Why Bad Writing is Almost Always Mistaken for Good Writing.

Bad writing is naturally mistaken for good writing. That’s because unlike good writing, bad writing hoards attention. Bad writing brags of the writer’s knowledge, skill, and creativity. Bad writers mistake obtuseness for creativity, and essential clarity for “profundity”.

A skilled writer disappears. As a friend recently said, “Good art is like a clear window; it’s meant to be seen through.” After reading good writing we remember the lesson, the story, the point.  We forget the writer.

Good writing, like good art, is humble. It doesn’t scream its own presence. It submits.

When someone puts down your writing, what do they say?

“He was a great writer!” Or,

“I’m changed.”

That’s the difference.

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  • sethhaines

    Coming from Lore Ferguson’s place. Glad I did.

    • nmcdonal

      Me too, Seth.

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    What do they say when they finish reading my stuff?
    “Where’s the number of that psychiatrist your cousin told us about? I think I have a referral for her.”

    • nmcdonal

      Well, that’s what they say about all the greats! Keep telling myself that, keep telling myself that, keep telling myself that…

      • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

        “Keep telling myself that, keep telling myself that, keep telling myself that…”
        Hey, how did you know what the voice in my head keeps saying to me?

  • Jeannie P

    When people put down my writing, they put down my writing. “Too many adverbs! Not enough vampires!”

    • nmcdonal

      LOL. You make me crack up.

  • Ethan Ezikian

    This put into words something I’ve been chewing on for a while.

    I have found a lot of writing (or art in general) to have a unmistakable twinge of over-indulgence on the part of the artist; as if the author had too much fun with his thesaurus and then was unwilling to make any edits.

    I’ve recently fell in love with C.S. Lewis’s “Space Trilogy” because it left me thinking more deeply about real life even though it was a work of fiction. Now there’s a piece of great writing!

    Thanks for a great little nugget of thought!

    • nmcdonal

      “An unmistakable twinge of over-indulgence.” Well put, my friend.

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  • http://scribingthejourney.com/ Duane Scott

    Thank you for writing this. I agree whole-heartedly and I always say, I’d rather write something that’s timeless, that my grandchildren can someday read and be left better for having done so.

  • http://michellederusha.com/ Michelle DeRusha

    Came over from Seth Haines’ place. I read this three times. It’s good (though I must admit, now I’m worried I’m a bad writer!).

  • http://www.natashametzler.com/ Natasha Metzler


    I try not to think too hard on my writing, perhaps because I judge myself more harshly than most anyone else. So, to be honest, I don’t know if I’m a good writer or a bad writer. I just write. And hope that it is enough.

  • Jeff Martinez

    I disagree.