What is it that makes bad writing “bad”?

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What is it that makes bad writing bad? Well, that is a rather subjective judgement call. According to the writer of this WSJ article, “[i]t’s impossible to define bad writing because no one would agree on a definition.” This is true. Bad writing for me is likely to not be the same as bad writing for you.

To be completely honest, I am somewhat of a book snob. I have been known to turn up my nose, sniff and repeatedly utter “My word!” in a very Miss Marple-esque way when I encounter what I deem to be bad writing; such as stilted dialogue, descriptions that don’t quite flow, run-on sentences, overly flowery metaphors, or metaphors that are not quite believable. None of that is enough for me to I absolutely refuse to read a book, I usually continue reading if the story is good enough.

As far as I am concerned, a lack of understanding or experience in expertly wielding language as a tool (or a weapon) does not preclude being heard (or read). What it does is speak to the lack of writing experience in writing which is easily fixed with more writing, more critiquing, and more exposure. That is not to say that there aren’t some especially gifted writers out there, fortunately blessed with certain talent at birth.

If there is one piece of advice to writers that I keep seeing over and over, it is “Keep writing”. Advice I am only now beginning to understand. As a fledgling writer, it is demotivating to write your heart out only to learn upon re-reading that the piece you just lovingly coaxed out of your fingers is as dreadful as it comes. The trick is to keep at it until it’s not so dreadful anymore. And then to keep at it until it’s good. And keep at it until it’s perfect (assuming it ever can be perfect).

It is the very essence of practice makes perfect and a concept I am desperately trying to retrain myself with in my writing. It is also a concept that I take into consideration when I am reading. One series of books that I found got better as the instalments were released were the Snookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. The first two or so of that series struck me as absolutely unpolished; but those improved over time and with experience; and practice. So writers? Don’t despair; it gets better with practice. Keep writing.

As a reader, what do you think makes writing “bad” or “good”? Does “bad” writing make you stop and throw the book out or can you stomach it enough to finish the story?

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