Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Mistakes Writers Make #writetip

“I feel certain this is going to be a great resource for non-fiction writers.”

It was those kind words – written by Lorraine Mace, the host of this guest post – which were the first ones to be left on my blog, Mistakes Writers Make, when I launched it seven years ago with the first Mistake, Believing You Can DIY.

Having at that stage been a tutor for the Writers Bureau for two or three years, I’d been critically appraising the work of beginner non-fiction writers for some time. While showing and telling new writers what to do certainly has its place, I came to fully appreciate that this prescriptive method may not be sufficient or even productive for some learners. It was good constructive criticism that really seemed to move many forward, I noticed: pointing out the errors, and offering guidance on how to correct them, while giving praise for what was being done well, of course.

Not all aspiring writers can or want to enrol on a course, though, and I began to wonder whether a resource dedicated to showing wannabe writers what they might be doing that they shouldn’t be doing would be popular – and might serve those writers more effectively than merely giving them instructions, as many writing guides do (and indeed do well).

The idea for a blog focusing on error sprung from this, and it is still going – although as a writing resource I’m not sure it has ever quite got anywhere near that greatness Lorraine so supportively predicted in its early days! It’s not all about the bloopers, though: the ‘Mistakes’ are supplemented by publishing and other opportunities, product recommendations and book reviews, as well as occasional rants about such hazards as copyright-grabbing writing competitions, which writers have to negotiate.

Some years ago I began to think a more structured guidebook taking the reader sequentially from A to Z might work for those looking for an introductory manual in writing non-fiction. The Mistakes on the blog are not logically ordered – they not only go from A to X to D to P, but since I introduced guest posts they now also take in a few Cyrillic and Greek letters as scenic detours – and whatever Mistake happens to take my whim at any given time becomes the next one in numerical line. Not necessarily ‘friendly’ to a total beginner needing to learn from scratch!

And so the ebooks were born. The first, 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, was published in 2015; the second, predictably titled 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, just last month.

They start with the basics – generating ideas, approaching editors, researching and crafting an article – before tackling slightly more advanced subjects – dealing with editors, editing techniques, understanding contracts, interviewing skills and much more. I can’t deny that occasionally the books tell the reader what to do – but when they do they do so through the prism of error, to which I think some people (not all) respond better.

Although some of the more important posts on the blog have been included, albeit in updated or adapted forms, most are fresh and new. Several more books are planned. Curiously, the more mistakes you write about, the more you find to write about, and I have come to be really quite fond of errors. The cock-up is not something to be hidden, ignored or denied, but something to be almost celebrated, albeit possibly not repeated. As I say in one of the books, no doubt I make many errors myself in my job, but they don’t seem to be stopping me from doing what I do or want to do, which is to make a living from words.

Perhaps, then, the trick is to correct the ones that are stopping you from doing whatever it is you want to do?

I hope the blog and the books might help you identify those blighters and banish them. If they do, you probably have Lorraine to thank. Had it not been for that first encouraging comment, the Mistakes Writers Make blog might have met an end as grim as that of some of the characters in her Frances di Plino novels ...

Alex Gazzola’s 50 Mistakes books are both available on Amazon.
His blog can be found at

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