny, educational, etc. The style you introduce in the beginning of your piece needs to be continued throughout. Otherwise, it will sound as if two different people wrote your piece, and your reader will wonder why there is a change. Stay consistent.
Good writers are willing to look at their pieces with critical eyes, always acknowledging that confusion can exist. The best writers are the ones who take action to eliminate it.
Not sure if your writing is the best it can be? Contact us and we’ll hook you up with our editor extraordinaire, Jennie. She’ll help you tighten up your writing, clarify your message, and put your best work out in the world—all while cheering you on as you do the hard work of being a writer.