How Do I Know If My Writing Sucks?
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I'm here to answer the one question literally every writer has asked themselves at some point during the writing process: what if my writing sucks? A lot of people say, “Oh, stop it. That's just the imposter syndrome talking.” And sometimes it is! But sometimes it isn't. So to help ya out, I'm cutting the bullshit and telling you the top ten most blatant signs that your writing just ain't up to snuff.
To be clear, I'm focusing on the most prominent indicators that your manuscript is of poor quality on a writing and storytelling level. That means either the writing itself ain't doing you any favors, or the storytelling is a hot mess. And of course, like in all my content, I am talking about professional writing, not hobby writing. Hobbyists can do as they please because they're just here to have fun and that's what counts!
Sign #10 just so happens to be the most important one, and I'll tell you one thing: it's gonna piss a lot of people off. Now, let's dive into some of the signs that your work in progress is a big pile of suckage! Enjoy!
This video is sponsored by Edit Out Loud. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: You Don't Have a Plot
You might think this goes without saying, but a lot of newbie writers don't know what a plot is. A conflict is introduced, shenanigans ensue, the conflict reaches its peak, and then it's resolved. This is the simplified explanation of a plot. There is an inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
A novel doesn't function without a conflict, and a ton of writers have somehow missed this memo. If you don't have a conflict, you don't have structure. And if you don't have structure, you don't have a plot.
The easiest way to rectify this issue is to study structure. I have two videos on this topic on my channel about how to structure your book and how I personally plot my stories. Another easy way to fix this issue is to outline your novel. That way, you're not meandering through the story. You have a plot clearly defined and you're sticking to it.
Number 2: You Researched Absolutely NOTHING
I have yet to write a story that didn't involve some level of research, whether that was researching climate and geography, or researching psychology and mental illness. You are not all knowing. There are going to be some concepts that you are not an expert in. If you do not research before starting your manuscript, it is going to show. It's one thing to have one falsity here or there, but a complete lack of research is not only going to make your novel harder to read and believe, it's also going to make it potentially offensive. If you're writing about a disabled character and you've done zero research into that disability, you are far more likely to regurgitate stereotypes and this is going to alienate a huge percentage of your readership.
This is another issue that's easy to fix. Pause your writing and do some damn research! Google ain't hard to use. Educate yourself and your readers will thank you.
You are not all knowing. There are going to be some concepts that you are not an expert in. If you do not research before starting your manuscript, it is going to show.
Number 3: Your Sentences are All the Same
If all your sentences–particularly several sentences in a row–are written using the exact same structure, it's going to come across as unnatural and robotic. How do all of your sentences begin? How many commas do they have? How many clauses? Are all of your sentences short? Are all of them long? If two or more sentences have the exact same structure and they come one after the next, that is a bad pattern and it's boring to read.
An easy way to fix this is to listen to your writing. Listening to your writing helps with all kinds of issues, like the entertainment factor, misused words, and flow. But I have found that it is especially helpful when it comes to overused sentence structure. This is why Edit Out Loud is so helpful! You can listen to your manuscript and hear if you're making this very common mistake.
Number 4: You're Regurgitating
Some newbies get into the gig because they were inspired by a book, movie, video game, or anime. It's fine to be inspired by media, but inspiration and replication are not the same thing. This is not to be confused with a retelling, which is where you take some well-known mythology or folklore and you give it your own twist. Regurgitation is where you take a popular piece of media and you change a few hollow pieces, like a couple of genders or character names, and then you publish it. If readers wanted that content, they would just read or watch the original piece of media. Yours comes across as fanfic, which is completely fine if you're a hobbyist, but not if you're charging people for what you're claiming is an original piece of art.
The easiest way to avoid this issue is to create something yourself. And if you don't want to do that, it's 100% okay to ask yourself, “Do I really want to be a writer, or am I just a mega fan of this particular piece of work?” It's great to be a fan. Fangirl, or fanboy, or fanperson to your heart's content! But it's not so great to intentionally copy someone and claim the work as your own.
Number 5: You are Telling Everything
I know it gets old hearing people talk about, “Show, don't tell,” but I don't give a shit. Telling has its place, but if you are telling your entire story rather than showing it, it's not a story. You are not creating visuals in the reader's mind. You are not evoking emotion. You are just giving a very bland play-by-play.
The easiest way to stop telling is to learn how to differentiate between show and tell. If you are saying things like, “He was a kind, good man,” you're telling. Instead, create scenes where the character behaves in a kind, good manner. If you are saying things like, “She was the most beautiful woman in the kingdom,” you are once again telling. Instead, describe her physical appearance and craft scenes where people are fawning over her beauty.
Number 6: You Do Not Take Your Audience Into Consideration
Writing is a passion project. We write because we have a story that we want to bring to life. But other people are gonna read it, and it's imperative that we take them into consideration. This doesn't mean we have to cater to the masses. You do not have to chase trends or replicate what's popular. But you should be mindful of the messages you're conveying and whether or not they are harmful.
“But Jenna, I want to write about dark stuff, like abuse.”
So do I, and it's absolutely okay to write about those things. I know I do. But you can write about a topic without glorifying it, sensationalizing it, or romanticizing it. Some writers paint sexual assault as swoon-worthy. Some writers exploit people of color or the LGBTQ+ community in their writing. You don't wanna do this shit!
The easiest way to avoid this issue is one, be mindful of what you are writing and why you're writing it. And two, recruit readers before publication. This includes beta readers, critique partners, and of course, sensitivity readers. Let other people help you through this process so you can avoid hurting your audience.
Other people are gonna read your work, and it's imperative that we take them into consideration. This doesn't mean we have to cater to the masses... But you should be mindful of the messages you're conveying and whether or not they are harmful.
Number 7: No One's Read It!
Critique partners are fellow writers who give you honest feedback about your work from a writer’s perspective. Beta readers are fellow readers who give you honest feedback about your work from a reader's perspective. Sensitivity readers are professionals who let you know whether or not you have written something that's unintentionally offensive or alienating. And if none of these people have read your work, I can pretty much guarantee it sucks. Writers can be blind to issues in their content because they're too close to the story. You're so invested in your plot points and characters that sometimes you don't see the flaws. That's why it's imperative to recruit people so they can give you their honest opinions. And if you have recruited people and no one's finished the book, that's feedback in itself. It ain't good!
The easiest way to rectify this issue is, of course, to recruit readers. If you need some help, Edit Out Loud has a beta listener program where you can recruit beta listeners to go through your manuscript via their app. Beta listeners can't copy or download your files, so your manuscript is secure.
Writers can be blind to issues in their content because they're too close to the story. You're so invested in your plot points and characters that sometimes you don't see the flaws. That's why it's imperative to recruit people so they can give you their honest opinions.
Number 8: You Don't Understand the Nuts and Bolts
If your writing is filled with grammar issues, punctuation mess-ups, and spelling errors, it's going to be difficult to read. And writing that's difficult to read...is sucky writing. Some writers think grammar errors aren't that big of a deal because they don't notice them, but other people do. It's like walking through a minefield. Your writing takes care and effort to get through, and that's not exactly an enjoyable reading experience. I know you just “don't get commas,” but you chose to become a writer, so you're gonna have to figure that out eventually. It's like becoming a surgeon, but you “don't get biology.” What?!
Easy ways to work on this are, first and foremost, educate yourself. There are free grammar, punctuation, and spelling resources all over the internet. Utilize them! You can also download a program that'll help point out repeat errors in your manuscript. You can recruit beta readers and critique partners who are great in that area and can maybe point out what you're doing wrong. And, of course, you can listen to your writing through Edit Out Loud because, as I've already mentioned, it is a lot easier to notice mistakes when you're listening to your work rather than reading it.
Number 9: Your Characters Aren't Likable
Your characters don't have to be moral or good, but they should at least be likable. A lot of writers get into the gig and try to write perfect self-inserts; characters who are gorgeous and geniuses and have perfect fighting technique and can do no wrong. These characters are not likable. Sure, your characters should have great qualities, but they absolutely cannot be perfect. Likewise, characters that are 100% filth with no redeeming qualities whatsoever are not enjoyable to read, either. Every single person, no matter how amazing or how far gone, has both positive and negative qualities. That's just the human experience. And it's this complexity that makes characters relatable and likable.
The easiest way to overcome this issue is, first of all, observe. People watching and mingling is so helpful to the writing process. It gives you a better understanding of communication and representation. And two, recruit people to read your story and give their honest opinions.
Number 10: You Didn't Edit It
Every book, no matter the topic, requires two types of edits. A self-edit, which is where you edit the book yourself. And a professional edit, which is where one or more professional editors combs through the book. If you do one of these edits but not the other, I can almost guarantee your book sucks. If you skip both of these edits, I can definitely guarantee your book sucks! It doesn't mater how talented you are, no one person is great at every, single aspect of the writing process. This is why you need eyes on your work. You are not infallible and the editing process is NOT optional.
And please don't confuse an edit with a proofread. The editing process covers character arcs and world building. It covers story structure. It covers grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It covers so many facets of your novel! A proofread is just a quick check for spelling and punctuation errors. If you do not edit your work, sure, it may be good for a first draft, but it will not pass as a finished book. Don't let your ego fool you; a published novel without an edit is gonna suck.
So that's all I've got for you today!
If you’ve been wondering if your book actually sucks or if it’s just imposter syndrome talking, hopefully this article gave you some food for thought. At the end of the day, if you care about your story, you are considerate of your audience, and you do your due diligence, it’s up to you to decide if you’re in the clear and are ready to share your work with the world. If you’ve missed any of the major steps, especially including having others read your work, you may want to revisit that manuscript before hitting “publish.”
What are some other ways you can tell a book sucks? Let me know in the comments if I missed any!
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