What If My Writing Stinks, and I Don’t Know It?

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“I was given a manuscript to read, but it was so bad I sent it back/deleted it immediately.”

“A friend asked me to read their writing. I tried, but I couldn’t think of anything nice to say, so I just gave it back and said I didn’t have the time.”

“I wrote my first novel and it still sits in my garage- I was so proud of it at the time, but now I realize how awful it is.”

Sound familiar? If you’ve poked around in the world of writing at all, you’ve probably run into stories like these.

These stories speak to the deepest, most neurotic corner of my heart, and they tell me one thing:

“Your writing is possibly, even probably awful, and you’re just too close to see it.”

The temptation to burn the whole mess, (in effigy of course, let’s not get crazy here. I still want my laptop for recipes,) is strong. Just kill the story, move on with non-creative pursuits, stay happy and safe from rejection. I’d sure get more house cleaning done…

Deep breaths. Stay calm.

Writing is an art. Taste is subjective, BUT there are definite markers for good vs. flame-worthy.

The following are a few things I’ve tried, hoping to ensure quality.

  1. Find Safe Readers.

I’ve run into a great deal of professional advice telling me not to lean on people I know as readers- especially not relatives or friends. As a newbie to this whole ‘biz, I’m going to come right out and say I ignored this. I needed readers who were going to leave me unbloodied from my first exposure as an adult author.

I was fortunate to have people who were both very literate, and honest enough to let me know if the overall project should probably be kept ‘just for me.’ After my book passed the eyes of four people I trusted, it was ready for the next step.

  1. Find ‘Scary’ Readers

I entered my novel- a much earlier draft- in the Athanatos Christian Writing Contest. I made the first judging cut, (yay!) but not the finals, (sigh.) Besides the experience of exposing my writing to professional scrutiny, I received a whoooole bunch of feedback.

Warning: Taking professional feedback was hard.

Still, once I got over the initial “But…but…but…” reaction to some of the constructive criticism, I was able to put it to work for me, and come out with a MUCH stronger draft of the story than I started with. The experience was valuable and enlightening.

  1. EDIT.

I’m not sure WHAT draft I’m officially on, and I still find sentences that could be strengthened and errors that I taught students to avoid. I’ve read, reread, taken a break and then read again. Articles by other authors have been invaluable in pointing out common errors- apparently I am very fond of adverbs, and unnecessary speech tags.

  1. Read Aloud

Especially in the case of dialogue, something might look great in type, but once you say the words you realize they sound bad enough to make angels weep.   I hyperbolize, but seriously, reading aloud has helped me pay more attention to word choice and flow. My kids look at me like I’m crazy as I go around talking to myself, but they did that anyway.

  1. Read Other Books

Apparently my female protagonist’s name was an extremely overused one. Who knew?

Avoiding clichés is easier if you know what other authors have written. Also, excellent authors encourage me to rethink word choices, to stretch and to grow.

  1. Don’t give up!

If we give up, we’ll never succeed, or even improve! If one piece doesn’t pan out, the next might be better!

Besides, let’s face reality. If I give up now, the house won’t really get any cleaner- I’ll just be out one more excuse.

Writers, do you have any tips to share that strengthen your writing and allay your fears? I first posted this one a year ago, and I’m on another wild editing spree- I could use them! 😀

Thanks as always for visiting!

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26 Replies to “What If My Writing Stinks, and I Don’t Know It?”

  1. Great post here! I’ve had such a hard time finding readers–as in people who express interest and then follow through–that i take betas wherever i can find them. I know to take their praise lightly and try to read between the lines in case they care too much about my feelings. 🙂

    It’s so hard trying to figure out if your writing is heading in the right direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yes, the “follow through” is the key, isn’t it? And whenever someone says they’ll read my stuff and they don’t, or don’t say anything afterwards the paranoia sets in- they must hate it and just wont tell me lol!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These are such excellent tips. Thank you, Anne. I think you are right about that first batch going to people who will be honest but kind. Then you can buckle down for round two. And editing always makes things better!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, my little ones always look weird at me, too. 🙂 And I spent 8 years on the WIP that is finally getting published, and even then the editor’s finding all sorts of new things to edit away! It’s a process that never seems to quite end. Grrrr!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Anne – I’m sure one of the most difficult decisions is to move oneself away from one’s own manuscript and appreciate the comments, ideas, and suggested changes one receives … interesting, and such a sensible, post – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Anne, great article. I think we all have those dread moments. I always think, well even if no one else likes my writing, I like it. lol

    I have to admit I’ve been given ARCs to read that I couldn’t finish. Usually, I find they are not edited either personally or professionally. Or my big bug-bear, head hopping within paragraphs. I think so many people can forget to spend time checking their POV.

    It’s easily done. My WIP is riddled with it, so I have marker slashes all over to remind me to go back and sort the POV out.

    I agree, I think our first readers need to be someone we trust, who loves us, who can ease us gently into the critique. My partner is my alpha reader and his voices takes on this soft soothing tone whenever we discuss my chapters lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like a good guy! My hubby’s a great reader too, and better with punctuation rules than I am, which is helpful 😉
      I haven’t caught myself head hopping TOO much, but right now I’m digging in to try to make the POV deeper. I keep finding things I miss- I think if/when it’s out there for other people to see, I’ll just have to never read it again so that I don’t find more things I want to change!
      And I agree- the ultimate thing is if you can be happy with and proud of your own writing.
      Best wishes with all of your projects!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Good advice. I’d also say accept that we can’t write for everyone. I used to tell my stories to a work colleague and his dad. The dad laughed maybe twice. The son always groaned and laughed. Just got to accept some people won’t like what we do. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “I’m not sure WHAT draft I’m officially on.” Love that quote, Anne. I understand that one. I like the read-aloud advice. I also read WIPs on my Kindle and use the speak-selected-text option on my laptop. It’s an eye-opener. I’m sharing this on this month’s Share the Love post. Great encouragement.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There are all sorts of rules and expectations that judges employ over submissions. You must study those and learn to apply these “tricks”. I have learned from a select group of books. My site lists some of them. Keep learning! You WILL get where you want to go with your writing.

    Liked by 2 people

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