NaNoWriMo: Common Writing Mistakes

It’s the second week of National Novel Writing Month, and the momentum of last week has (thankfully) carried over into week 2. I’m still ahead of my word count. Barely. I know it goes against the spirit of the high velocity approach to writing that is NaNoWriMo, but I’ve been going back and revising my work. *GASP!* When you’re planning bank heists, you need the hindsight to make the plan understandable sophisticated enough carry the plot.

What troubled me during my look back on my writing from week one was how many errors I found. Usually when I write I edit as I go, but because of the write-now-read-later nature of NaNoWriMo I’ve found more errors than I care to admit to. The most common errors I’ve made in my haste to the November 31st finish line are also very common to –if social media is any indication—the general English speaking public.

So, for my fellow WriMos, I’d like to give you a quick checklist of the most common spelling and grammar mistakes in order to save you some of the stresses that will accompany your revision efforts.

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Autocorrect and spellchecker can be life savers when speed writing a novel. That being said, there’s no replacement for actually reading your work. Using spellcheck doesn’t help you when you’ve spelled the wrong word correctly. Here are a few homonyms that can sneak past your word processors like stealthy little saboteurs.

  • their (possessive form of they)
  • there (in that place)
  • they’re (contraction of they are)
  • accept (a verb, meaning to receive or to admit to a group)
  • except (usually a preposition, meaning but or only)
  • who’s (contraction of who is or who has)
  • whose (possessive form of who)
  • its (possessive form of it)
  • it’s (contraction of it is or it has)
  • your (possessive form of you)
  • you’re (contraction of you are)
  • affect (usually a verb, meaning to influence)
  • effect (usually a noun, meaning result)
  • than (used in comparison)
  • then (refers to a time in the past)
  • were (form of the verb to be)
  • we’re (contraction of we are)
  • where (related to location or place)

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When writing from your imagination, it’s easy to follow a train of thought right of its tracks and jump onto another set without even realizing it—especially if you aren’t revising as you write. My most common grammar error has to be muddling my meaning with modifiers. Misplaced or dangling modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses not clearly connected to the word they modify, though they may make sense to you at the time they are written. Move a misplaced modifier closer to the word it describes, or revise a sentence to give a dangling modifier a word to modify.

  • A rabbit’s teeth are never used for defense even when cornered.

Huh? Why would a rabbit have cornered teeth?

  • Even when cornered, a rabbit never uses its teeth for defense.

Oh, ok. That makes more sense.



Punctuation errors can be among the easiest to make. The comma button is right by the period, and semicolons can be intimidating if you don’t know how to properly use one, but the most common punctuation error I have found in my own writing and that of others is misusing the apostrophe. I don’t know what it is, but every time a word ends with an S my pinky finger instinctively heads in that direction. Apostrophes are needed when the word shows that one thing belongs to another

  • Overambitious plans are the bank robber’s downfall.

You could also put the apostrophe after the S if you are talking about multiple robbers.

…or if you’re using a contraction.

  • It’s a nice day, go out into the sun and share its happiness.

Though “its” is possessive, the contraction to mean “it is” takes the apostrophe.

I hope this helps anyone who has found the lightness of their fingers get in the way of the weight of their meaning.

What common errors do often make when you speed-type?