Reading Bad Writing or “It was a dark and stormy night"


 By Mindy Lawrence

Instructors and other professionals always tell us to read the best books and the best writers to learn from their examples. We need to find out how stories and articles are constructed by those who write them well.

Not so fast. We can learn from failures, too.

Bad writing is a bore. It takes the reader out of the story and makes them cringe. Yet, if you are writing yourself, those bad stories can be a training tool to keep your work from sharing the same fate. When you read bad writing you will see:

Overuse of adverbs
Using the same word over and over again
Underdeveloped characters
Point of view shifts
Writing descriptive passages that have no end
Lack of effort in writing the story
Lack of editing
Using cliches

There are many more examples, but you get the idea. Learning where others go wrong can keep YOU from straying down the same path. Mistakes gives writers a heads-up about what NOT to do. Don’t throw adverbs around like confetti. Don’t use the term “road” only but also use “highway and “path.” Don’t write two paragraphs instead of a three-sentence word-picture to describe something small. For HEAVEN’S SAKE EDIT!

Do some research on bad writing and read a bad story. You’ll learn what NOT to do.

Links for additional information:

Can We Learn from Bad Writing?

Why I Like to Read Bad Writing, Paul Sterlini

4 Ways Reading “Bad Writing” Can Actually Make You a Stronger Writer, Dana Sitar

3 Good Lessons to Learn from Bad Writing, Daphne Gray-Grant


Mindy Lawrence is a writer, ghost blogger, and artist based in Farmington, Missouri. She worked for the State of Missouri for over 24 years and moved to Farmington in 2020. She proofread the Sharing with Writers newsletter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson and wrote “An Itty-Bitty Column on Writing” there for ten years. She has been published in Writers' Digest magazine and interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered.




Linda Wilson said...

Great advice on catching common errors in writing even for experienced writers. I keep a list of things to look for such as what you’ve listed during revision which, by the way, takes many, many passes until I’m ready to have my piece critiqued. Thank you for sharing your expertise, Mindy.

Terry Whalin said...


Thanks for these wonderful insights for every writer. I love how you pointed toward Charles Schultz's Peanuts cartoon in your title "about a dark and stormy night."


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Good advice, Mindy. Love your resources, too!
I am in the process of editing my The Frugal Editor for its 3rd edition. I’m going to add this suggestion. 😊
Founder of “Every Day Is World Book Marketing Day”
With thanks to #WritersontheMove ‘s @Deborah Eckerling 😊

Karen Cioffi said...

Mindy, what an interesting article. I've never thought about this before, but it makes so much sense. And unfortunately, there are a lot of books online that can be used to apply this writing strategy. Thanks for sharing!

Michael J. McFadden said...

Well written Mindy! I'm a bit hesitant to read the links about bad writing however.
My writing skills and styles were never "learned" in any formal sense, but were simply absorbed through the reading of thousands of classics and popular published works while growing up.

Unfortunately though, I feel that thirty years of reading far too much truly bad writing every single day on the Internet has taken its toll on that instinctive sense of what's right or wrong, good or bad. Any sense of or thoughts on how to guard against or remedy the damage done by such poisoning? I fear that reading special examples of bad writing may simply add to my "This must be right... I know I've seen it done this way!" problem!


Karen Cioffi said...

Hi, MJM. Your concerns are sound - there is so much bad writing out there. One good way to keep your mind in sync with good writing is to actually write (copy) a well-written story by a respected author (a professional) in the genre you write. This is a copywriting trick and is meant for practice only. Hope this helps.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

@karen Cioffi , I haven’t heard this tip before! What a great idea! It pays to read this blog’s comments.
Best, Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, the copywriting arena says to 'copy' content from respected professionals - as practice only. It's to trick (teach) your brain into knowing what good copy is, this in turn helps you write good copy.

Michael J. McFadden said...

Thank you Karen! May give it a whirl!


Karen Cioffi said...

You're welcome, MJM. Hope it helps and thanks for stopping by!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Exactly, Karen. I hope no one thinks we are encouraging them to plagiarize. Yikes!
Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Karen Cioffi said...

Yikes is right,Carolyn. That's why I wrote "for practice only." To emphasize, we cannot use someone else's work as our own, that's plagiarism.

Unknown said...

It seems a contradiction but it's true - you can learn as much from bad writing as good.

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