Ever made a writing mistake... a rookie error? Of course you have. My blog guest today is someone who is pretty much an expert - not on making mistakes but on helping others avoid them. Please give a warm welcome to Alex Gazzola, from the well-known blog Mistakes Writers Make. His new book 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make is a must for anyone thinking of writing articles or non-fiction for magazines but a lot of the advice is just as relevant to fiction writers.
Over to you, Alex.
To err is divine … mostly!
When I first started writing about writing mistakes, seven years ago, some writers, not unreasonably, assumed I was doing so to be smug and boastful about my purported writerly perfections, and snide and finger-pointy about others’ writerly imperfections – but that was never the intention or motivation. I just wanted to help non-fiction writers who felt somehow stuck.
So here’s my take on mistakes:
1. Mistakes are good. We all make them, they mean we’re doing something, and when we become or are made aware of them, we can learn from them and correct them.
2. Mistakes of which we’re unaware, and which aren’t stopping us doing what we want to do (from running a blog or publishing an article, to selling a book proposal or making a living from words) aren’t really a problem.
3. Mistakes of which we’re unaware, and which are stopping us doing what we want to do (typically, getting our work sold to editors and noticed by readers) are a problem.
Nobody deliberately sets out to make mistakes in this business. They do what they think is right. But doing it wrong feels the same as doing it right. Unless a tutor, or an honest colleague, or some grumpy bald middle-aged bespectacled self-appointed mistakes guru tells you otherwise, your mistakes won’t feel as if they’re mistakes.
So that’s the idea behind the blog and the books: to help you see what you may be doing wrong and to guide you towards putting it right.
The most fundamental mistake to my mind is the notion that you can become a writer without any help from anyone. But writing is such a team sport – you need a support network of family and friends, people to help you research, the wisdom of editors – that you just can’t play the game alone. You’re going to need experts and other folk to interview if you write for magazines and papers, but pretending you don’t, and refusing to seek out these individuals because you’re intimidated by the thought, is a huge mistake that many beginners make.
When it comes to subject matter, a common issue is to think you can make a living out of writing whatever you want to write. But what editors want to publish and readers want to read may not correspond to that – and writers need to accept it. Sharing your opinion is another common error: there are exceptions, but generally readers want hard facts, not the views of someone they don’t know and don’t want to know. And there’s another mistake right there: assuming readers will care about you. They won’t, on the whole. They care about themselves, and are unlikely to even register your byline.
When it comes to markets, some aim too high – The Times, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest. You’ll hear success stories, granted, but in general the lesser-known titles offer more fruitful hunting grounds. Niche magazines. You may think you can’t write for a magazine dedicated to hair or horses or Hondas, but you can. You just need to research.
What else? Not reading enough – even refusing to read – is common. Being a bit sniffy about writing fillers (such as letters and tips) or being seen in populist magazines (Take a Break, That’s Life!). Having a fixed path for a writing career mapped out before setting off – and declining to ever take an unexpected left or right turning. Failing to have a target reader and market in mind when writing. Thinking apostrophes don’t matter.
This is not about ridding the writing world of all your mistakes and all of mine. Your mistakes, to some extent, characterise you. Your flaws are often what make you interesting. As the dating agency ad says, even if you don’t love your imperfections, someone else will – or at least won’t mind them. What it is about is tackling the ones that might be holding you back from your goals. I know I make lots of bloopers (I’m rubbish at using dashes properly, for instance), but I’m too grumpy and set in my ways to change, and I am exactly where I want to be – warts, flaws, dodgy punctuation and all.
I hope you are too (without the warts business, obviously). But if you’re not, it could be that there’s just one little thing standing in your way. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find it on the Mistakes Writers Make blog …
Alex Gazzola is a writer who specialises in allergies and food intolerances – as well as writing advice. He is the author of two ebooks, 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, and the newly released 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make. His blog is at www.mistakeswritersmake.com