The biggest newbie mistakes – I made.

N is for Newbie mistakes

1. Revision

I was so excited. I’d finished my first manuscript and knew it was ready to go. Many sources told me I needed to revise and rewrite but I read it over and I couldn’t find anything. So I fixed a bunch of typos and threw in a smell or two.

Ha ha ha ha. I know much better now.

Now I look at structure; scenes that are unrealistic; scenes that don’t move the story forward, scenes that don’t have enough tension or the emotion needs to be fleshed out.

And I rewrite, cut/slash, delete scenes, write new ones. #iwillhavethelastlaugh

2. Show don’t tell

I knew showing on a bigger scale – as in don’t narrate. But my first year writing I still didn’t quite get that showing meant a lot more than that.

  • It means showing emotion instead of naming.
  • It means using specific body language instead of vague clichéd ones.
  • It means allowing the internal conflict to show through internal dialogue that isn’t just spitting out information the reader already knows.
  • And all telling isn’t bad. The best writing is excellent telling.

3. Sensory details

I could have sworn all I had to do was add a smell to each scene and I had it covered.

Now I know that sensory details make the story come alive and draw the reader into the world. And through more than just smell, but touch, taste, color, sight and more.

4. Three dimensional characters

I was convinced that it just meant knowing more backstory on your character. But it doesn’t matter how many quirks or details or history you know about a character they will not come across three dimensional unless the writing is excellent: incorporating showing, description, sensory details, internal monologues, internal conflict and more.

5. The power of internal thoughts

I often skimped on the internal thoughts because I thought for sure readers would be bored. I mean, who cares? Well, I was wrong. The reader does care. That’s where we see how a character reacts, how they grow, how they interpret their world. Without it, a character will certainly be flat.

These are just the biggies. I made many other newbie mistakes. And the biggest thing I learned is that we can read a 1,000-page book on craft but until we struggle through our writing and experience the light bulb moment, they are nothing more than black words on a white page.

What are your newbie mistakes?

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42 Responses to The biggest newbie mistakes – I made.

  1. Frances Silversmith April 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Very good list there, Paula – I’ve certainly made all of those mistakes (and am still making them, since I’m still a newbie).
    Another big one I’ve recently caught myself at is trying to put 20 years worth of backstory into the novel instead of just knowing it myself and just dropping small pieces into the story where necessary.

  2. Frances Silversmith April 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Sorry, Laura – I confused your first and last names there… I promise I won’t do it again!

  3. PC Wheeler April 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    Thanks for that. I’ve done every single thing you’ve mentioned and more. Still working on improving my craft.

  4. Dawn April 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    My biggest mistake is not developing my characters well enough, especially my main character.

    Also, on your question, I think you meant to type — What are “your” newbie mistakes?

    Have a great Saturday!

    • Laura April 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

      We’ve all had our share of newbie mistakes but those were definitely my biggest. I never had problems with too much backstory. What I continue to struggle with in first drafts is not including enough and my first readers are sometimes confused. Thank God for crit partners!

  5. Laura Marcella April 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    I don’t know because I’m still making them. LOL!

  6. Kristin Gray April 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Not fleshing out characters, not staying true to characterization of choice (so and so wouldn’t act that way), pacing, info-dump (i’m improving there I think), show vs/ tell, and introducing too many characters/subplots too soon.

    Wowzers, that’s quite a list.

    And, Dawn, sometimes my secondary characters are more developed than the main. 😛

    Good post, Laura.

  7. Ishta Mercurio April 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Great post! I did a lot of these things when I was new, especially telling instead of showing and misunderstanding the meaning of “revision.” Ha, ha! I laugh to think how bad my work was in those days! (Not that it’s perfect now, but now I KNOW it needs work, and back then I didn’t have a clue!)

  8. anne gallagher April 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    POV was my biggest newbie mistake. My first book was all over the place. HOWEVER, a very good friend read it, and said, she loved the way I used 3rd person omnicient. The story does work that way, but not well, and most definitely not in any way that I can use it.

    • Laura April 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

      I never struggled with head hopping or anything like that but i definitely had to learn how to use pov to my advantage. Heck, I started out as a newbie in all the areas!

  9. erica and christy April 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    I’m wondering how you incorporated so much smell into your novel. :0) I think that’s one sense I must miss! I made a lot of the newbie mistakes you made. LOL. I guess it means we’re learning if we can look back and laugh now. (Except it’d be funnier if I still didn’t have so much to learn!) christy

  10. Kris Yankee April 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Excellent list! These are things that I go over with authors in the writing workshops that I teach. I think the Show Don’t Tell is the most prevalent mistake.

  11. India Drummond April 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    The smell thing really had me giggling. I am picturing a scratch-n-sniff novel now!

    I think impatience was probably my biggest newbie mistake… thinking “Eff-it, that’s good enough.” I mean I had some lingering doubts or things that didn’t seem perfect, but I would just get sick of looking at a MS, so I’d send it out. LOL

  12. Robin Weeks April 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Before I’d gotten halfway through my first novel (not my WIP–an earlier, bad, unfinished one), I tried to find out if an editor would buy it. Yanno, so I didn’t waste my time finishing it.

    Ah, hubris.

  13. Stacy April 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Great post. I’m still a newbie as well, and while I’ve conquered a lot of my issues, a big one for me is still too many details. I have to constantly remind myself to trust the reader and not worry about mundane details that don’t matter to the plot. I don’t have to spell everything out. I’ve gotten a lot better, but that’s still something I’m watching.

  14. Marisa April 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Excellent, Laura!! My sensory details were AWFUL in my first draft. I’m only in my second draft now, so hopefully this go will be better. But I just received an excellent critique that brought to light my lack of characterization. Much to fix!

  15. Elena April 16, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    My biggest mistake was thinking how easy it was going to be. I didn’t want it to take years and many drafts – I just wanted to get published! Years later, I’m happy it took me some time to learn the craft. Much better that way : )

  16. Eleni Alexandraki April 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Oh, I feel your pain! I made some biggies, too! I guess we all just have to learn as we go, and just hope we don’t offend the agent community as we’re querying.

  17. Paul Greci April 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Hi Laura. I think I made many of the same mistakes that you did. Show don’t tell sounds simple but really, like you said, in some places it’s best to tell well. I think it’s all about finding your own voice. Great post!!

  18. Donna Weaver April 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Brilliant post, as always, Laura. I’m starting to get the hang of the show/don’t tell (kinda) but I really struggle with the sensory.

  19. Vanessa April 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    I am guilty of the “show don’t tell”…. I’ve had to rewrite in so many areas when it was brought to my attention.

    • Laura April 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      Thanks for commenting everyone! I think we’ve all been there. And we all have the areas we need to work on!

  20. Michael Di Gesu April 16, 2011 at 7:18 pm #

    I WAS the king of the adverb, tag, and passive voice…. Although the story was a good one I was ripped to shreds by so many about the passive and “ly” words. After “murdering” literally hundreds of all of them I had half a novel left …. which was still to long. Next scenes….

    I learned a lot over the past two years and luckily my writing has improved tremendously.(OH NO AN ADVERB…. RUN!)

  21. Susan Pauling April 16, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    I guess I am a Newbie. I was born in Newburyport.

    Oh. I am funny. 🙂

  22. Susan Kaye Quinn April 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    These are awesome! And not necessarily newbie…

    A couple more, not so newbie things I’ve learned…
    3. Sensory means more than 5: time, temperature, balance, just to name a few

    4. Dimensionality means how many ways your character is conflicted – the more conflicts, the more dimensional. It’s okay to exceed 3.


  23. Ansha Kotyk April 16, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    My newbie mistakes? All of the above and then some… and even after 3 intense years of writing and critiquing I still feel like a newbie. 🙂

  24. Maria Toth April 17, 2011 at 2:43 am #

    AWESOME post! We have a new writer in our critique group, so some of these things came up today as we critiqued her (revised) first chapter. I was afraid we were overloading her with information. But your post is perfect. I just forwarded it to our group. Good for newbies and a nice refresher for those who’ve be at it awhile. Thanks!

  25. Amie Kaufman April 17, 2011 at 6:15 am #

    White Room Syndrome was definitely my worst, but a lot of yours sound pretty familiar!

  26. Jeffrey Beesler April 17, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    One of my earliest mistakes has been in not having fully fleshed out characters. Characters are still tricky in that I often times still confuse their voice with other characters around them. Thank goodness for revision.

    Pleased to meet you via the A-Z Challenge!

  27. Girl Friday April 17, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    Hah, but I *like* smells, too many writers don’t get past describing what can be seen 🙂

    My newbie mistakes are… well, probably too numerous to mention since I’m still a newbie. I’m with you on worrying about too much internal monolgue seeming boring, but you’re right, we need enough so the MC becomes well-rounded and the reader can see the choices they’re having to make.

  28. Jemi Fraser April 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    Love this line: So I fixed a bunch of typos and threw in a smell or two.

    Made me actually laugh out loud because it’s so true!

    My first attempt at ‘revision’ was to slash a few adverbs and adjectives and change a sentence or two.

    At least we know we’ve grown! 🙂

  29. LynNerd April 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    It’s been a long journey. I think I’ve made every mistake in the book – haha! At first there was so much to learn, my pea brain could only absorb and process a little at a time. POV, problems with tense, poorly developed characters, on and on and on. The one that really cracks me up and shows how naive I was, after checking out a book at the library on how to write a story and how important plot is, I was like, “Plot? Come on, why does it have to have a plot? Can’t you just put a bunch of humorous chapters together for entertainment?” I mean, hey, the kids and I love the Wayside School books. But those were an exception, so I took my studies seriously and worked on all the different aspects, including the showing, not telling. Like you said, it’s one of the hardest things to learn, but it does make our writing so much better. But “telling” does have its place here and there to move the story along. Learning where it’s appropriate is another tricky thing. What I love about critique partners and groups is that each person has their own giftedness and catches something different in my ms that needs work.

    Reading over all these comments is very helpful, too. It’s always good to have fresh reminders! Nice blog post, Laura.

  30. Jennifer Hoffine April 17, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Newbie mistakes…ah yes, I made a few…a few million. The worst was trying to follow all “da rules” too strictly. I don’t regret that exactly, as I learned a lot from the process.

    The mistake I regret, at least the one that has brought me the most heartache along the way is believing that all my work had to do was reach some certain level of quality, that if I could make someone laugh, make them connect with my protag, or impress them with a clever turn of phrase I’d be in…it takes so much more than that. You have to have the total package and the right package delivered to and accepted by the right people at the right time…it’s tough but still worth striving for.

  31. LynNerd April 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    Well said, Jennifer. We all make mistakes, then try and try again. I think a big newbie mistake that none of us has mentioned so far is thinking that we’re going to make a living at writing. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could, but very few do. And the odds are better at writing nonfiction, but that’s not what I want to write. So I learned that I must keep writing because I love it and because I love kids and want to share my stories with them. Let’s see, I’ve been learning the craft for about 14 years now. Not too long ago a writer friend told me that about ten years ago, only 10 percent actually got published. And now with all the drastic changes in the publishing industry, it’s down to one percent. That’s grim. Especially since I listen to the excellent writing in my critique groups, watch the ups and downs, how some have come so close, only to face huge disappointment. Unfortunately, luck and randomness do play a part. So those who persevere, those who can remain positive, be tough skinned, will continue on, encourage their peeps, and not put all their eggs in one basket (terrible cliche but so true). Finish one story and move on to the next. The best lesson I’ve learned is to enjoy the journey with all it’s twists and turns.

  32. Marie April 17, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

    This post is excellent! There are so many mistakes waiting to be made, and for new writers, I think we get so excited and think our finished product is so wonderful that we deny/avoid/overlook the often-glaring mistakes. Then, of course, there are things we don’t know about, or don’t understand, or don’t realize, and our mistakes are innocent. I think I’ve made (and probably still do) all of these mistakes…and a whole lot more! haha

  33. Nicole Amsler April 17, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    The only newbie mistake I think I did NOT indulge in was sending my manuscript off to agents the second it was finished. I am only gathering up the nerve to query this year–after several practice novels, several classes and conferences and thousands of hours of practice. I can only hope it allows me stand out from novels that have been merely spell checked.

    • Laura April 18, 2011 at 12:46 am #

      Thanks for all the wonderful comments. I def. queried too soon. But I think that’s a rite of passage. The thrill of pressing send and the agony of the rejection. Even if it adds to slush of people that aren’t ready to query. But when you’re just starting off, you don’t know you’re not ready. Until you actually are. 🙂

  34. Lisa Green April 18, 2011 at 2:54 am #

    Such awesome tips! Who hasn’t made mistakes like this?

  35. Julie Musil April 18, 2011 at 3:07 am #

    OMG, I’m nodding my head through this entire post. I shudder to think of the mistakes I’m making now, only to realize them later. At least we’re improving, right?

  36. LynNerd April 18, 2011 at 3:58 am #

    I’m not a newbie at writing, but I’m a newbie at leaving comments on posts, and judging from both of my prior long-winded comments, I think I need to work on keeping things short and to the point from now on! There’s always room for improvement!

  37. damyanti April 18, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    I think I made all these mistakes and more, and still make some of them. Awesome list….it would help me improve, thanks a lot for sharing.

  38. Jenn Johansson April 18, 2011 at 5:02 am #

    You are dead on here! Great post! 🙂

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