The Write Practice

The Online Writing Workbook

Top 5 Reasons You’re Not a Good Writer

Last week I asked you what you think the basics of writing well are. Today, we’re going to talk about the five biggest pitfalls that are hurting your writing.

Why am I not a good writer

Photo by Drew Coffman (Creative Commons)

You CAN Be a Good Writer

If you find writing difficult, you’re not alone. Most people struggle with writing, even many of the best writers. Writing uses different parts of the brain than speaking, and so even if your speaking skills rival President Obama’s, you might find writing very difficult. Unfortunately, so many people believe they’ll never be a good writer, so what’s the point in trying.

However, this attitude could actually be hurting your career. Employers say writing skills are one of the main areas they focus on for hiring, and a recent Time Magazine article said “60% of employers say applicants lack ‘communication and interpersonal skills.'”

I recently had several top managers at companies contact me for advice on how to train their employees to write better. One friend who works in the government complained to me about the horrible writing he has to deal with from top level officials, some of which he has to painstakingly edit before sending to Congress.

Writing skills are more important in today’s economy than ever. Isn’t it time you became a better writer? (share that on twitter?)

Five Pitfalls to Writing Well

The good news is that learning to write doesn’t have to be hard if you avoid these five pitfalls. Let’s take a look at what’s holding back your writing.

1. You don’t have an opinion.

You may not be a very opinionated person, but to be a good writer, you need to do two things: have an opinion and back it up.

Say what you mean, and if you don’t know what you mean, write until you do know what you mean and edit the rest out afterward. The best writing is clear and simple. Bad writing, on the other hand, is vague and convoluted. The worst thing you can do is write an email or an article with five paragraphs that don’t really say anything.

Don’t be vague! It could be killing your writing.

2. You don’t edit your writing after your first draft.

A little editing covers a multitude of writing sins.

Writing well is less about learning big words and secret grammar nuances and more about developing simple habits.

Most of your writing issues could be fixed if you took the extra ten minutes to re-read your writing, preferably out loud, and then fix your mistakes. It’s simple. As you read what you’ve written, just ask yourself, “What sounds weird in this sentence?” When you find something, re-write it until it sounds right.

Editing isn’t just for articles and essays. You should also re-read and edit your emails and company memos, as well as your Facebook and Twitter posts. There’s no reason you should be disqualified for a job because the email containing your resume had an awkward sentence.

Editing may take extra time, but not doing it could be costing you money.

3. You think too much about your first draft.

Chances are you’re spending too much time writing a first draft and not enough time editing.

Because of the way our brains are wired, it’s more difficult to create while also trying to critique. It’s much easier to spend time writing a quick outline or “flash draft” of your main ideas, and then go back and edit them to make them sound good.

If you want to have more fun writing and really feel like a “pro,” writing quickly first, then going back to edit will really help.

4. You use overly technical language.

One mistake smart people often make is trying to make their writing more complicated, using lots of technical terms and formal language.

Surprisingly though, readers say complicated writing actually sounds less intelligent than writing that is clear and simple.

Of course, simple, clear writing takes a lot longer to write than vague, complicated writing, which is probably why most people don’t do it. If you want to stand out, simplify your writing as much as you can.

5. You don’t use correct grammar.

I know you’re not a grammar expert. Honestly, neither am I (I get grammar help from Liz constantly!). However, I’ve learned a few tricks that make my writing clearer, simpler, and more effective.

If you struggle with grammar, I highly recommend taking our tutorial, Grammar 101, and also checking out this article on comma splices, which is one of the biggest mistakes I see inexperienced writers making.

Want to Be a Better Writer? Practice Deliberately.

You practice writing every time you send a text message, write an email, or post an update on Facebook. However, no matter how much you practice writing like this, you probably won’t improve because you’re not practicing deliberately.

Deliberately practice requires two things:

  1. A goal
  2. Feedback

The Write Practice was created to help you practice writing deliberately. Every day we give you a new writing lesson, with a practice prompt designed to put what you just learned to use immediately. You practice for fifteen minutes, and then you can post your writing in the comments section of the article where our wonderful, supportive community of writers will give you feedback on what you just wrote.

This is the best collaborative writing workbook online, and if you want to be a better writer, I hope you’ll join us. To get started, check out the practice prompt below! Also, make sure you sign up for updates in the sidebar to get writing advice delivered straight to your email inbox.

What do you struggle with in writing? What do you think are the top writing mistakes people make?

PRACTICE

What is the best film or book of all time. Defend your opinion using the lessons above.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you finish, post your practice in the comments section below. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback for other writers.

Happy writing!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

Join the Community!

If this post helped you improve at the craft, consider subscribing. It’s fast, free, and you’ll make our day:

You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts.

  • http://4thelovers.blogspot.com/ Cristina_CreativeMag

    I would love to read an article about writing in English as a non-native speaker. Thank you for being my daily inspiration!

  • Pingback: Top 5 Reasons You’re Not a Good Writer | Anja's Shadow

  • Jamal

    For me, the biggest mistake writers usually make is
    when they try to be writers and editors at the same time. I think this is
    because they are still yet to recognize or to be convinced that editing and
    writing are quite different. They also had better know that it’s easy to edit
    what you write, but very challenging to keep the flow of ideas going on. My
    advice to such writers is that the writer inside them will depart forever if they
    don’t stop letting him work freely.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Agreed Jamal. Thanks!

  • James Alfred

    I am not sure if I am getting better or worst. So I really can’t say either way. If I know mistakes or don’t know. I just keep writing. I will admit that I will stop to edit something before I finish. My eyes work different. I can be typing and my eyes are reading three lines back and reading what I just wrote. Like I said I am not sure why I do it but I do.
    Most of time it makes me go back over things and change them and then it sounds like real crap.
    I should have just left it alone.
    I am however going to start trying much hard to just write and force my eyes to say on what I am writing and not back reading. Wish me well on it.

    Thank you for reading. I hope it sounds okay. I didn’t edit anything I just kept typing for the limit.

    • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

      I find my best writing comes when I have neither shame nor pressure to make something that others will approve of. When you are truly lost in your writing, enveloped in your story, driven my the emotions pounding in your character’s heart, throbbing in your own chest, who cares what anyone else think?

      Writing, to me, has little do with what anyone else thinks. That’s what editing is about.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I used to do that too. There are a few tricks you can use to break yourself of the habit. First try doing what James Hall talks about, writing by hand. I untapped a lot of creativity by practicing that way for about a year. You can also change the font color on your word processor to a very light grey so it’s very difficult to read but you can still make a few changes if you have to. Another trick I use is just to close my eyes, relax, and then write as quickly as I can.

      Hope that helps, James. Thanks for sharing this. Just remember to follow point #2. I count three typos in this section.but maybe it’s a small victory that you were able to post this without editing. :)

  • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

    I write by hand. More and more I find I write further and further ahead of what I’ve gotten typed. The first typing comes with an edit. This gives me more time to write things later in the book, so that I change and correct more things when I do type it up. Additionally, I think it helps me distance from what I’ve just written. I have an issue of falling in love with my newest writing, and not seeing the flaws in it or how to make it better. This act of distancing myself from it, by writing on past it before I give it a first edit does help.

    On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll ever be one to write out a complete first draft of a book without editing. I hear a lot of writer, who after they write their first draft, have to go back and model what they consider “garbage” or “terrible writing” into something presentable. While I look forward to improving the flaws that I know are there, as well as finding more and improving, I know that if I did not edit and make my story better along the way, I would never want to put the effort in it to edit it. I have to make it good enough to inspire me to refine it into something better.

    My story is up to 110,000 words. Still pluggin’ along. (Looks like I’ll be making two books out of it).

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I love that technique James. I don’t write as much by hand as I used to, but that’s how I first cut my teeth as I creative writer.

      110,000 words! Well done! I’m so excited for you. :)

  • Arvin

    Have you ever read a book that touched your heart forever? The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is most definitely one of those books. Original and masterfully written, The Fault in Our Stars features two teenagers battling cancer to find love in a universe that wants to be noticed and a story that is, from page to page, compelling, riveting and luminous. It is compacted with a true to life storyline, twists and turns and tragic romance. From this story I learned the importance of expressing everything when you feel it and that you never have as much time as you think you do. The captivating beauty of this story lies in its lesson regarding the resplendent phenomenon of life. What’s bound to happen will always happen one way or another, whether sooner or later it’ll always find its way back.

  • Monique Dixon

    I’m not writing as often as I know I should. I started writing poetry and then moved on to the incredible challenge of writing a novel. Over a period of ten years I found when clearing some headspace to write I would revert back to the editing of this one piece, growing and maturing with the writing of this beast swallowing any dregs of time I had spare. Now that I’ve finished I feel a little lost, not quite clear on what subject, genre or category to write in. Writing my novel, came without choice. I was led into the crafting of that without my objective say so, simply felt my way through. Objectivity came along in the rewrites. Standing at the crossroad to my next writing piece, I’m being veered neither here nor there. No inclination, intuition, preference, desire….nada. Just a notepad I observe on a daily basis.

    I think I also suffer from the writing of awkward, more complex sentences. I think this derived from my writing of poetry. I generally like the awkward and complexities in people. My grammar is generally poor too, having had no academic training at this, only in art. I’ll be looking forward to the read on 101 grammar :)

    Any other tips/advice are welcomed.

  • Pingback: Monday Must-Reads [05/05/14]

  • Katie Archer

    Everyone should watch The King’s Speech. Such a recent movie might not ever get the fame of “best of all time” that it deserves, but it truly is the best movie of all time.

    Why? It feeds our fascination of what is out of reach. The journey of the common man to understand the lofty royals forever above him is a lifelong pursuit. We commoners are fascinated with the inner workings of the life of the privileged, the ordained elite, and the unattainably high in rank. We can’t help it – it’s our natural need to progress, of course.

    The King’s Speech bridges the gap between the common man and his king. Agonized by his struggles of speech, the young would-be king is barred from public respect by his inability to convey his voice to his vast audience. And it’s painful to watch. The movie takes the highest in the land and proves that no living being can escape a mortal experience.

    Our hero of the story is the low-lying teacher who manages to break the barrier between subject and sovereign. A then-ranked Duke of York finds a friend in Lionel Logue, the man gifted in the arts of untwisting tongues, and calming nerves. We rejoice with Lionel on a number of levels. His ability to help his fellow man. The success of tackling an issue that affects the heart of a nation at war with Hitler. And his lucky stroke of landing a buddy with the one man that you and I will never know – the king of England.

    There’s nothing this movie doesn’t provide. The lighting, the costuming, the all-star cast, and the brilliant screenwriting support the nuts and bolts of movie watching at its finest. But the heart and soul of the story is that of observation. One insignificant man who had a knack for speaking, managed to benefit his king, his nation, and the world. Our cravings are satisfied in knowing that given the chance ourselves, the king might turn to one of us someday, the common man, for his own progression.

    • Katie Archer

      Feedback appreciated! I cranked this out in the 15 minutes, but I took some extra time to edit.

  • Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 05-08-2014 | The Author Chronicles

  • Pingback: Resumo da Semana #19-2014 - Cultura Pop Nerd Literária - O Nerd Escritor

  • Samhita

    The problem with me is that I over-scrutinise. I write a chapter or two, then I read it, re-read it so many times and change so many things that I actually end up changing my original idea. This might be a good thing but after I rewrite the chapter again, the same process repeats. I am never able to complete a story this way because the story keeps changing and evolving. Nothing I write ever seems perfect to me unless I have to submit it!

    When I do this several times, (I can’t ever seem to keep anything constant) I scrap the idea entirely because I get too frustrated to complete it. Another thing I do is that, by some miracle, if I manage to write about fifteen chapters or so, I read it from the beginning and it all seems so immature and downright juvenile. I wonder what I was even thinking at that time.

    I think that even though I manage to write pretty well, I can not manage to finish a project I started.

    Any advice will be gratefully accepted.

    • Reagan

      I’m totally with you! I’ve spent 2 years on the same novel, but only because I’m re-writing the same handful of scenes that I can never seem to make perfect enough!
      What I’ve done is I make a list of all the scenes I can come up with for my book, and try (with great difficulty!) to ignore the ones I’ve already done that I think aren’t perfect, and just write the ones I never did. Later I’ll edit the rest, but I don’t even pick up the scene’s I’ve written until I’m done.
      I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure that nothing can get perfect enough. Just do what you’ve been called to do.

      “In all that you do, do to the glory of God”

  • Sandra

    Who hasn’t cheered when the house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East? “The Wicked Witch is Dead!” everyone cheers. And who hasn’t felt warm as toast when the the glimmering Glenda the Good gently floats down on her shiny bubble? Like a great mother of compassion seeking to kiss all the owchie boo boos of the world.

    But what if we were wrong in our basic assumptions? In the story Wicked, that is investigated. In a somewhat light, fun, and oh very musical way.

    Like so many stories about the awkward teenage years, comes the girl who is born green and has to fit into school. Life brings out all the inadequacies, and hiding sometimes is the best way to survive.

    Whereas if you’re the most popular piece of Marsh-mellow fluff to walk the solar system, is that all there is to you? Would be a question Glenda might ask herself.

    But of course we find that they need each other to save themselves.

  • retrogeegee

    In our family one of the best movies of all times is Dr. Zhivago. When my children were five, six and seven a showing of that film was at downtown theater which often played classic films of the past. Even though the movie contained adult themes, I decided it was worth the risk for its historical value. Taking three youngsters to an adult film is a risky proposition and I was aware of the pitfalls.

    What I wasn’t prepared for was the absolute spellbound attention from a five, six and seven year old child watching a film that was about the Russian revolution. We are movie buffs and I have taken those children to see The Sound of Music just two weeks before attending Dr. Zhivago. During the Julie Andrews extravaganza the children had moments of restlessness and boredom where I had play Mom in calming down the troops. During Dr. Zhivago they sat entranced and riveted to the screen from beginning to end

    To capture the attention of young children and their Mom is a testament to the acting, photography, music and action of a movie. From little kids jumping up and down in the front yard shouting, “We’re going to see Dr. Chicago, we’re going to see Dr Chicago” to avid viewers at a primarily adult filled movie theater, gives credence to our family’s judgement that Dr Zhivago is the best movie ever.