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9 manuscript mistakes only first-timers make (and how to fix them)

Turning a critical eye to your book can decrease these easy-to-avoid errors – and increase your credibility with your readers.

Manuscript Mistakes
Don’t make these manuscript mistakes. Photo by durantelallera/Shutterstock
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Mistake No. 5: Putting all your faith in spellcheck 

Spellcheck is fantastic. It kept me from using “fantrastic” in that last sentence. But spellcheck has no nuance – and if it’s the only thing between you and hitting “publish,” then you have a problem. 

Spellcheck won’t flag overly formal dialogue or address plot pacing problems. If you think your job is done after you hit spellcheck, you’re sorely (though not soarly) wrong. 

Mistake No. 6: Jumping from writing straight to publishing

Writing is like a pot of tea. It needs time to steep.

When you’ve been so close to a manuscript for so long, spotting its flaws becomes difficult. You need space. I recommend taking at least a two-month break. I tucked this article aside for four weeks before editing, and it’s only 1,200 words long.

“When you go back to it with fresh eyes, you’ll see all the places that can use finessing that weren’t apparent when you were in the thick of it,” says Kelly Sargent.


Mistake No. 7: Taking too long to get to the point

Remember my first-time novel writer? His book included a lot of action, but none of it occurred before the third chapter. I advised him to cut the first two chapters. They contained lovely sentence structure, but they lacked narrative urgency. By jumping into the action, and moving the backstory further into the narrative, you grab your reader’s attention faster.

Mistake No. 8: So much passive voice

Larger plot or narrative issues account for most manuscript mistakes. But one thing editors lament over and over from first-time writers, especially those self-publishing, is over-reliance on passive voice. 

The ball was thrown by the three-legged duck. The coffee they were selling was infused with lizard appendix. The adult book store was owned by Dick Cheney. Not even the shock of the second half of those sentences can save the dull first halves. 


Don’t let the subject be acted upon by the verb (see what I mean?). Activate those verbs, and you will also slash hundreds of words from your manuscript.

Mistake No. 9: Leaning on a language crutch

All writers have a crutch – a word, phrase, or pattern we repeat over and over in everything we write, often without noticing it. For some, like my first-time author, it’s adverbs. Another author I edited used the word “elucidate” in each chapter of his book. One “elucidate” is grand. Twelve is not.

Look over your past writing and identify your crutch. Then search your manuscript for examples. You may find dozens you breezed past in an early line edit. 



Can you conquer these manuscript mistakes on your own? You bet. Writers tend to be their own worst critics – and in the case of a first-time author, that can only help you. The more you question, the better your final product will be…even if you have to remove all 642 adverbs. 


Toni Fitzgerald is the copy editor for The Writer and a meticulous freelance editor who rewrote this bio 19 times before she was satisfied. She’s always accepting clients for self-published and non-self-published books. Web:

Originally Published