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  • Writer's pictureLisa Safran

Bad Writing

We've all seen our share of bad writing. Novels with convoluted plot lines, marketing materials rife with typos, emails and texts where autocorrects take the message down a strange path. Bad writing can amuse us when it's clearly a case of the oopses. It can also disappoint us, like when the book you've chosen to read on vacation is a total dud. Bad writing is especially troublesome to me, as a professional writer, because I am tasked daily with producing good writing. I'm not saying I've never done my share of bad writing. But I am saying that I don't think it just happens. Bad writing is a result of something. It's the aftermath of a process gone wrong. I personally chalk up bad writing to two things: overconfidence and fear.

Overconfidence is when a writer thinks, "This writing is going to be easy." OK, hold it right there, buddy. Writing is never easy. It's not supposed to be. It's supposed to cause you a level of angst, self-doubt...torture. Without these negative feelings tugging at you, you're way too confident in the word choices you're making. This can lead to rash behavior like moving too fast on your craft, creating a first draft and thinking you're done, neglecting to gather sufficient research, and completely ignoring feedback from people who are not in your friends and family circle. Overconfidence can bypass the crockpot stage, thereby robbing your writing of its full flavor.

Fear, on the other hand, is the evil sibling to overconfidence. What happens to our bodies when we are afraid? We tense up, we clench, our hearts beat rapidly. Fight or flight. Fear, for a writer, becomes write or flight. The writing is the fighting; the flight is the distraction of checking emails or folding laundry to redirect our attention because we are just too scared to push through with our craft. When I write with fear—and, trust me, I do—I can feel it in my body. I feel it in my head. OK, this may sound corny, but I feel it in my heart, too. I become a mess. Creativity doesn't flow as easily when the juices are frozen. I hang onto phrases that start with "you can't" and "you'll never," which makes it difficult to focus on stringing good thoughts together. For me, fear is always tied to failure.

While overconfidence and fear, individually, can lead to bad writing, the two feelings working in tandem can produce great writing. When I got cocky, fear puts me back in place. When I get so terrified that my fingers stop typing, overconfidence kicks me in the pants. Thank goodness there's a space where the two feelings can coexist. I like to think of it as being underconfeardent.

FYI—as I'm typing this blog, the word "underconfeardent" has a line of red dots under it, flagging me that the word is wrong. I have this twitchy urge to fix it—and to ignore it and flip off my computer.

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