The 3 Most Common Writing (Thinking) Mistakes Nonfiction Authors Make

Hands typing on laptop

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Note that I put “thinking” in parentheses. This post isn’t about common grammatical errors—it’s about common mistakes authors make in thinking about their subjects and how to present them.

In my experience as a developmental editor, I’ve seen many nonfiction authors dive into their topics without thinking much about the audience first. But this approach can lead to confusion—because you’re jumping into a subject from your own vantage point as an expert. You’ve lived the experience and researched the heck out of the topic, usually over a span of years or decades.

In other words, you’re too close to the material to know if you’re explaining it clearly to those who are less familiar, or maybe even unfamiliar.

Remember, unless you’re writing a book for people with the precise same expertise as you, you’re likely to have blind spots about reader understanding. Not taking these blind spots into consideration means you could be confusing your audience more than helping them, which is the opposite of your intention. (Unless you’re an evil mastermind, that is.)

With these blind spots in mind, here’s my answer to the question, “What are the most common writing mistakes you see?”

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Where to Submit Your Work for Publication: Advice for Beginners

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Photo by Kat Stokes on Unsplash

This post is for new creative writers—writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry—who don’t know where to begin seeking an audience for their short-form work.

Maybe you’re launching a writing career without the benefit of an MFA program. Perhaps you come from a different professional background altogether, having little to do with creative writing. Maybe you’re a lawyer, a tax accountant, a doctor, or an Uber driver. (All clients I’ve worked with, by the way!) Where do you start looking for places to submit your shorter form creative work?

Here’s a list of resources I shared recently with a friend who’s writing ghost stories while pursuing a masters degree in urban planning. (Proof that you don’t need an MFA to write and submit.)

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“How Books Find Me,” First Published on Shelf Pleasure

Max Langelott photo of Stuttgart library

Photo by Max Langelott on Unsplash

Note: The essay archived below was first published on the book-lovers’ website ShelfPleasure.com in 2012. The site is no longer active. I’m sharing it here as a writing sample.


If you were to look at my nightstand, my coffee table, and my Goodreads profile, you’d see about 400 books. About 390 of them came into my life through the usual means like recommendations and reviews. The rest found me through synchronicity, and those are the ones that I love the most, that I find myself buying, keeping, loaning out, and recommending to others.

Over the years, I’ve read endless articles about how people find books, but never a single one describing how books find people. This, I think, is a critical oversight, because the best books, the ones that make the biggest impact on us, don’t come to us through active seeking; they float into our lives at just the right time, the way a perfect wave will come to a surfer exactly when she’s ready to ride it.

Woodswoman memoir

My most recent serendipitous find was Woodswoman by Ann LaBastille. In true “meant-to-be” fashion, I didn’t stumble upon the book itself; rather, I found a newspaper obituary from the Los Angeles Times, taped to the end of a shelf in my favorite used bookstore. The obit was dated 2011 and featured a photograph of a gray-haired woman sitting in a canoe with her German shepherd. After a divorce in the 1970s, it said, LaBastille retreated to the Adirondacks of New York State, built herself a 12 x 12 foot log cabin on the undeveloped side of a remote lake, and remained there for decades, supporting herself as a conservationist consultant, writer, and photographer. In those many years, she’d written several well-regarded memoirs about her life in the woods.

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