8 writing pitfalls—and how to save yourself from them

Here are some common mistakes writers make. The good news is that they’re easy to spot and fix.

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Most writing is neither bad nor good. Instead, the vast majority of it lies somewhere in the middle.

Whether you, the reader, like it boils down to taste. In matters of taste, we’re all experts.

Still, in that vast middle area there invariably are bad sentences, and the skilled self-editor has a vocabulary for describing them.

Here’s how you can identify your own writing problems:

1. Are your sentences too long? Isn’t it harder to read a long sentence than a short one? (Hands up if you survived the 958-word first sentence of Remembrance of Things Past. I know I didn’t.) As well, sentence length is often a “placeholder” for other problems. Are you unduly wordy? Do you have any misplaced modifiers? Are you sure your “sentence” has a subject and a verb? All these issues are easier to miss in long sentences. In short ones, they stand out like a pair of shorts at a funeral. Remember: In our TV- and Internet-focused society, readers respond best to an average sentence length of 14 to 18 words. Note that I said average; don’t make all your sentences exactly the same length.

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