Becoming a writer is hard work. Depending on the genre you’re writing for, this profession comes with a host of rules to abide by, along with many things to learn (and sometimes unlearn).
With every chapter I write, it seems I learn something new, or I forget to implement what I’ve learned. My most common mistake is using the wrong words. It’s embarrassing.
More importantly, the definition of the correct words and that of the wrong words are vastly different and can be the deciding factor in getting your books published. Misused words prove counter-productive and are bound to mislead your readers. These mistakes, however, aren’t life-threatening and no one is going to barge into your home and eat you because you made this mistake. Be encouraged. If you and I were the only ones making this mistake, there wouldn’t be any need for the reference books I listed below to be in print, would it? Over time, with good, diligent, proofreading habits, you will catch your mistakes and become a better writer.
The four books I heavily rely on to help minimize mistakes are: Style – Lessons in Clarity and Grace – Ninth Edition by Joseph M. Williams; How to Not Right Bad Rite Bad Wright Bad Write Bad by Ben Yagoda; Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnik; and Word Savvy by Nancy Ragno. Each book is filled with examples applied to the principles of writing. They also include a list of common misused words, especially Word Savvy (on page 138). You may save money by purchasing these books used through Amazon.com.
A book I inadvertently omitted from the list above is The Well-Spoken Thesaurus by Tom Heehler. The thing I love most about The Well-Spoken Thesaurus and Word Savvy is that the authors don’t spend a lot of time listening to themselves talk. They get straight to the point and provide numerous examples. Word Savvy even has quizzes and work exercises. These are quick reference books for the ages.
In addition to using these books, I have also saved wordsmyth.net into my web browser so that it’s always at my fingertips. You may have a favorite dictionary or thesaurus you like to use. If so, make sure it’s in your web browser. Use it often.
The last tip I want to share is: learn how to read exactly what you have written. This is a hard one. I stumble over this all the time. However, it is important because once you post or publish your writing, often it can’t be undone. Be diligent about proofreading your work. Don’t be shy about asking someone to proof it for you. Don’t ask a friend. They’ll coddle you and this won’t do you any good. You need an objective eye to help you through the editing process. If the people you know are too busy, present them with only a few pages at a time.
Below is a list of misused words I have encountered, but there are many more. Refer to the books I noted above, or Google frequently misused words on the internet.
Sequence – an arrangement or process in which one thing follows another
Sequin – a small shiny flat disk usually sewn in great numbers onto clothing as decoration
Anecdote – a brief account of a notable or humorous incident; a story, tale, narrative
Antidote – a substance that counteracts poison or disease
Odious (which I wrote as Idious) – provoking or deserving of hatred; despicable, detestable
Hideous – exceptionally ugly or frightening in appearance; repulsive
Scuff – to drag the feet along while walking; shuffle
Scoff – speak with mild scorn or derision
Principle – a law, doctrine, or assumption on which action or behavior is based
Principal – first in status, value, or importance, chief, main
Effect – something produced or brought on by something else; ability to bring about a change or result
Affect – to influence, cause a change in, or have an impact on; to move emotionally, touch
Poke – to jab, prod, especially with a slender or sharp object
Pout – to show unhappiness or displeasure, especially by pushing out the lips; sulk; scowl
Donna B. Comeaux
Freelance Writer, Poet, Author