Posted by: nancycurteman | August 11, 2011

Five Common Writing Mistakes Publishers Hate

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Publishers and agents love excellent novels with great plots and sympathetic characters. They begin reading these manuscripts with enthusiasm until their rhythm is derailed by one of the common writing mistakes they hate. Here are five of the most common.

The elegant pronoun: I
Mary gave the money to Susan and I.  Wrong

Mary gave the money to Susan and me. Correct

To many writers the pronoun I seems more elegant than the pronoun me so they stick I into the sentence thinking it must be correct. The way to determine if you should use I or me is to remove the noun before the conjunction: and.  You would never say “Mary gave the money to I.” So you wouldn’t say “Mary gave the money to Susan and I.”
Me may not sound elegant, but it is correct.

The sound tricksters: Could of, would of, should of
I should of told you what might happen and I would of if I could of.  Wrong

I should’ve told you what might happen and I would’ve if I could’ve. Correct

Sound creates this detestable mistake. When we say: You should’ve, would’ve, could’ve…It sounds like should of, would of, could of. Many writers simply write what they hear. Remember, ‘ve means have not of.

Passive is not active
Jim was pushed and kicked by the bully. Wrong

The bully pushed and kicked Jim. Correct

The first sentence is grammatically correct but it is passive—ho hum, yawn. Someone is doing something to John and we don’t find out the evil perpetrator until the end of the sentence. The second sentence is active. The vicious perpetrator is named immediately. The first part of the sentence engenders movement, excitement and emotion.
Limit the number of passive sentences in your novel.

The ing thing
Racing to the car, Charlie jumped in and jammed the key into the ignition.  Wrong

Charlie raced to the car, jumped in and jammed the key into the ignition.  Correct

Charlie doesn’t jump into the car and jam the key into the ignition while racing to the car. The actions in the sentences are sequential not simultaneous.
Don’t open a sentence with a -ing phrase unless the action occurring in that phrase happens at the same time as the action in the main part of the sentence.

Watching her again, John felt inspired.

I call these errors the tiny giants because of their devastating effect on your chances of publishing your manuscript. Don’t let these easily avoidable mistakes adversely affect your agent or publisher’s opinion of your writing skills.
By the way, remember that effect is generally considered a noun and affect is a verb.

More Writing Tips:
 5 Preventable Errors That Guarantee Rejection of Your Mystery Novel



  1. Thanks Nancy. Simple things but how often we forget, as least I do.


    • You’re right. I always have to review affect and effect.


  2. Well done, Mrs. C! Well done!


  3. Great post. I struggle with “The elegant pronoun: I” all the time. That little trick just might save me! I think I may have gotten the rules confused in elementary school and never got it straight… or perhaps I was right, but I slipped into a parallel dimension at some point in my life and all the rules changed… yeah, that must be it.


    • I love the sentence “I slipped into a parallel dimension.” I think I do that on a regular basis.


  4. Ing and Was pollute my MS. I always have to do searches for those little buggers. Thanks for this!


    • I think I’ve pretty much got mastery of “ing” but avoiding passive voice makes me crazy.


  5. […] Echoes 14.  Maggie Writes 15.  Souldipper 16.  Mirth & Motivation 17.  Naomi Notes 18.  Global Mysteries 19.  Footprints in the Sand 20.  Write Up My Life 21.   YOU!  . . . Yes, YOU!  If I read […]


  6. And then there’s “Me and Susan…” I don’t know how often people write that, but I hear it all the time.


    • “Me and Susan” is a pretty serious faux pas. Writers should use the simple “I/Me” test: Leave off the noun–Me walk or I walk. Which sounds correct?


  7. Students say “Me and Susan” all the time, unfortunately. I ride the bus nearly every day, and encounter high school and college kids.


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