5 Warning Signs of Being a Bad Writer

Everything happy in your lolly-jolly writersphere? Good for you! I like happiness.

Wait, come again? (Listens with intent). Oh dear. That’s why you’re happy? That puts you in the company of many a writer swimming in the blissful water of ignorance.

Close that pool.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Serious question, Mr. All Wrong:

I feel like “I’m where I want to be” with my writing. Engaged within the writing community. Full of inspiration. Multiple projects going. Money! 

Why am I bothering with Writing All Wrong if everything is going All Write?

—Benjamin Stump, New Holland, Pa.

“Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.” – Jesus.

I agree with Jesus here. With that, I give you five warning signs of being a bad writer:

1. Getting the formula down.

If you can crank out one hundred novels a year, then that’s impressive. What’s not impressive is when you boil it down to a science, a predictable formula. Formulaic is not how you want to be described. You have become no good writer when you reduce it to a soulless recipe, you soulless fiend. Shame. Slow down and create something worth writing.

2. None who challenge.

If everyone loves what you’re doing, then you must be doing it right. Of course. That makes sense, but it’s wrong. When you have no opposition left, be afraid. Be very afraid. The honest among you have fled, and you may be surrounded by cowards who will only appease your ego. But what are they doing to spur on excellence in writing? Nothing. Find at least one person who will be honest, one who will challenge. He or she may be the only one you know who will tell you truth you don’t want to hear. Truth that will make your writing better.

3. Embracing community over creation.

If you value the “writing community” over “writing,” then you have issue. Deep down, I can’t find why you’d want to be a writer. Just be a “social media friend!”What makes you happier: perfecting a narrative (or a sentence!) or getting a ton of retweets and blog comments from all the “friends” you made on the World Wide Internet? We all want to be affirmed. It’s that blasted weakness of ego within us. Re-align it somehow and get the focus back on the writing. Or be everyone’s friend if you want. Crapsucking writers love each other more than anyone.

4. Being a player, bringing no game.

Yes, you. “Writers” in quotes only. You “aspiring” writers. You who toot your own horns without having one to speak of. I’m glad that you identify yourself with writing. You now have two options: show it, or get busy on showing it. There’s a measure of forgiveness to those who bring an amateur’s game to a pro’s court, sure, but there’s no forgiveness for those who “wear that jersey” and don’t come to play.

5. Writing wonderfully in your own mind.

Even the best writer knows he can make his writing better. If you’ve put yourself on top a nice little pedestal, and no one (lesser or greater) can take you down, then it’s a little pedestal indeed. That first draft should be your worst draft. As should the second, third, whatever. Crave improvement, refinement. When you don’t, you begin the journey to the Dark Side of Bad Writing.

What other warnings have you had to heed to keep from the sin of Bad Writing?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).


You Don’t Need to Make Your Characters “Relatable”

“I loved reading this book! I felt like it spoke to me, because I could relate to the main character.”

Reading appraisals like this makes me want to shoot the author and poison the reader. It’s not vicious enough to be a vicious cycle. It’s mediocrity feeding mediocrity.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

How do I make my main character more relatable to my readers?

—Jan Craig, Winston-Salem, N.C.

I’d tell you, but then I would condemn your writing to a timely death. If you want to make a quick buck and reduce your writing to cheap whoredom, then please, do so. You have plenty of weak readers to fool. You don’t need a soul for that.

That being said, the goal is NOT “making characters relatable” or “writing someone the reader can identify with.” Can it happen in your writing? Of course. Should you aim for that? No. Here’s why:

1. “I’m so relatable!”

Do you want to sink your writing down to veritable scumbags, douchecanoes drifting down the rivers of douchedom, people who think the world revolves around the great “me,” and intellectual poseurs who “read” so they can say they “read books?” If you’re writing to that audience, then you have their money, part of their ear, and nothing of importance. Enjoy!

2. “The more I relate to these characters, the more I like this book!”

Then why don’t you write about three book club members whose lives are changed by reading a book with characters they can relate to, namely, book club members who are also reading a book that changes their lives with relatable characters. Wait, whoa. Literary inception aside, it’s a parlor trick. That’s not writing. That’s being a scam artist.

3. Realistic vs. Relatable

Similar, maybe, but not the same. Angle for the real, simply because it’s real. Art imitates life. Let the real speak for itself. Don’t roll up newsprint and make a ghetto funnel to score points by narrowing the real down to a solipsistic gimmick. Pour your intent into the art, the aesthetics, the narrative. Quit baiting.

4. Universal vs. Individual

Let’s take a copy of Pride and Prejudice from the bookshelves of Reading All Right. Do you think Ms. Austen went for the “Oh, how can I make these characters relatable?” approach? Nay, I say, with a vehement NO on the side. Know why people still read her (and others of her ilk), instead of the crap you’re reading now (which no one will read in twenty years)? Hint: something to do with ‘universality.’ Relating to a character can be a passing thing, the waves inconstant. But a ‘universal’ character, with qualities innate to this concept of being human? They stand the test of time, whether you “relate” to them or not. You admire them.

5. Art vs. Mirrors.

Know what I like best about paying to go to museums? Nope, it’s not the art on display. Nope, nothing to do with the awe-inspiring pieces that artists pour their souls into. Not even seeing how artists capture life and imagination around them. None of that. What I like best: looking at my reflection when I come to the doorway.

Why? Because I like being able to see myself. And that’s the beauty of art, right? Because I look into that and say, “Hey, that’s me! Wow.” Yeah.

Writers, you do it right when you make your characters works of art. They stand the tests of time. You do it wrong when you strive to make your characters relatable. You make nothing but mirrors.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

10 Questions Writers Must Ask Themselves

Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die.

Yes, you will die if you don’t ask “why.” Or something.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I had a question I was going to ask you about writing, but I forgot! You tell me, what should I ask?

—Mark Cedeno, Tucson, Ariz.

I’m feeling quick and dirty. Let’s dive in. Here’s what you should be asking yourself as a writer:

1. Why am I doing this?

Money? Fame? Class project? A dare? Depressed? Bored? Trying to come off as intelligent? I’m not going to give the answer. If you don’t have one, then stop now. Try dancing. Then you’ll have an answer to why you took up dancing: “Because I didn’t know why I was writing.” Work your way from that.

2. Who am I trying to impress?

In our social media age, we are driven on a quest for relevance, whether conscious or subconscious. You could say that you have a potential audience. You may not. Unless you are an artist with a soul purer than Jesus, then you crave an inkling of recognition. Maybe it’s just ‘you’ you’re trying to impress. Find whoever it is. Stop schmoozing up. Write.

3. Can I explain this in three sentences?

If you cannot summarize the story, start over until you can. You’re only writing yourself into a painful circle. Unless you just need writing practice, then fine.

4. Who would want to read this?

Draw up a profile of your reader. If it’s someone who’s easily led, likes mass-market paperback, reads to say “they read,” then CONGRATS! That’s almost everyone! SF/fantasy fans who like everything you do and have already friended you on the internet? Even better! They won’t care about promoting your work, because you’re everyone’s friend! Win win win.

5. How will this contribute to the way readers view life?

Ooooh, breaking out the philosophical. Bring something worth bringing to the table. We already have salt, napkins, plates. If you’re bringing ‘potato salad,’ the trashbin is that way. If you bring ‘tuna casserole,’ then you need plant your face in it until it suffocates you to death. If you bring a combo of ‘polenta,’ ‘arugula,’ ‘aioli,’ ‘quinoa,’ and ‘edamame,’ then you’re just trying to be “trendy” without substance. (Yes, yes you are.) Contribute something worthwhile.

6. Am I friends with a bunch of other writers?

If the answer is ‘Yes,’ then write away. Your work won’t matter. You have your reward. If ‘No,’ then write away. Friends won’t matter. Your writing will speak for itself. You will have those who appreciate art, even if they’re not your besties.

7. What have I had for influence lately?

If this list can either 1) be found at a local liquor dealer, or 2) get you arrested, then I’m not liable, ok? Know what it is that feeds your soul, for out of it comes your art. Unless you’re a sexy, soulless teenage vampire.

8. What would happen to me if I stopped?

This should be something really bad. If not, then go ahead and stop. Ballet is waiting.

9. What kind of recognition am I hoping for?

Set this bar wherever you want. Local book-signing at a thrift store. #1,095,367 in Books on Amazon. Seeing your book on a bookstore shelf—because you brought a copy with you, placed it there, and Tweeted it anyway. Wherever. That’s all you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

10. Is there something else I should be doing?

Hey, fair question. If your pregnant husband or wife has been dogging your lazy end about overdue bills, mustard stains on tank-tops, not bothering to clean the dishes from last week, the kid strung from your cheap light fixture by a pair of cheap, sodden underdrawers, then maybe the “undead urban fiction” can wait. Or if you have some ungodly talent in another field, play that field instead. Michael Jordan didn’t choose writing because he wasn’t a skilled craftsman, you know. He had greater-than-greatness in the basketball arena. Who knows? Your sandwich making at the Sub Shack® might serve you better.

What kinds of questions would you think to ask yourself?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).