What Writing a ‘Bad’ Story Really Says About You

We’ve all written stories we aren’t proud of. *cringe*


How do you define a ‘bad’ story? Something filled with cliches and predictable events? So many plot holes you can’t even finish it? Dialogue so shallow and robotic you can’t even get into the real story at all? Maybe it’s too overdone. Maybe it’s too confusing.

It’s embarrassing … whether you’re the one who wrote it or not. Really! Tell me I’m not the only one who gets red-faced when reading something someone else has written that just isn’t good. I feel bad! I want to fix it. When it’s your own work, you can … but not everyone is willing to try.

The thing is, whether you’re told your story is bad or you figure it out by reading it back to yourself, it’s not a good feeling. No matter how many years you’ve been a writer. Yes, I write bad stories too. Sometimes the ideas you have in your head just don’t translate that well onto paper. It happens.

Sometimes it almost feels like you’ve failed somehow. And that’s often a hard truth to swallow.

So you wrote a ‘bad’ story. What does that say about you, as a writer?

Nothing. Just that you tried.

You were brave enough to write something even knowing other people might not like it.

You were strong enough to overcome your fear of creating something no one would ever read.

You wrote something. There are people out there who would give anything to be able to write a story from start to finish, but for whatever reason, can’t.

You created a thing you thought of yourself. Ideas come from all over. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t great. It doesn’t matter if it’s similar to something that’s already been done. It doesn’t matter if it needs work – all stories can and should be edited to make them better. Maybe there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ story. Maybe we should call them underdeveloped. Rough drafts. Works in progress.

‘Bad’ implies you don’t have potential. And that is absolutely not true. Every writer starts in the exact same place – not knowing their native language well enough to craft a skillfully constructed work of art. But they practice. They learn. They get better. They learn what works and what doesn’t, what makes a story unique and what makes it stand out in a not so good way. The only way to never improve as a writer is to stop writing.

You wrote a story you know could be better. You have three options from here:

  1. Don’t ever write anything again.
  2. Rewrite the story and figure out how to make it better.
  3. Use that story as a reference point and move on to writing something else.

I write stories all the time that aren’t that great. I know that. It doesn’t make me a ‘bad’ writer. It doesn’t make me a time-waster. Every time I come across a bad writing habit, or I find something about that story I really don’t like, I make it a point to write another story that purposely does that one thing better, or I try to ‘undo’ that bad habit as I’m writing that new thing.

I think everyone starts out writing very, very rough drafts. We will always start out writing stories that aren’t that great … but the more often we write stories, the less noticeable those flaws become. We still notice them, and so do professionals like editors, educators and other writers. That’s why writing is such an exhausting process. You don’t just write something once and that’s it. You either write the same story multiple times over until it’s the best it can be, or you take note of both the flaws and triumphs of a story and keep them in mind while writing something else.

Writing a ‘bad’ story, really, just makes you normal. We have all done it, and will continue to do it. What makes you exceptional is the choice to try, and then try again … and again. The writers who make it, they know they aren’t perfect. But they keep writing anyway. Failure does not define how good you are at something. Whether or not you’re willing to get back up and keep going? That does.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.