All Writers Start Out Writing Terrible Things

Don’t worry. Terrible writing is basically a rite of passage.

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You’re about ready to quit. Give up. Throw your work-in-progress in the virtual trash.

Why should you even bother writing a book, anyway? You’re no good at this. Every sentence you read back feels like you’re trying too hard. What’s the point?

Have you ever had these thoughts? I have. Impostor syndrome aside, I often struggle to determine whether or not what I’m working on is “good enough” to even be considered for publishing.

The good news is, this is normal. No, seriously. At some point, every writer worries their words don’t make any sense.

Need some encouragement? Here it is: You might totally suck at writing at the moment. Or not. But that’s OK, because at some point along the way, we all do.

We all start out not really sure how storytelling works, at least beyond what we’ve read in books or seen on TV. Our stories are unoriginal. Our characters are flat. Our dialogue is so, so bad. And we don’t notice, because we’re just happy to be writing things — as we should be!

No one is born a good writer. Some people might learn related skills quicker than others. Some might have a more natural affinity for storytelling. But we all start at the same place: having absolutely no idea what we’re doing, but determined to throw caution to the wind and try our gosh darn hardest anyway.

Every once in awhile, I pull up things I wrote 10, 15 years ago. I read them, or at least start to. I cringe so hard my face hurts. And then I go back to what I was writing before, feeling a lot less doubtful about my ability to do good work.

Maybe you aren’t up for that kind of challenge (it’s a tough one, I don’t blame you). But do try to remember that it is nearly impossible to write as badly now as you did when you wrote your very first story, or journal entry, or poem. You have gotten better, even if it doesn’t seem like it. And you will continue to improve, as long as you keep writing.

So when you find yourself thinking, “I’ll never write anything as good as that,” remember that writer once thought that about the very thing you just read. And chances are, the first draft of what they wrote was a whole lot worse than what you see on that page.

The more we read and write, the more we’re able to recognize the difference between writing that’s “good” and writing that isn’t. Sometimes that even means we learn to recognize when our writing isn’t as “good” as we think it could be …

AND THIS IS A GOOD THING.

Realizing you can do better is the first step in figuring out how to do better. Maybe you don’t yet know how to make it happen, but you want to learn. That’s something!

If you’re on the same struggle bus I’ve ridden more times than I can count, hang in there. Try not to compare your work to someone else’s, especially if they’re published and you aren’t. They might be at a different skill level than you are, so comparing really isn’t fair.

Also, always keep in mind that even though patience is hard, it does pay off. Work at improving your writing a little bit every day (relatively), and you’ll eventually notice a difference.

We all start in the same place. Where we end up depends on how well and how much we’re willing to work to get to where we want to be.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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46 thoughts on “All Writers Start Out Writing Terrible Things

  1. I needed this today. Thank you so much for this post. I just went through a bout of shredding decades old work. I had a good laugh reminiscing, but it was definitely cringe worthy.

    1. Wow! I don’t think I could ever willingly get rid of old stuff like that. BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW RIGHT? Nah, good on you for doing it. Always forward.

  2. Spot on. Half the time I can’t even get my partner to think my writing is good the first time around. I mean, that’s what I have her for, but it still amazes me how bad even my current first drafts can be. Yet they are always better than the previous, and wayyy better than the stuff I’d written back in college. Which I attribute simply to practice. The other trap to watch out for though is when you think that first draft is already just so totally awesome…

    1. I love that you’re keeping in mind that everything you do is slightly better than what you’ve done in the past, generally speaking. :) Haha I think we all fall into that trap sometimes. My philosophy? It can always be better, even if you’re already in love with it!

  3. George Bernard Shaw advices, Never throw anything original, creative and somewhat immature but productive away. The thrust of this blog is correct. Most people begin too young without realizing the maturing process. The first novel of any merit will come after 25 years. Look at the calendar of authors who have productive careers. Look at the authors who succeeded earlier: Stephan Crane, who was very good but death at 29. Miles Franklin of Australia, MY BRiLLIANT CAREER (21 years old), was an excellent first book. She wrote the remainder of her life but is not well known.

  4. Hi Meg, this is a good reminder. Unhealthy comparison can really beat a person down, especially if they aren’t taking into consideration the different skill level of whom they’re comparing. As I read, my writing improves, as my writing improves, my reading improves. They go hand in hand.

  5. Awesome post! Being a published author myself, I can relate to everything you’ve stated in your post…the Imposter’s Syndrome, the feeling as if I’ll never be a good writer, all of it! There are days when I feel as if my writing is good and the ideas and words seem to flow like water from a faucet. Other days, I feel like I’m trying too hard and my writing sucks. This post is a godsend and I feel relieved after reading it! Thank you so much!

  6. Oh… this is all so good to hear! Logically speaking, I should know this, of course, but because I am my own HARSHEST critic, I forget about logic and focus on how “awful” it I am.

    I think about my journals that I wrote as a kid, and I still have them stored away somewhere in my mother’s basement! :) I need to dig them out… oh yes, there will be so much to discover among those old, moldy pages!

    Thanks for your encouragement and inspiration! :)

    Grace

    1. You’re very welcome! And WELCOME to the blog. :) Sometimes, even when we know things are or aren’t true, we need to hear someone else say so. Happy I could help you out with that today!

  7. I started my blog just a few days ago, writing in English when my native language is Norwegian.
    Today I was thinking to my self, that I am not good enough, I can’t write English, no one will understand what I try to say. And I should just STOP IT.

    And then you came along with your words of wisdom. Thank you!

    1. The only way to get better is to keep going! And I agree with prozac%coffee – you have a skill not everyone has! That is amazing. You are good enough, because only you can define what “good enough” means. :)

  8. I really related to this post. I have a lot of my writing from when I was younger (and since I am only 21, I am talking about elementary school writings) and reading over them makes me feel like a great writer. I see how far I’ve come and I feel like I could conquer the world. Thank you for this post! It is really encouraging.

  9. My blog has been up and running since 2011. Reading my previous posts from years ago, I can say, like you, I cringe at how bad it was. There has been improvements since then. I can’t say I’m at the level of the writers I’ve come across or the blogs I’ve subscribed. But I’m really happy to know that I’m not the only one struggling.

    Don’t take this the wrong way. What I meant is, I admire people who are consistent and persistent. I guess we all have our pace. I am really inspired by this. Writing really is a continuous work in progress. :)

    thanks for the tip :)

    1. I completely agree. I started my blog in 2009 and it took a long time for me to even figure out what I wanted it to be. Pace yourself, experiment, and keep going until you figure out what works!

  10. I’ve just started a blog for the very first time, and one of my very first posts is all about the imposter syndrome I’m fighting- not just within my writing but just in everyday life and work.
    This post is super encouraging because I know that my writing definitely has a LONG way to go!
    It’s just about taking the leap and seeing what works and what doesn’t!

    1. CONGRATULATIONS on starting your blog!! That’s amazing! Starting is a huge hurdle and I’m so proud of you for taking the leap. Also, impostor syndrome is tough. I deal with it, too. Just keep posting anyway, it gets easier to keep doing the work even with that doubt there. Promise. :)

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