It’s easy to see problems and mistakes in another writer’s work, but spotting your own “bad writing” (mistakes and weaknesses) is a whole different story. These signs of bad writing will help you improve your written words.
If don’t know how to edit your work, read Fix Your Damn Book! How to Painlessly Edit Your Novels & Stories by James Osiris Baldwin. You’ll learn the seven essential components of successful editing and how to get into the right headspace to edit your own writing. Baldwin will also teach you how to objectively diagnose problems in your manuscript and show you effective hacks for sharpening your story, character, and dialogue.
The following signs of bad writing will help you see a few signs of bad writing, but you’ll need more editing and revising practice. These tips don’t include (the more obvious) grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation errors; they go beyond that, and they’ll help improve your editing and writing skills…which could translate to more magazine assignments, book contracts, or blog readers!
“You know what bad writing is, I know what bad writing is, everybody knows what it is,” writes Bill Stott in Write to the Point. “But so far as I know there is no definition of it.”
It’s not enough to know that an article or book is badly written, or to recognize that a piece of writing is lifeless or erroneous. Successful writers take it a step further, and identify exactly what cripples their writing. Successful writers know – and can fix – their wobbly transitions, flabby descriptions, and knotty nouns.
5 Signs of Bad Writing
Recognizing and editing your own poorly written work is difficult, especially if you don’t have a clear idea of what “poorly written” actually means! When you’re editing your work, watch for these oft-overlooked writing problems – they’re from Stott’s excellent Write to the Point.
1. Illogical, confusing, or nonexistent transitions
Whether you’re writing a book chapter, magazine article, blog post, or email to your grandpappy, you need to connect your sentences, weld together your paragraphs, and unite your sections/book chapters/ideas. Confused readers jump ship, and there’s nothing more confusing than ideas that aren’t clearly explained.
To make your writing flow, eliminate leaps of logic or black holes. (This is why putting your writing aside for a few weeks or months is helpful, because when you edit something you’ve just written, you’re less likely to see those problems with transition).
2. Vague, unclear writing
Are you writing about happy people (too vague), or relieved cancer survivors (better, because it’s more specific)? Is the dog in your chapter nice, or does the Shitzu save people from burning buildings?
The more specific and clear you are about the events, places, and characters in your writing, the happier and more loyal your readers (and editors) will be. Poorly written work often contains words and ideas that are nebulous and difficult to comprehend. To eliminate this sign of bad writing, be specific and concrete.
3. Lack of purpose
“The chief weakness in most writing is lack of purpose, point, thesis, argument,” writes Stott in Write to the Point. “You must make claims. That’s the point [of writing].”
What’s the main point of your blog post? What are you trying to convince the magazine readers to do, think, or believe? Why are you including Chapter 10 in your book? Find your purpose, fellow scribes, and make sure everything in that piece of writing points to it.
4. Flat characters, unconvincing statements, poor arguments
You don’t need to be writing a nonfiction argumentative essay to be unconvincing!
A character description can be unconvincing, a blog post can be feeble, even an email can be seen as “poorly written” if it lacks concrete examples to support its point.
For example, if you email your hubby after she leaves for work in the morning to tell her about the messy state of the kitchen, you’re better off describing the oatmeal dripping off the counters and the grape jelly on the floor than just complaining about “the mess.”
5. Lifeless writing
More than one editor has asked me for edgy and quirky writing, because it keeps readers hooked. Lifeless writing isn’t necessarily bad writing (depending, of course, on how you define bad writing!), but it’s not interesting writing. And, some writers argue that if writing isn’t interesting, then it’s poorly written. When you’re revising your writing, look for ways to add a little pizzazz!
What do you think about editing your own poorly written work or recognizing signs of bad writing? Please comment below! And, if you spot examples of poor writing in this blog post, feel free to mention it…I welcome your feedback.
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