What to Do When Your Writing Sucks

Freelance writer worries her writing sucksWe all know what it feels like to read brilliant writing. It draws you in, awakens your emotions and leaves you feeling alive with personal revelations. Most of all, it changes you for the better.

So what happens when you read your own writing, and it doesn’t quite rise to that level?

Some writers will say, “I know I can do better.”

But too many will say, “This isn’t good enough, and never will be. I should just give up.”

This is the moment when self-criticism becomes unhealthy and debilitating to your career. Your writing is going nowhere because it can’t get past your toughest critic — you.

As a writer and new blogger, I’ve been there. I know negative thought patterns will always creep their way into my consciousness and threaten to shut me down. In order for my career to survive, I’ve developed a few techniques to help turn my harsh self-criticism into constructive learning and growth.

Reflect on past work

When I was writing my first pieces of content for my creativity blog, I felt I’d turned out a couple of gems, and quite a few lumps of coal. Nothing I’d written sounded right. My personal style wasn’t visible, and I couldn’t hear my own voice in my writing.

But one piece I’d written, a personal essay, made me smile. I could hear myself loud and clear in it — and could feel the passion behind my words.

“What’s different about this piece? What makes it so great?” I asked.

Answering those questions helped me learn which writing style and type of content works best with my personality and skill set.

Trust in your value

One affirmation always drives me forward when I’m struggling during the writing process: What I am saying — the message I am delivering — is important.

Some works of art are meant to be created and shared with the world. In his memoir, Stephen King likens the fiction story to a fossil waiting to be unearthed by the writer. If you trust that your story is meant to be heard, it will find its way out.

Every little bit helps

Brilliant writing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of practice and dedication. Look for the good in your work and realize that not everything you write needs to be published.

These days, when I write something I’m not crazy about, I simply tell myself, “This was great practice. I’m honing my writing chops.”

Just keep moving and watch your writing evolve into what you always knew you were capable of.

Then one fine day, you can look at your work and say without hesitation, “Now, that’s some damn good writing!”

What do you when your writing sucks? Tell us in the comments below.

Ivy Shelden is a freelance writer and blogger. She is the founder of Wide Open Mind, a support group of sorts for creatives. Her passion is helping creative people reach their potential.

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76 comments on “What to Do When Your Writing Sucks
  1. Jane says:

    It is not surprising that writers create a lot of junk and a very few pieces of gems while they are evolving. It takes a lot of practice to evolve and become sound. Until then there is no point in turning back or getting upset.

    We have to self assess our writing, find ways to improve it, invest in learning if needed and keep going. The more we write the better we get at it!

    Thanks for the wonderful tips Ivy!
    Jane recently posted…The misconceptions associated with making money via blogging [and what to do about them]My Profile

    • Ivy Shelden says:

      Jane,

      You are welcome! I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is not to give up! So many writers just expect everything they write to be gold, and get discouraged when it’s not. You just have to push through and keep cranking out work…practice really does help you evolve!

      Thank you for reading!

      Ivy
      Ivy Shelden recently posted…Creative Blocks Part I: Real World Anxiety and StressMy Profile

      • Christopher Faulkner says:

        “So many writers just expect everything they write to be gold, and get discouraged when it’s not.” –> That’s me, twenty years ago. There’s so much water under the bridge since then, that I am having a very rough time trying to re-start. Your article has helped give voice to some of the issues I’m having; thank you.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Christopher, I meet a lot of writers in your boat, who think they have to ‘start over’ at the bottom because they’ve been out of the marketplace a while. But you don’t. Find those old clips, get copies on your website if you can, and use them. If you’ve written, it shows you can write. I’ve never had an editor complain that I clip I sent was too old, and I routinely send out ones that are a decade old, if they show an expertise I need to demonstrate.

    • You’re right about writing talent evolving over time. I read this entry today and I get the feeling this post is directed to the people that wanted to get into freelance writing to make a quick buck and not because they have a passion for writing.
      Kristin Guldner recently posted…Preschool Lesson Plan Family and Friends Theme AvailableMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        Not necessarily, Kristin…just anyone who has doubts about their writing and wants to get better at it.

        But probably, if you don’t have a passion for writing, you won’t be willing to put in the hours it’s going to take to improve. And that’ll mean you don’t end up getting better-paying gigs, over time, which is what should be happening. You get better and better, and so does your pay and your client base.

  2. Tom Sinclair says:

    The good news is that the more you write, the more good writing you’ll produce. For the days that you’re just not clicking, step away and do something else. I always have a ton of personal and work-related writing to do so when I’m stuck on one I’ll pick another on a completely unrelated topic.
    Failing that, step away from the keyboard. Take a walk, watch some video, read your favorite book or run some errands.
    Tom Sinclair recently posted…#52WeeksOfCode Week 22 – PHPMy Profile

    • Ivy Shelden says:

      Tom, great advice! It’s always good to step away from work that is frustrating you! Come back with a pair of fresh eyes.

      I also find it helpful to sit down and free write, without pressuring myself to accomplish anything. I find that to be liberating!

      -Ivy

    • Waqas Masood says:

      @Tom cool advice and this is exactly what I do when my pen gets exhausted 🙂
      Waqas Masood recently posted…Book Review of “Agency Rules: Never An Easy Day At Office by Khalid Muhammad”My Profile

    • I totally have to agree with Tom Sinclair. Often, when I keep writing, I’ll eventually produce SOMETHING decent, good, or even great. I think part of why this works is because if I’ve written a lot a material, I’m less attached to any particular part of it and less afraid I won’t make the word count. It frees me up to cut worthless, or just unnecessary, material with that frame of mind. So, yeah, 2000 words of that was just dreadful, but I’ve got 1500 words of beauty left after taking a scalpel to it.
      Rebecca Klempner recently posted…Can we just get this over with?My Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        We *all* have to do that. Boil it down.

        I had a formative experience with one writer-friend who I gave an ungainly 5000-word draft that had to be gotten down to 3000 words. She began by recasting all my complex passive being verbs into simple action verbs: Not “it had been raining last night” but “it rained last night.” Totally changed my life.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m such a fan of taking a walk, Tom…usually work out all my writing problems within a half-hour.

    • Linda H says:

      I agree with Tom and Carol and the others. I pull away from writing when I can’t get connected to it. I call it “Think time”, something I once heard Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, say he took great value in. When I step away, either to walk or do other things, my mind clears and the words flow. Truly shortens the writing process because I get better ideas. Working out also helps.
      Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  3. Ronda says:

    Even when you *think* your writing sucks, the best thing to remember is that others don’t think it sucks. Lots of people would rather poke themselves in the eye with a stick than sit in front of a blank page. You have to remember that you are writing for those people. Even if you think it sucks, many of your clients and prospects think it’s the best invention since the cronut.
    Another thing to keep in mind is that writing is a practice. You improve with time. Your writing today is not as good as it will be tomorrow but it’s also better than it was yesterday.
    Ronda recently posted…7 Warning Signs that Your Content Marketing Has Gone Off the RailsMy Profile

  4. Daryl says:

    My writing? Sucking?
    Blasphemy!

    However, when I do need a pick me upper, I generally re read great blog posts, especially if I’m trying to portray a particular characteristic in my writing.

    E.g. I may go ready something by Ashley Ambirge for personality and in-your-faceness (not an actual word, but is SHOULD be) or maybe something by Demian Farnworth for storytelling, or one of Jon Morrow’s great posts for inspiration and overcoming the odds.
    Daryl recently posted…September 2014 Freelance Writing Income ReportMy Profile

  5. Linda H says:

    Many times I feel my writing lacks but I have to push forward anyway. Here’s a quote from Agatha Christie I posted on the wall in front of my desk to remind me of my position:

    “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

    Sometimes when I believe the writing lacks my client believes it’s outstanding. I’ve learned to go with it and just write. Learn from the bad days and get better. The long-term payoff is sometimes I read something I wrote and am amazed at the quality–when I initially thought it stunk.
    Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  6. Rohi Shetty says:

    Hi Ivy,
    Thanks for the inspiration. I liked your idea of analyzing your own writing. Another way would be to analyze the writing of your favorite writers and rewrite it in your own words.

    Ultimately, new writers are going to suck at least some of the time. We just have to keep writing and not lose heart. As Holly Lisle says, “Safe never starts; perfect never finishes.”
    Rohi Shetty recently posted…How James Chartrand Helped Me Publish 6 Kindle Books in 5 MonthsMy Profile

  7. Waqas Masood says:

    Hello Ivy, thanks for motivational read. Let me start by admitting that the quality had been my prime concern when I’m supposed to “double-compete” in this robust market. First, as a non-native and second, among the established brands but when I started to assert myself, “Yes, I CAN WRITE” (thanks to my long-term American clients and their testimonials that keep telling me that I’m a writer who can stand out even among natives).

    Your post compelled me to comment 🙂 Happy writing
    Waqas Masood recently posted…Feverish Khan Disgusted PTI Marchers Leaving Them Alone In Rain!My Profile

  8. Colleen Wright says:

    Probably shouldn’t admit this, but when I’m feeling insecure I give my writing to the only person who thinks it’s the best thing since Andy Rooney: my mother. As a procrastinator, I also write with self-imposed deadlines, so no matter how horrible I may think something is, I have to work through it by my submission deadline.

  9. shaizeen says:

    I’am interested in writting and my article was not good as i was first time trying for online job my mind really got tired because i didn’t have any experience but your advices and your thoughts always encourages me thank you carol:)

  10. I am starting my fourth book. The second is better than the first, the third better than the second. I imagine the fourth to be better yet. I fight the temptation of returning to the earlier ones and spiraling into editing, and editing, and editing yet again. Oh, that I get published and put it all to rest.

    If Michelangelo were still alive, we would find him on his back in the Sistine Chapel, doing a little touch up.

  11. Marte Cliff says:

    When I start thinking everything I write stinks I know it’s time to get up and do something else – preferably outdoors. Taking a walk, playing with the dogs or the horse, mowing the lawn or pulling weeds are all activities that can re-start my writing juices. And the best thing of all – sometimes when I let go and quit thinking about it, the “right” idea comes crashing in.

  12. Cherese Cobb says:

    Colleen,
    I’m with you! Anytime I feel down about my writing my mom and brother make me feel better. Actually, my mom is a pretty harsh critic–she’ll say, “I really hate the way that’s phrased” or “Boy, that’s a little robotic!” LOL My brother thinks my writing is the best thing since sliced-bread. Personally, I try to remember that practice makes perfect (especially when you get edits you didn’t see coming from your editor), and I get a high from completing an assignment. Even so, not every piece of writing is worth publishing.

    • Ivy Shelden says:

      Cherese,

      It sounds like your mom makes a decent editor!:) lol. I think the realization that not everything needs to be published is quite liberating…and nothing beats that feeling you get after finally completing an assignment!

      Ivy
      Ivy Shelden recently posted…Creative Blocks Part I: Real World Anxiety and StressMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m impressed with those of you who have their mom read everything! I only want my parents to see it after it’s all polished up and perfect. 😉

      • Linda H says:

        My dad was more a cheerleader than my mom. He was constantly telling me I followed his mother on writing talent. Yet my mom was a former teacher, so she could review my work with a more critical eye. They never really reviewed my materials though due to distance apart and inability to access the information without a computer. Glad it works out for you other folks. I had great mentors in other writers who gave a critical eye. Through their efforts I got my first article published and started forward writing more freelance pieces. They were a good substitute at least.
        Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

      • Cherese Cobb says:

        Ivy,
        She really would make a great editor! In my opinion, polished work is for everyone else…besides my whole family knows I a bit of a mess! LOL
        P.S. My Mom is okay with mild cussing–which I rarely do anyway.

  13. logan mathis says:

    I think every writer is going to think their writing sucks. I know I have a cruel inner critic when it comes to my work.
    The best way to look at it as see what you don’t like, and find a way to fix it. When I had problems with characterization, I practiced constantly on characterization and now it’s easily my best trait in fiction writing.
    It all comes with time and practice. Read, write, get critiqued, and read about writing. Rinse and repeat.
    logan mathis recently posted…What Writing Taught Me About Dedication and SacrificeMy Profile

    • Linda H says:

      Logan, you’re spot on about everyone being their worst critic. You read something and think it’s horrible, then rethink it and the outcome is totally different. Repetition, practice and reading to improve are key points in bettering your own writing. Plus, you stop taking yourself so seriously when you realize that you’re as good as others but could improve on a regular basis. My biggest help was reading how Stephen King struggled with his first novels–I’m not a fan but his writing is amazing. He’s human. Enter Agatha Christie, Andy Rooney and Carol Tice and you realize you’re among the greats when struggling, making it easier to accept and move forward.
      Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  14. Shelby says:

    Love this post, though I seem to have the opposite problem recently. I just did some quick math and I write easily about 7,000 words per week and produce around 100 articles per month.

    With all of this writing, I find that sometimes I have an attitude of: “I know what I’m doing, leave me alone.” I’m not proud of that, but it happens. I think it has to do with how many articles I have to write in a month and how quickly I have to work in order to do that. It’s not always easy to take criticism under those circumstances.

    Has anyone else ever felt this way or is it just me? 🙂

    • Linda H says:

      Yes, Shelby I’ve felt that way. I used to write curriculum for Corporate America and I knew what I was doing. But many times supervisors or others would criticize what was written or how it was written, yet when doing so they showed me that I had conveyed the very idea or concept I wanted to with the right attitude. It’s hard when that happens–you know you’ve done a good job and others don’t get it. Frustrating.
      Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  15. Wendy Jones says:

    Great post! As a fresh blogger, I can totally relate. I think most of the time we over-criticize ourselves and our work. What was your coloring like when you first learned to hold a crayon?

  16. donia moore says:

    I really enjoyed your “When Your Writing Sucks” article. I recently had a not-so-good experience with a writing site that I basically tried for fun and because I had heard that they were pretty good. I had just had several articles published in national magazines and thought it might be fun to write outside my niche, so I joined the site. After the first article I submitted to the site, the editor sent me back a very terse email, bordering on rude, telling me that my writing wasn’t relevant. The point is that it may not be your writing that sucks – you just might be in the wrong place for your writing, and that’s almost always true of content mills.

    So, lesson learned, I will keep trolling for my own clients.

    Thanks for your great efforts to educate us all.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Don’t know what you mean by a ‘writing site’…but the thing is, reactions to writing vary. It’s all so subjective. I was teacher’s pet at the business journal I wrote for, had 3-4 editors who loved me…and then a new one came who thought I couldn’t write a sentence. And it was just time to go.

      I think the big problem writers have is that they are too swayed by outside feedback, and not listening closely enough to their own inner knowledge of their gifts.

  17. Hey Carol, I love the positive spin by using, “This was great practice. I’m honing my writing chops.” When I feel like I’m writing like crap, I try to take a break and then come back to it, or I try to figure out what’s on my mind and distracting me, then deal with it. But it’s so nice to see I’m not alone in having “off” days! Thanks for the post. 🙂

  18. Lichen Craig says:

    You make some great points in this article! But I think you missed a bit one: if your writing “sucks”, take a serious course. Too many writers do not evolve because they simply have never taken writing as a craft, something to be studied and practiced. You don’t “just do it” because you’re the next Hemingway undiscovered. You will not improve or reach your potential if you have no formal training. Take a class from a qualified teacher of creative writing, or hire an editor with that background to help you with your work. Either will teach you a great deal, you’ll evolve faster, and reach your true potential by using real skill.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, for a long time, I felt that writing couldn’t be formally taught — you either had it or didn’t. But over the years, I’ve come to see there are some basics of the craft that *can* be learned, and it’s important to learn the writing form you’re writing. What goes into a good magazine article? How do you create a compelling query letter that gets you an assignment?

      That sort of thing, I now do teach through my Useful Writing Courses with Linda Formichelli.

      I agree with you about finding great editors to work with — two I had early in my career taught me so very much.

  19. My writing certainly isn’t the best all the time. For those times that I just can’t get into it, I do something completely different, but still creative.

    A few weeks ago I was struggling to write an article, so I decided I’d finally make a start on sewing that skirt I’d bought fabric for. In the end, I just cut it to size and went back to writing. The article flowed perfectly!
    Razwana Wahid recently posted…Your Work is Your Life – whatever does that mean?My Profile

  20. I’m happy to read all these comments. Some are useful for me and for some I have to think about it. At the end, I have to figure out, what is the best way for me to succeed. I won’t forget to mention, when I feel insecure, I handle it on the same way as Colleen Wright but not my mother helps me, my son does.

  21. Tyra says:

    Ivy, you had some excellent tips. I wish I read this before I just finished my Comp 2 class. If I ever need writing tips, I will definitely be contacting you!

  22. Ivy,
    I’m so glad I found you here on Carol’s blog. Your encouragement is inspirational. Too often, we are overly critical of ourselves and are our own worse enemies.

    What I find helpful when I write is to think of myself as talking to someone. I just let the words flow. Then, after they’re written down, I’ll edit it. The key is for each of us to find our own voice. Usually, others will not be as critical of us as we are ourselves.
    Sherryl Perry recently posted…Did You Know Google Panda 4.1 Rewards Quality Content? #FridayFindsMy Profile

  23. Matt D. says:

    You’re so right. There’s only one thing to do when you don’t like your writing, when it sucks. Or whenever you’re stuck. Write. And keep writing.

  24. I think if you get really down on what you are currently writing, it can be helpful to go back and read some of your earlier stuff. On a day to day level you don’t see that you are improving and learning as a writer, so it helps to see how much your writing has evolved.

    We all have to start somewhere and if we have carried on writing, it will have improved and developed. There is also no such thing as a perfect piece of writing, so I suspect that most of us should be a bit kinder to ourselves more of the time!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I used to do that all the time, Cynthia – read through my clip file. I’d think, “Wow, I wrote this stuff — I can figure out this new assignment, too.”

  25. Vickie says:

    Thanks for directing me towards this post, Carol! It’s true that any writing that you do is good writing… because it prepares you for more and hones your skills. I was a “writer” that didn’t write for so long and now I’m finally getting back into it. I’m making myself post pieces even if I think they’re not brilliant because I know that it’s the only way to improve.
    Vickie recently posted…How I ended up touring a museum of purses in FlorenceMy Profile

  26. Milafel says:

    This is timely. Things haven’t been going so well for me over the past few weeks as far as writing is concerned. I even thought of shifting to another career. But I thought maybe I hadn’t just given my best, so right now, I’m not going to make giving up an option. For the past few days, as soon as I sit in front of my computer to do my work, I say, “I’ll be better.” Somehow, it helps.
    Milafel recently posted…Shrimp Scampi PastaMy Profile

    • Milafel, I have a good friend who also writes, and we often talk about how tempting it is to just say “Screw it!” and throw in the towel. Especially when you feel like you’re not improving and have doubt and self-critisism gnawing away your motivation. I think feelings of insecurity and defeat must happen to every writer, because the more I read from and talk to writers, the more I hear they struggle with the same things. You’re not alone! But we can never give up — we all know that would be WAY too big of a “what if.” And how would other writers find comfort when they’re having similar struggles? Thanks for the honest share.

  27. (I’m not sure where else to post this, and sorry for the piddly question, but does anyone know how set a pic for our icon/avatar? The white and grey outline makes me sad.)

  28. Bellaisa says:

    My writing has definitely improved over the years. I look back on some of my articles from a few years ago and cringe, and I’m sure I will do the same in a few years from now in regards to my writing today.

    I find that reading helps me improve my writing. I often find myself learning something from at least one or two sentences per book or article that I read.
    Bellaisa recently posted…Subliminal Guru: Subliminal Messages That Are Subliminally Easy!My Profile

  29. Italfilam says:

    I’ve just written an eBook, a simple one, but every time I go over it I find loads of mistakes. I edit and re-edit. I re-read and all the same, more mistakes. Geez this simple eBook will never reach its publication stage! What I do? 1)I troll my hero writers (one of them is the creator of this site) and study their work. 2)I wake up early in the morning when my mind is fresh and research how to make my writing better. I pinpoint where my weakness lies and work on it, like I have an issue with clarity, I nag Google to find me ” how to write with clarity”. 3)I only not study my heroes’ writings but also random works of various bloggers. Did that blogger turn me on or off? If on, I’ll apply his/her style in my writing, but if off I’d avoid those aspects that made me turned off.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sounds to me like a situation where you need to hire an outside editor. Even if it’s just a journalism student, or you trade services with another writer — some people just can’t proof their work.

      And what you want to do is press ‘publish’ on that ebook as soon as possible, so you can move on to the next project. So if you’re just going around in circles, it’s time to get help. I’ve hired a pro editor on all the ebooks I’ve done, and it’s well worth it.

  30. ive had many days where I feel my writing stinks. I tend to be very hard on myself especially on my writing because I’m very passionate about my work. I try to take every negative thing I say about myself and make a positive. The first step is not letting yourself bring your writing down because you believe your not good enough. You have to believe in yourself!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Or…just stop saying negative things about yourself. Be your own biggest cheerleader. You want to pull that negative self-talk tape out of the deck, shred it, and replace it with one that recognizes there is no one else on earth who can write it like you.

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