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My Top 5 Book Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

Karen Osman

At a recent online book event, someone asked which of my three novels I thought was the best.

It wasn’t easy to answer; the truth is I love them all for different reasons, but in theory, my third novel, The Perfect Lie, should be my best work, because I’ve (hopefully!) learnt from any mistakes I made with my first two novels, The Good Mother and The Home. So, for this week’s blog post, I thought it might be useful to share my top five book-writing mistakes and how you can avoid them.


First of all, not every author outlines their book, but for me, an almost obsessive planner in pretty much every area of my life, I really struggled to write The Good Mother without an online. To this day, I’m not sure why I didn’t do that. It could be that I was still on a high from winning a writing prize but more than likely, I had the notion that my creativity would be diminished by something as academic as planning. Note to self: writing realms of pages with no idea where I was going stressed me out. And it’s hard to be creative when you’re stressed.

I had written over half the book before I finally gave in to my natural instincts and started mapping out the chapters. And while I had to get rid of some of my original work, needless to say, I wrote the second half much more quickly (and actually enjoyed it!).

TAKEAWAY: Outlining might not suit everyone, but I would urge all new writers to at least try planning before dismissing it – it will save you a lot of time, if nothing else!


During the writing of The Home, I set a writing goal of 1,000 words a day. I had easily managed that in the past, so I was surprised when at the end of the week, I had fallen short - not just by a few hundred words - but a couple of thousand. I couldn’t understand it – I was spending the same number of hours as usual each day but unable to reach the goal and the words just weren’t flowing. The following week, I aimed for the same goal but again fell short. This time, I understood what had happened. I was spending my valuable (and carefully guarded) writing time editing. Later, I discovered that the skills of editing and writing use two different sides of the brain and therefore it takes time to ‘switch’ between the two tasks.

TAKEAWAY: Write a first draft and then edit it. If that is too daunting, then try and edit your book in three or four big chunks rather than every page.


Confession time: I’ve actually written a whole book that’s never seen the light of day. If I think about it too much, it makes me want to cry – 80,000 words down the pan.

What made it worse was that I only had myself to blame. I knew pretty much right from the beginning that the idea for the book wasn’t lighting me up. You know what I’m talking about - that little spark you feel when something just ‘clicks.’

But I went ahead and wrote it anyway.

In fact, not only did I write it, but I actually rewrote it. There was no way I was letting all that work go to waste. It was only after my third rewrite and I was snapping at anyone who came near me, that my husband gently suggested that perhaps this book wasn’t meant to be.

TAKEAWAY: If you have an inkling that something isn’t working, trust your instincts or at least get a second opinion. Ultimately though, it’s you investing your time and energy (and most likely making sacrifices) so make sure you’re passionate about your idea from the start.


I would always urge new authors to write about what they know simply because it makes everything so much easier. With my first two novels, I followed my own rule, but with my third, The Perfect Lie, I wanted to branch out a little into a legal drama. The opening scene is set in a courtroom, the protagonist, Claire, owns her own law firm, so it’s fair to say that law was a significant element of the book of which I have no experience whatsoever and underestimated how much research I would need to do. Not something you want to discover when you’re on a tight deadline with a publisher! Luckily, I had more law contacts than I realized but it was a stressful couple of weeks wondering if I would get all the clarifications in time.

TAKEAWAY: If you’re a new writer, write what you know or if you do enjoy the research element, over-estimate the amount of time you need to conduct visits, interviews, and fact-checking.


Writing a book is so much more than just a way with words. It’s about self-mastery, discipline, determination, and an unwavering belief in yourself. In a nutshell, it’s a mental game. When I won the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Prize, it gave me a huge confidence boost - a literary agent had recognised talent in my work and was interested in representing me. My confidence solidified when my agent sold my debut novel for a three-book deal. For the next three years, I would write a book a year. The first year, I was giddy with success and seeing my novel in bookshops was the of the most thrilling moments of my life.

And then I started writing my second book.

Slowly, the self-doubt began to creep in and I began to question my ability. Had I just got lucky? Yes, I’d published one book, but could I pull it off again? And then a third time? The more I allowed the negative self-talk, the harder it was to write.

TAKEAWAY: Every thought in the brain causes a chemical reaction so pay attention to what you’re telling yourself about writing a book – work on replacing negative language with positive and inspiring affirmations.


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I'm Karen, a best-selling novelist who left her corporate life to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've written everything from travel articles to web copy before winning a novel writing competition which led to a 3-book deal. 


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