Monday, February 8, 2010

Jacobsen on What Causes Bad Writing

Roy Jacobsen of Writing, Clear and Simple considers just what causes bad writing. Excerpts:
When treating a disease, the key is eliminating the cause, and not just focusing on erasing the symptoms.

The same applies to bad writing. You can drive yourself crazy chasing all of the ways that writing can go wrong if you don't spend some time trying to root out the causes.

So what are the causes? Lack of training? Lack of time? Ignorance? Laziness? Apathy?

How about fear?
Read the whole thing. I started learning how to writing in a professional setting that was a tad harsh. Scheduled meetings with my editor would wake me long before dawn, tying my stomach in half hitches. I finally worried myself into the most chronic case of writer's block I've ever experienced. Stupid and silly, because jobs come and go, but skill of putting down words stays with you -- or at least should. A fear of failure and the dread of opening yet another rejection letter seem to fell more promising writers than any other thing, to send them drifting offer to easier interests. Jacobsen is certainly right when he says that fear leads to insipid, overly ornamented prose. But sometimes its keeps us from writing altogether.

(Picture: CC 2005 by


Unknown said...

I'd also add "jealousy" and/or "pride" to that list. So much terrible writing comes from the innocent joy of a favorite piece of intellectual property and wanting to make something just like that.

Heck, "greed" and "wrath" and "lust" also make for shitty writing in their own special ways. Maybe it's just the Deadly Sins in general which lead to crappy writing...

Loren Eaton said...

We could probably work up an entire list for how they and transgressions of the Ten Commandments destroy your compositional time. And a lot of life, too, while we're at it.

Anne Lamott has a great bit about jealousy in Bird By Bird: "Jealousy is a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you've been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know -- people who are, in other words, not you."

Roy Jacobsen said...

For what it's worth, I have a follow-up post on dealing with the fear of not being "good enough."


Loren Eaton said...

I added that one to my awesome-articles-I-must-post-on-my-own-humble-blog tickler as soon as it hit my Google Reader account!