Top Five Mistakes Writers Make

freelance-writing-advice-3Writers make lots of mistakes. That’s why the first version of what you write is called a “first draft”. The very name implies you’re going to go back and do some things over–preferably BETTER than the first time.

Some writers get a bit lost in that first draft, and it really shows in the copy. When an experienced editor is reading this stuff, it’s glaring and makes us less inclined to work with you again. Why? Because when you don’t catch silly mistakes or give that first draft only a cursory review before hitting “send”, we can see the lack of care given to the piece. There are five basic ways writers go wrong–there are plenty of others, but these are some of the most commonly repeated mistakes–which are also warning signs to an experienced editor that you’re probably phoning it in and not the right person for the gig unless you can take direction well:

5.  Repeated errors in the same areas. Do you abuse the apostrophe? Shame on you for making something possessive when it should be plural. A single case of this makes an editor’s eyes roll back until only the whites are showing. Repeated instances of the same error are a dead giveaway that you just don’t pay much attention after the first draft OR you’re legitimately ignorant of how the apostrophe is used. Either way, it means bad things for you.

4. Sloppy corrections. I see this a lot. The writer realized that you can’t say “There’s several options waiting for you,” and swaps it out for “There’s are several options waiting for you.” This is the mark of someone in a hurry. When I encounter this, I slap my forehead and say, “Oh, so sorry Writer-Person! I didn’t realize I was cutting into your frickin’ beauty sleep by paying you to do this article.”

3. Lazy research. It is painfully obvious to me when a writer doesn’t know what they are talking about when they make errors in basic technical matters which are easily looked up and corrected. OR when they try to write like they know what they’re talking about but are really clueless on the details. One writer I had to re-edit wrote “This computer provides for 4 gigabytes of RAM.” Oh, REALLY. And how does the computer do that? Does it need a second job to provide for all those gigabytes of RAM? Maybe it receives government assistance? It’s not only bad usage, it implies a basic lack of understanding of how computers work, since no computer PROVIDES for 4GB of RAM, it HAS 4 gigs of RAM or–clunky but still acccurate–comes EQUIPPED with 4GB of RAM.

2. Mangled quotes, mixed metaphors, and mis-attributed adages. One of the most oft-mangled quotes of all time, attributed to Andy Warhol; “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” What Warhol really said was “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” Some people attribute “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” to the Bible, but it really came from the mouth of Polonius in Hamlet.

Most painful? The mixed metaphor–probably the most difficult for new editors to spot unless they are voracious readers. Mixed metaphors include “Robbing Peter to pay the piper” or “I made money hand-to-mouth”. The actual metaphors mixed and abused here include “Robbing Peter to pay Paul,” “Pay the piper”. “I made money hand over fist” and “We lived hand-to-mouth”.

1. Improper capitalization. Proper nouns get capitalized. There’s no excuse for capitalizing words like “people” or “customers” when used in the typical way. Most cringe-making? Sentences like these;
“I saw a Woman walking down the street. She was talking to a Black cat as though the animal could understand what She was saying.” On the opposite side of this coin, lack of capitalization of proper nouns is also bad news. “We attended the conference on african-american literature in the afternoon.” The phrase “African-American” contains not one, but TWO proper nouns.

These mistakes are not only painful for editors to read, they also make us think twice about having to subject ourselves to such copy a second time. We don’t have the time for this crap. Don’t inflict it on us and you’ll be better paid AND you’ll get repeat business.

4 thoughts on “Top Five Mistakes Writers Make”

  1. At the risk of looking like a moron….I’m axing you this question. Is this sentence from the NY Times correct:

    “An administration leaks damaging information about a political figure….”

    I feel like there should be an apostrophe for posessiveness in the word, “leaks.” Should there be?

  2. Let me give you my best resource for questions like this…… has a “Grammar for Grasshoppers board where you can type in just about anything and get a response very quickly. Try posting it there and see what you get back….you’ll be pleased!

  3. Yo,

    No, “leak” in this case is a verb, and adding an apostrophe to a verb to make it possessive is a no-no–an action word can’t posses anything. It DOES things, but doesn’t OWN things.

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