This post could be also called “The Top 10 Most Common Writing Errors” or “The Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make”, but I thought “The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger” was more appropriate. Because, if you want to have your blogging taken seriously, then you need to sit up and pay attention to this list.
My list is inspired by Holt Uncensored – Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do). Holt explains:
Like many editorial consultants, I’ve been concerned about the amount of time I’ve been spending on easy fixes that the author shouldn’t have to pay for.
Sometimes the question of where to put a comma, how to use a verb or why not to repeat a word can be important, even strategic. But most of the time the author either missed that day’s grammar lesson in elementary school or is too close to the manuscript to make corrections before I see it.
So the following is a list I’ll be referring to people *before* they submit anything in writing to anybody (me, agent, publisher, your mom, your boss). From email messages and front-page news in the New York Times to published books and magazine articles, the 10 ouchies listed here crop up everywhere. They’re so pernicious that even respected Internet columnists are not immune.
The list also could be called, “10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,” because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be.
My editorial summary of Holt’s list consists of:
- Redundant repeats of the same word over and over, like a favorite word.
- Flat writing that just lays there, horizontally, and goes no where.
- Empty adverbs – the horrid use of too many “ly” words that just clutter up the story.
- Phoney dialog that includes jargon and common “fad” phrases that date the writing, as well as too many “he said/she said” that don’t propel the story forward. Dialog that doesn’t say anything.
- No good suffixes is actually something I’ve done a time or two. Once in a while these are cute, but as a whole, arrogant. These are the words, usually adjectives, using suffixes to change the meaning. Holt explains, “Instead of saying, “as a director, she is meticulous,” the reviewer will write, “as a director, she is known for her meticulousness.” Until she is known for her obtuseness.”
- Overuse of “to be” words is one of Holt’s pet peeves. This is harder to explain, but valid, so see the post for details on how these are overused.
- Using lists instead of prose to tell the story is a no-no. Holt’s example: “”She was entranced by the roses, hyacinths, impatiens, mums, carnations, pansies, irises, peonies, hollyhocks, daylillies, morning glories, larkspur…” Well, she may be entranced, but our eyes are glazing over.” Unless the adjectives or fast elements actually take us somewhere and add to the story, then consider them lists and treat them accordingly. Or edit them out.
- Show don’t tell. Telling means the story is over. Showing brings the reader into the action.
- Awkward phrasing makes the reader stop and wonder what it was they just read. Watch out for clunky phrasing and horrid references that make your writing sound like cans and boots tied to the back of a car being drug through the streets.
- Commas are probably the biggest beef I’ve seen from editors. Poor comma use can get you more mental slaps from many editors and readers than just about anything you flub up in your writing. According to Holt, “Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases *require* commas. You may find it necessary to break the rules from time to time, but you can’t delete commas just because you don’t like the pause they bring to a sentence or just because you want to add tension.”
So that is Holtz’s list of the top ten offending mistakes writers make that they should catch. But what about bloggers? They are also writers.
Lorelle’s List of The Top 10 Clues That You Are an Amateur Blogger
- Commas and Punctuation: I also whine about commas, but also other punctuation mark errors that hint to the readers that you either 1) don’t know how to write, or 2) are totally spaced out and just not paying enough attention. These include bad comma usage, overusing exclamation marks (!!!!!!!!), spaces before periods (end of sentence .) or question marks (end of sentence ?), sentences without commas or other punctuation so they run on and on and on and on and on forever without end.
- Mixed or Lack of Proper Capitalization: You should know by now that writing with capitalized letters indicates SCREAMING, so you don’t do it for the length of an entire post. You should also have learned the basic rules of capitalization. The beginning of sentences and proper names are capitalized. Titles Are All Initial Capitals. Just because you Like a Word doesn’t MEAN you have to capitalize Every Important word. That went out of fashion a couple hundred years ago. and writing all in lower case may look cute for a young girl’s diary or personal blog, but it is old. out of fashion. people think you are a girl under 16. stop it. now.
- Link Lists: Yes, link lists are fun. Yes, link lists are easy. Yes, we are all thrilled to know that you managed to find 10 sites to link to that you liked today or this week. We got it. Lists are nice and easy. Lists suck. I hate lists. To me, they are a sign of a potential splog (spam blog) that uses links to ferment search engine page rank. They tell me the blogger is too lazy to offer an opinion or two about why they like the site they are linking to. Link lists are fine if you have content to match. But links for links sake = boring and time wasting.
- Too Many Topics in One Post: There are run-on sentences, and then there are run-on blogs. My rule of thumb: one topic, one post. If I’m searching for information and find it, but having to scroll through what the blogger had for lunch, arguments with a teacher, rants on rush hour traffic, political opinions, and then, oh, by the way, this is the solution to a problem that’s been plaguing me. ARGH!
- Taking Too Long to Get the Point: Part of the uniqueness of blogging is the ability to quickly say what you have to say and move on. A rule for giving speeches that still holds after all these years is to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. You want to rant or babble, that’s okay, but use it sparingly. If you have a point to make, make it. Blog readers don’t have all day to sit around and read blogs. While we may want to, we have lives to lead and other blogs to read. We want our favorite bloggers to get to the point. Now.
- Poor Use of Textile or Code Tags for Code: Many bloggers love sharing their programming or web design code discoveries. I adore these folks. From them, we can learn how to put things together and take them apart. Unfortunately, WordPress and other blogging tools turn quote marks and apostrophes into fancy smart quotes. Copy a piece of code of a blog, paste it into your WordPress Theme or PHP script, and it will bork. Please, either use character entities to represent REAL text-based quote marks when publishing code ( " = " and ' = & #39; ), or use PRE or a WordPress Plugin that recognizes code and forces it into text-based quote marks.
- Don’t Assume We Can Read Your Mind: Sorry, we aren’t mind readers. We have to know what you are writing about. Don’t start a sentence or paragraph without a noun that leads us to the noun’s action. Don’t make us wait until the end of the post to figure out that you are talking about buying a cell phone when I thought you were talking about looking for a date. Lead us into a story, and help us keep up with the story line. Don’t assume we have been hanging around following your every chapter. Assume we’ve just landed on this planet and discovered your blog. Help us to understand what you are talking about.
- Don’t Link to the Hottest Link in Town: Don’t link to the hottest post on Digg or Del.icio.us just because everyone else is. It may be fascinating but link to it only if you have something to say about the link so you add to the story and information about the linked story. We all know now how to use Digg and Del.icio.us, so we’ve already seen it.
- More Ads Than Content: More ads than content, or lots of ads and only links as content, I’m not interested. I’ll take my blog reading elsewhere. Come on, folks. Blogging is about writing. It’s about sharing your life, experiences, and expertise, as well as your opinion. It’s your voice. Use it. Sure, it’s nice to make money with advertising on your blogs, but if you ain’t got good content, I’m not going to pay to get nothing.
- We Don’t Know Who You Are: I might love what you have to say, but if I don’t know who you are, how you came to be this expert, or why I should respect what you have to say, you’ve lost my interest. I don’t want your life story. I don’t even care where you live, though that seems to be important to a lot of people. I don’t even have to know your real name. What I do want to know is some background, resume references, and qualifications that make me want to trust what you have to write. If I need verification on who you are and your expertise, I’ll find it myself or ask, but until then, at least write me an About page that gives a clue as to why I should care about what you have to say.
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