33 Mistakes You Can Make While Attempting To Write A Short Story

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  1. Trying to cram a novella into the space of a short story
  2. Knowing that you’ve tried to cram a novella into the space of a short story space yet refusing to write the novella
  3. Writing five, non-overlapping drafts without reaching a workable story
  4. Reading “Heart of Darkness” eight times while writing this story before realizing that “Heart of Darkness” has nothing to do with this story
  5. Getting this short story idea from an idea your friends had to do a documentary, an idea for which they made you sign a non-disclosure agreement
  6. Telling other people that you’re still working on this story rather than just shutting up about it and finishing it
  7. Trying to cram in too much back story rather than allowing it to come forward organically during the course of scenes
  8. Failing to realize who your main character is
  9. Changing your main character, then returning to the former main character, then flip-flopping again
  10. Using your main characters to tell the story of other, off-screen characters
  11. Raising the stakes so high that there is no space for nuance, for the unsaid, for delicate emotional shifts
  12. Believing that this story will be “the one” to give you your big break
  13. Reneging on your belief that this story will be “the one”
  14. Writing from your head rather than from your heart
  15. Thinking, though you would never admit it to yourself, that an exotic setting and adventuresome concept will carry the story
  16. Relying upon the pyrotechnics of plot to carry a story rather than the intricate inner mechanisms of the human heart
  17. Attempting present tense
  18. Slipping into present tense after changing to past tense
  19. Writing each draft from a different POV
  20. Believing that all of this is a waste if you don’t produce a workable draft, even though you will use everything you’ve learned to write your next story
  21. Favoring vocal, visual conflict rather than the slow, subtle simmer of real arguments
  22. Researching the impossible, such as a place that has only been visited twice in recorded history
  23. Feeling so disgusted by a draft that you don’t touch it for a year before you read it again and realize that it was much worse than you thought and waiting another six months to attempt a third draft
  24. Giving this screwed up story to a fellow writer to read, a writer who is a great writer and hasn’t read anything of yours in five years, a writer you should want to impress so they will want to exchange work with you in the future
  25. Postponing work on other stories to rehash this one again
  26. Cramming in what the reader needs to know rather than letting the mystery unfold naturally
  27. Giving half of what is now a thirty-four page short story to your writing group, who critique it so fairly and correctly and devastatingly that you know the entire thing is a failure, and then not working on it for almost another year
  28. Loving this story so much that you spend two week-long writing retreats, one in a private cabin on the Rogue River in Oregon and the other in a rented house in Big Bear, writing drafts two and three
  29. Letting your ideologies get in the way of letting humans be human on the page.
  30. Loving this story so much that you keep reviving it, even though every time you stop working on it you clearly label it with a “Do Not Resuscitate”
  31. Believing that each of the five, non-overlapping drafts have been failures rather than a part of the process
  32. Publicizing all your mistakes online
  33. Starting, from scratch, your sixth draft


Great Resources for Writers to Avoid Mistakes:

Writing MistakesFiction MistakesGreatest mistakes a writer can make


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  1. I, sadly, have made several of these mistakes. Thanks for sharing this. I’ll take the advice to heart, and, with any luck, my writing may improve.

    And I enjoyed the humor underneath, even how some mistakes seem to contradict one another.

    Must stop falling into 12 and 13…