Tag Archives: good writing vs. bad writing

The Gap Between Your Ambition and Your Actual Terrible Writing

Everyone who attempts to be creative, and writers not the least, know the feeling of envisioning a super-awesome story or artwork or song. Excitement courses through your veins! This will be a masterpiece! And then… you try to create it. It sounds/looks/is terrible. There’s an enormous gap between what you want to create, and what you’re able to create with the skills you currently have.

Ira Glass advises us that this is a good thing. I hope he’s right, because I know this feeling all too well. In the beginning, he says, you have to feel your work isn’t as good as it needs to be. It means you have good taste. (I’d like to believe this is true in my case!) The challenge is to not get discouraged, and keeping fighting through this!

This bit of advice for beginners has been wonderfully illustrated in comic form by Gavin Aung Than – I’m going to post the first bit of the comic here, but please follow the link to see the whole comic and read all of Ira Glass’s advice! Gavin Aung Than also did the sweet comic using a quote from Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin & Hobbes) that’s been spreading around the internet, so I think his comics should really be viewed on his own website. But here’s the first part of the Ira Glass one, to give you a taste:

comic 2


Is this a familiar feeling, to all you writers out there?

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Filed under On Writing

My NaNoWriMo Update!

I finished my 50 000 novel. Yay! However, I clearly thought I could keep up with my novel and post regularly on this blog as well, and that… didn’t go as smoothly. But here’s a post to remind all you lovely readers that I have not forgotten you. 🙂

I learned quite a few things from writing a novel in a month (something I never doubted I could do, but still, something I’d just never done before). However, I’ll just outline two things here:

1.) It’s true you don’t have to feel inspired to write. Sit down with a pen and paper (if you’re like me and still write by hand… otherwise, sure, pull out that laptop), and write something. It might be terrible strings of words. But so often, after a couple of pages of absolutely awful prose, you put down a scene that it actually good. Something that connects with what you actually meant to be writing all along. And you can put down your pen at the end and feel good about writing after all.

Forcing yourself to write a novel in a month really drives this lesson home.

2.) Number one is still true. At the same time – every once in a while there are days where you just cannot write. I think I had only one or two days where, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get my word count for the day. There are days where your brain just doesn’t work properly for some reason.

BUT, the important thing to remember is – you can’t predict a good writing day versus a bad one ahead of time! Many days I thought would be bad turned out to be productive. So the trick is, as so many other writers have emphasized, is to just write every day. Even if those terrible, blocked days do actually exist, and make a writer’s life miserable… the good days absolutely make up for it.


By the way, my writer’s profile on the NaNoWriMo site is here, if you’re interested. Did you participate in NaNoWriMo? And if you did, did you learn anything?

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Filed under Randoms & My Life

It’s the Readers’ Fault! Why Bad Writing is Called Good

OR: Don’t Blame Them, They Didn’t Notice the Difference Anyway

page 61, by D’Arcy Norman. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Authors agonize over metaphors. They might spend ages debating word choice. They careful revise their sentence structure. What would you say if someone told you readers rarely notice this kind of thing anyway?

I’m a poor student, and like many a poor student I participate in psych research studies in exchange for meagre bits of cash. The last one I attended was rather intriguing – they were looking at whether readers actually remembered the specific word choice of the author, or if all those lovingly chosen metaphors just slipped from their memory moments after reading it.

This study tested this by having us read a story, and then giving up examples of sentences that could’ve been in the story. We had to say whether the words were exactly the same as in the story, probably the same, probably not the same, or not the same at all. I am not confident I answered them all correctly.

Now, this wasn’t about whether the reader forgot the whole story. Readers usually remember ‘how the story goes,’ and its general meaning for quite awhile. But, these researchers pointed out, the difference between “exceptional examples of literature and more mundane prose”* is the sentence structure. There are many stories dealing with themes of love, death etc., but one author’s writing is considered superior to another’s because of the wording. It is the metaphors, the language, and the word choice that elevates a good story to a great one. Except – readers don’t even notice these things on their first read-through! In other words, they could be reading fine literature or complete trash, and on their first reading they won’t even notice the difference.

When I heard this, I was amazed. But it explains a few things. Like how people can insist “The Da Vinci Code” and “Twilight” are well-written. Actually, research indicates that the true value of a text only become apparent after SEVERAL readings, and much study. And since most of your average readers left that kind of analysis behind them in English class, a lot of bad writing can become very popular.

It also takes a bit of a weight off my mind. Even if my prose is not as lofty as that of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Shakespeare, I might become popular anyway. But, on the other hand, that means the reason I am slaving over this perfect description of my main character’s inner turmoil is only to impress a bunch of fusty literary critics in ivory towers. Or maybe English teachers.

Oh well. I’ve come to the conclusion that all I can do is to write as well as I can, and hope that people like it. I still believe good writing can give a general atmosphere to a story that may not be achieved with bad writing, even if the reader cannot remember the specific words you used. Not that I’ve done any psych research to back this up.

Do you agree that sentence structure is one of the important things that separate the “exceptional” writer from the “mundane”*? Does it matter to you if the reader doesn’t even notice what you’ve put so much effort into?


*The quote I asterisked comes from the debriefing sheet I received after participating in this study.  I would cite it properly, but it doesn’t provide an author. It does, however, state the researchers involved are Dr. Peter Dixon and Dr. Marisa Bortolussi, so I hope mentioning them is adequate.


Filed under On Writing, Twilight