Comparing My Writing Mistakes to This YouTube Video by Alexa Donne

Even though I’ve called myself a writer for most of my life, it’s been quite some time since I’ve completed a manuscript. Or even a complete story thought. And many times over the last year or two I’ve revisited things like grammar, story structure and technique.

Quite recently I called myself out for getting lazy with word choice when it comes to blogging. What about my actual writing? I know the words I overuse, and I keep a list in a drawer for reference whenever it’s time to edit a work in progress. They’re mostly a combination of filler words that annoy me.

So I’ve turned to YouTube, even though I prefer reading other blog posts on this subject matter. Whether it’s short form or long form content, there’s so much useful information out there that it really shouldn’t matter how it’s presented in today’s day and age. As long as it’s presented in a way viewers can easily process, then all’s well and good.

Today’s blog post is based off a YouTube video by content creator Alexa Donne. It’s titled: The WORST Amateur Writing Mistakes | 22 Novice Writer Issues. Do any of the following find their way into your work? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points? I’m going to go through them each one by one to see if I do them. I know I probably am guilty of half the list, even without having watched the video!

From her website: Alexa Donne is the author of Brightly Burning and The Stars We Steal, YA sci-fi romance retellings of classics set in space out now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her YA thriller, THE IVIES, is set in the world of competitive college admissions, out now from Crown/Random House. Her next one, PRETTY DEAD QUEENS, a dark small town secrets love letter to Murder, She Wrote releases October 4, 2022. A graduate of Boston University, she works in TV marketing and has done pro bono college admissions mentoring since 2014. A true INFJ, in her “free” time she mentors with WriteGirl, runs the Author Mentor Match program, and manages one of the most popular writing advice channels on YouTube. She lives in Los Angeles with three cats. You can find her in most places @alexadonne.

1. Tense Shifting

Omg omg omg. I’m called out with the first one! hahaha! I’ve always been told that my settings are great, but when it comes to my character’s actions my tenses switch. In my early writing days it’s because I had a hard time grasping the concept of tense, and I still struggle with it a bit. I’ve always hated using “had been,” so that’s why I began reading more. Tip: find an author’s style you love and analyze it. I need to find a book I read recently (cannot remember the title at the moment) and study it because I fell in love with her style. Her tense never shifted. My tense shifting issues is why I never won any online writing contest I entered!

2. Info Dumping

Oof. Yup. This is something any author can get stuck in, but I think it’s especially prevalent in historical fiction, no matter its subgenre. We want to show off what we know, or provide all the character’s background before we begin the story. I end up doing this a lot when I’m developing a WIP, because I want to get it out of my head. I think this is also why I get discouraged so easily. I don’t know how to work this info naturally, organically into the story overall. So I info dump. How do I hope to fix this in the future? By including it in my outline, or a separate kind of outline. I don’t know if I’m reading to hang up my pen (so to speak) just yet. Maybe I need to attack a new project to see if I still have it? Okay, this whole section is just one big info dump, isn’t it? Moving on.

3. Excessive Dialog Tags

“I said,” “she said,” “he said.” Humans don’t really think this way, so why should we write dialogue this way? This is something I’ve worked on myself already, and find annoying when I see it in published stories. So this one I don’t think I have to worry about all that much. Yay! Does this mean I’ve “leveled up” as a writer? Onto the next…

4. OTT/Telling Dialogue Tags

She calls this “overly telling,” and expands upon point number three. It’s an “overboard” way of explaining every single action a character is doing as they’re speaking. Think “smirked,” “hissed,” etc. I have seen it in some historical fiction novels, but usually at times when a scene is ramping up as a way to express a character’s current emotion. Now I can’t say I’ve ever used this particular tag, but I think it calls for some more research!

5. Repetitive Sentence Structure

Sentences that start the same way. This is exactly why I try to not write in first person. This is how I tend to write my first drafts and go back later to rework it into something special. So is this a current amateur writing problem of mine? In a way. But at least I’m aware of it! That’s a step in the right direction, right?

6. Melodrama

She talks a lot about fan fiction writing in this video, but even that’s not a foreign concept to me. Why? Because I used to write both Supernatural and Star Trek fan fiction, long before I even knew that was an actual thing. If I wanted melodrama, I added it because I knew I was the only one who’d ever read it. And, as one who appreciates faster pacing than most, I know this is something I’m going to work on even more in my next WIP. No soap opera writing for this lady.

7. Redundant Writing

Extra words to make a point. Of course, this always depends on the author’s overall writing style. Sometimes I catch these words in editing and they’re there because I couldn’t decide which way I wanted the sentence to go. One could argue that the “redundant writing” is there because they wanted to emphasize something, but I don’t know. Do you think this is a terrible thing? I guess I’d have to see an example to really decide.

8. Grammar/Usage Errors

She categorizes this one as overuse of run on sentences, tense issues, improper punctuation and so on. What may have been acceptable in grammar a hundred years ago may not be today. Example: I think the opening paragraph for Anne of Green Gables is one big sentence, with individual thoughts separated by semicolons. Many readers will find that hard to digest, but it was accepted as normal in 1908. “Make your writing readable for today’s audience,” she says. And I agree.

9. Filler Scenes/Excessive Description

She describes this as characters ending up in random places and having random conversations. Every scene needs to have a connected purpose to the rest of the story. I found myself getting stuck in this rut with a science fantasy I attempted a year or two ago. I wanted to set the stage, every stage, with as much description as I could because I just loved setting the scene so much. I know for a fact this is what bogged my writing down. I still love setting scenes. I just have trouble with plotting…

10. Poor Pacing

This is a problem I KNOW I have. I love beginning my WIPs with a bang, but then the action fizzles out and I don’t know what to do with the narrative after that. Maybe I’m better suited for short stories? Now there’s an idea… short stories where the character’s overall story is told via mini adventures? Hmmm… But you always know you’ve found a good book when its pacing progress along with all other story elements

11. Clunky Exposition via Dialogue

She explains this as one of your characters just revealing information to another character, often without being prompted or having the info all along. The “overly knowledgeable” characters are always annoying. “Here’s what I knew all along but decided against telling you and disappeared for 95% of the book while you struggled.” No. I avoid these characters at all cost. Not a fan of reading them, either. Also seen as another form of an “info dump” but told through a character.

12. Word Counts of Whack

This one I didn’t understand at first. But it’s when word counts don’t match what’s usually expected for the genre. I am a chronic under-writer. I tend to not embellish in places that need it, and over embellish in others. This has led to consistent word count issues. Perhaps short stories really may be my thing? I think I need to explore this in the near future.

13. All A Plot, No B Plot

I’ve seen this a lot in books recently, where the “b plots” fizzle out and conclude before the main plot. I adore a book where the author is able to connect all the little plots back to the main one, and they aren’t just seemingly random ideas. I think this is why I have trouble myself with plotting as a whole. I put all my effort into the A Plot and hardly any into the subs.

14. Flat Characters

This is when characters don’t feel real. I’ll admit I have a hard time with this when it comes to my secondary characters moreso than primary ones. I always do some form of character interview process for my mains so I can keep all their info straight. Or, if I base a character off a real life figure, I shy away from taking too much liberty for fear of getting something wrong. I’m far too literal for my own good sometimes, and I know I need to work on this a bit more.

15. Excessive Capitalization

I must say I’m proud of myself for this one. I’m a stickler when it comes to properly capitalizing things that need it. So there’s really not much I can say about this one except if it doesn’t need capitalized, don’t!

16. Head Hopping

This is when the POV changes from one character to another. This is usually when a story loses me and I cannot tell who’s POV we’re supposed to be in. This is also why I prefer reading books with no more than two POVs, and writing stories with only two POVs as well. What can I say? I get sidetracked very easily. I don’t think I’ve ever actually “head hopped,” so I can thankfully say that this isn’t one of my own writing problems.


This is one of the most commonly given pieces of writing advice you’ll see on the internet, though Alexa doesn’t go into the whole “show, don’t tell” tirade, per say. Let the reader experience the story rather than fully explaining everything. It’s almost the same as “info dumping.” Telling instead of having an active story. Yup…this is a skill I need to work on even more!

18. Poor Story (Internal) Logic

Why do antagonists do what they do? What are a protagonist’s motives for the story? They should still have some form of logic and reasons for what they do and why. This does trip me up a lot, and goes long with my plotting issues. Now are you understanding why I have trouble finishing manuscripts? Yup. That’ll be why.

19. Purple Prose/Overwriting

Not everything has to be fancy, especially in today’s market. However, I do feel some of what we had in the classics has been lost over time. That’s why they’re classics. One just has to find the right balance and their own writing style for it to work. Do I have trouble with overwriting? No. But I do love a good descriptive scene from time to time…

20. Stiff, Formal Writing

No contractions? No basic cues? That’s not normal. What was accepted even twenty years (and what I was taught in grade school), may be accepted now. And even as a kid I didn’t like formal writing, so I don’t think this is a mistake I make…too much!

21. Too Many Characters

This is why I have trouble writing excessively long stories: it’s easy to fall into the “too many characters” trap. This is also why I largely abandoned my science fantasy idea, because the player list was way too long. Everyone needs to know why they’re there. They can’t just always be that random coworker or a henchman with his own POV segment. I learned early on that I need a core group of characters that I can fully run with and develop.

22. Perfect, Passive Characters

Flawless, precious, and the character every other character loves. This is the character who’s just in the story to have their story told without much else going for him/her. Some writers love killing off their characters in the worst ways possible, and others hardly touch them. I’m not sure yet which category I fall under, but my mind immediately went to the scene in FRIENDS where Joey’s soap opera character gets the elevator shaft. Don’t think I could call Joey a perfect, passive character; I just wanted to use it as an example!

In a recent blog post I lamented about my lack of writing as of late. Well, I think it’s safe to say that this YouTube video made me want to take on a project again. To see if I “still got it.” I will admit I’ve lost confidence over the last year. So….maybe? According to this list, my amateur writing mistakes are:

  1. Tense Shifting
  2. Repetitive Sentence Structure
  3. Word Counts out of Whack
  4. All A Plot, No B Plot
  5. Telling
  6. Poor Story Logic

Out of a twenty-two point list, six isn’t all that bad!

Do any of these amateurish writing mistakes look familiar to you? We can’t all be perfect all the time. But I think that as long as we recognize our own writing faux pas, that alone can pave the way to becoming a better writer!

1 Comment

  1. Iseult Murphy says:

    This is a great list! I’m so glad you’re starting a new project!!

    Oh, I’ve been guilty of all of these, and I see them all in writers who are just starting out. I ones I still have to look out for are repetitive sentence structure and redundant writing.

Leave a Reply

Budding #historian. Writer of #adventures and #sciencefantasy. Lover of mushrooms and libraries. Fan of #chocolate, #books and Pennsylvania history.

Translate »