Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers

The difference between good writers and bad writers has little to do with skill. It has to do with perseverance. Bad writers quit. Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it.

Good writers keep going

Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

What good writers do

Good writers practice. They take time to write, crafting and editing a piece until it’s just right. They spend hours and days, just revising.

Good writers take criticism on the chin and say “thank you” to helpful feedback; they listen to both the external and internal voices that drive them. And they use it all to make their writing better.

They’re resigned to the fact that first drafts suck and that the true mark of a champion is a commitment to the craft. It’s not about writing in spurts of inspiration. It’s about doing the work, day-in and day-out.

Good writers can do this, because they believe in what they’re doing. They understand this is more than a profession or hobby. It’s a calling, a vocation.

Good writers aren’t perfectionists, but they’ve learned the discipline of shipping, of putting their work out there for the world to see.

What bad writers don’t do

Bad writers don’t understand this, which is precisely what makes them bad writers. They presume their writing has achieved a certain level of excellence, so they are closed off to the concept of editing or rewriting.

They can seem haughty, prideful, and arrogant. But really, it’s laziness and fear (mostly fear).

Why don’t they edit? Why don’t they write ahead? Why do they give into the myth of the overnight genius? Because they’re afraid of putting the work in — and failing.

As a result, their work is scattered and disconnected, not nearly as good as they think.

How to be different

A lot of decent writers think they’re great. I used to be one of those people. Stubborn and pig-headed, I didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to grow.

But I wasn’t that good.

When I ask people to rewrite a guest post or make suggestions on how to improve their writing, they get defensive. Or more often the case, I never hear from them again.

It is a rare occasion to I hear from a writer who asks for feedback and means it.

Many want to get together for coffee; few want to write.

A good writer is humble. Regardless of skill, she is committed to seeing the writing process through to completion. No matter how grueling or hard, he will write. And she will get better.

So what can you — the aspiring writer with something to say — do?

Make a choice…

Choose to be different. Keep going when others do not. Go the extra mile that most will not take. Be amazing by persevering.

Take the crap job that pays nothing. Offer to be someone’s understudy or apprentice. Put the hours in, pay your dues. It will pay off. But you will have to work.

Don’t coast on talent alone. Let it remind you of the responsibility you have to honor your gift. And if you’re not that good, well here’s the good news: you can get better.

You can outlast those who are lucky and out-work those who are lazy.

This all begins with humility. Which really means a willingness to listen and change. To do the work and become a professional.

If you do this, if you take the time to make your work great by never settling for good enough, it will make all the difference. So start persevering today.

What do you think is the difference between good writers and bad writers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

*Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. To get updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • Dayala Roman

    Haha, bad writer sounds like Steven Moffat in a nutshell.

    • Viva

      I HAVE FOUND MY MOIRAIL.

  • Judith

    Thanks for posting this.

  • James

    I’m trying to be a good writer, but I’m one of the people who works long shifts, gets only a few hours in the evening to work, is a perfectionist and will totally cancel a story if there’s a bad review on it; I’ll take it down and delete it all – ideas, characters, etc – and restart.

  • Nathan

    Thanks man, I’ve been struggling to write, constantly worried about what people are going to think. And whether or not this should even go onto paper. But one thing I won’t do, is stop. Your article has pushed me towards that goal, thank-you.

  • Nora L Pratt

    I was just writing in my blog as to whether I have what it takes and what exactly does it mean to have “the stuff” for writing and I came across you post. Great advice. Thank you!

  • miss jhe

    i’ve been struggling for now how to write a newsletter, for this is my very first time to do it…

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  • AP

    Inspired. Thank you. I still seem to be more of a bad writer. Should write more often.

  • Daniel Jackson

    Hey I have only been writing for a year, but I will say this I have the creativity to be a good writer. My only downfall is my grammar sucks. I often use the wrong words. And I tend to make my stories short when a lot of people want longer stories. I just have difficulty making my stories longer. And is it good or bad that people are not leaving comments on my stories. When I do get comments their never ones. If anyone is interest in reading them. Dragonfly Beauty, Dragon Soul, and Demon Sword are on http://www.noveljoy.com. I just want feedback to make my stories better.

    • Joseph Escalante

      I, too, struggle with making my stories longer. Most times, I write a kick ass introduction/build up, but what comes after that usually has less meat when it should have more.

      • http://michaelchristophercarter.moonfruit.com Michael Carter

        Do you map out your stories? I would find it very difficult to keep the momentum of a kick ass introduction without mapping briefly where that story could go. Then you fill in the gaps (not even necessarily consecutively) to really expand the story. Please feel free to disregard this advice if it doesn’t resonate with you, but I thought you might find it helpful.

    • yeanqa

      I can relate with you. My grammar isn’t too great either, and I love writing short stories

  • Issy

    Thanks, Jeff. I have been searching the internet, devouring all the information available regarding writing novels, and how to go about publishing them, and your words were the most encouraging; not that any discouragement would have caused me to give up writing.
    Will follow your advice. I like your advice very much :)

  • Cassidy

    Thank you so much, Jeff. I’m usually one who is arrogant. I believe that I’m the best at something…Honestly, I hate that about myself. But it’s just how I am. I stopped to think about myself and all of the failed stories I have written. I deleted all of them…because I just couldn’t continue on. I gave up on them.

    • spitzkat

      hi cassidy, don’t hate yourself for having self-confidence. challenge yourself to prove your worth to the world. surprise people but most of all surprise yourself. God bless.

    • Nicole Marie

      I have that problem with arrogance in some of my work. (Some, I stress. Most of it I realize I have no clue what I’m doing.) I feel at this point, I just need to seek out the criticism, and accept it as help and not something that’s supposed to deter me from my hobby. If you talk to successful writers, ALL of them will tell you that they have written so many failed stories. They have sheer volumes of crap just laying around. But every once in a while, they turn up a gem. It’s definitely about the perseverance.

  • Swati Hegde

    I read this and realised that I might be on the brink. I want to be a good writer, but I simply can’t take criticism! It’s not that I’m arrogant… it’s just that I bruise easily. Many times I’ve given up simply because someone didn’t like my writing!

    But I guess I have to be open to suggestions. If you’re free, Jeff, would you take the time out to go through my blog and tell me what you think?
    http://geekie-chic.blogspot.in/

  • Rosanne

    I love this post. I am a writer, but I’ve also been a teacher and an editor. I think writing is such a personal thing and people make themselves vulnerable in their writing, so when I offer even constructive criticism, it can feel very personal – like they are being criticized, not just their work. I have pretty thick skin – I work in the newspaper business and you have to – so when I edit, I do try to be gentle with people and get across that we ALL need helpful criticism. When you are in the midst of a writing project, it’s hard to be objective, so good criticism is vital to good writing. Thanks again for the post. I’m going to share it with my writing group! :)

  • http://www.overthinkersadvice.com/ Wan Muhammad Zulfikri Bin Wan

    Excellent post.

    Simple and to the point. Sometimes we think too much on how to make ourself a good writer but it all boils down to perseverance.

  • SarahKentucky

    What about “bad readers”?? They seem as clueless to what is good writing as the bad writers they rave about.

    • uma

      lol

    • http://michaelchristophercarter.moonfruit.com Michael Carter

      Good point!

  • http://jsbrewster.com Jim Brewster

    Thanks, Jeff. Your words have been keeping me focused and motivated, as they have been for the past few weeks

  • Jackson Carter

    Great article. I would just highlight it a bit: SEEK criticism. Don’t just put up with it. Go hunt down great criticism.

  • yeanqa

    *sigh*.. Does doing mostly short stories and posting them to my blog almost immediately ( after editing most of my blunders, but not completely deleting the first draft) make me a bad writer?
    Lord knows I try, but honestly I am far from good. Also, I rarely get significant traffic and those who read my work are mostly friends, who perhaps don’t want to hurt my feelings with the truth.
    Very insightful article though. I guess all I can be is better with constant practice.

  • Christina Parker Brown

    love!

  • Amy

    I am a voracious reader and an English teacher. I have studied the craft for years, but my writing absolutely sucks. I come up with awesome ideas, but once I start writing I can’t stop myself from making all the blunders that make a terrible novel – telling instead of showing, lame dialogue, weak voice, bland description, lacking action. I understand writing in theory, but I can’t seem to put it into practice. I can’t seem to translate my ideas onto paper. It’s very discouraging, but I keep trying anyway.

    • teddybowties

      Check otu this excerpt from my DW fanfiction, which I use as practice for my original stuff. And because e the doctor won’t shut up in my head. But really, who would want him to?

      Then he withdraws the invitation of his lips, bares his white teeth, bunches his shoulders as if for a bull run, and invests his head into the top of his six foot odd prison of dubious pine.

      enjoy. thnk about why this sentence works for a minute. Read it like a writer, not like a drone. Waht FEELs right? What doesn’t? trust your instincts. Think VERY. CAREFULLY. about what NEEDS to go there at the time, and ignore the rules. When you’re good enough, you cna break them adn laugh. I’ve bee nwriting for over fifteen years… everyone makes mistakes. I am no exception. ;) But there is gained a feel for the craft, while you practice along forever. ;) keep on truckin, babe.

      • Nicole Marie

        It gives me a good description, but I feel the adjectives are overused.

        • teddybowties

          hi! wow, I forgot i made that post! ;(((
          yeah, am considering working on that. but they are soo funnnn! ;) nah, I get it.

          ;)

  • https://www.fanfiction.net/u/5163358/Coesa-Rudo Coesa Rudo

    I’m a sixteen year old who has wants to be a writer, literally since I could pick up a book and read a word I knew it was what I was destined to do. I write (and read a few books) every single day and I write for fanfiction, hopefully I can get to the point where I can be published. Any suggestions for a young aspiring writer? I could really use some honest criticism, I might be one of the few people who wants my work torn apart so I can get better. I’m always looking to improve, for in the words of Ernest Hemmingway, “we are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” :)

    • http://michaelchristophercarter.moonfruit.com Michael Carter

      I love the Hemmingway quote! You have the right work ethics to be brilliant I think. The only problem with people tearing your work apart is that writing is an art and is subjective. Read reviews for any book you love and see they almost all will have negative as well as positive reviews. What I am saying is, treat your work like a firmly held belief. Happily let people criticise but don’t feel you have to accept the criticism as correct. Be open to improving but be true to your voice. Recognise that your voice will change with time too. Keep it up and good luck.

      Michael Christopher Carter

    • Dude

      If you ever want to be published (or taken seriously for that matter) my suggestion is to quit writing FanFiction and just try and write original short stories instead: you’ll struggle with plot, character development, prose quality, etc – but you’ll get better at those skills while writing and creating characters you can actually (possibly) use in the future without being a plagiarist.

  • Eleanor

    I completely agree, my teacher told me I had some talent a couple of years ago, but I never tried to write or cared about my school work, however, I’m in my final year of high school now so I want to improve my writing. I have been taking criticism from my friends; forcing it out of them whenever I can corner them for long enough. And now I aim to get back on track and boost my work ethic, I’m really excited for the rest of the year; hopefully raising my B standard to an A again by putting in the effort. It does feel personal when someone criticises my work, but I get over it and realise it is for the best now.
    This article was extremely helpful, thank you.

  • gauravg

    nice article I enjoyed it.

  • Beatriz

    Great article! I agree with you. Check out my blog: gartlerwritingstudio.blogspot.com.

  • Colin Neumann

    Cool stuff. Does anybody here have any favorite books on the craft of writing? Especially those who have a good deal of experience.

  • http://beginingsinwriting.wordpress.com/ R.w. Foster

    So, does that mean you think Faulkner, and Hemingway were crap authors? Tales of their arrogance are legendary.

    • Emma

      I’m pretty sure he didn’t say that. He didn’t mention names; he simply said decent writers think they’re great. Don’t twist his words.

      • http://beginingsinwriting.wordpress.com/ R.w. Foster

        You misunderstand my point. According to the author, the best writers are humble. Merely decent writers thing they are great. Faulkner & Hemingway were known to classify themselves as legendary, or something similar. So, by his words, those two gentlemen were very bad.

        No twisting at all.

  • Tamar S

    I can’t think of what a bad writer is..all I know is that who ever writes, writes for a reason, who ever delivers a great message gets to be called a good writer

  • Claudia H Gruy

    Sometimes you just listen and smile and spend nights to figure out if the critique is crab or if it’s you. To find good critiques is about as hard as finding an agent – and they at least have assistants…

  • TJ Forrester

    Thanks for the post and I couldn’t agree more, Jeff. A writer must stand out to get ahead and settling for the norm is detrimental for a career. I blogged along the same lines a few days ago. You’re Doing It All Wrong (tips for beginning writers)

  • StarDragon77

    How can one be different if everything in every combination has been written? Especially when so much is trite or cliche?

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  • Yufei Geng

    a lot of times I am afraid to put my work on my blog because I know my contents are not good enough, a lot of times I want to quit to write, but my heart tells me I don’t want to do so. So, I insist on it, even I haven’t write a lot of quality work. Jeff, you write my true feeling. Eventually, I put my articles on blog because I need people tells me what’s wring with my content.

    • sagar09

      Mam,as you want comments on your writing,I would want to bring your attention to the grammar,as it is replete with error. e.g. from what you wrote above – ‘I haven’t write a lot..’ – haven’t should be followed by ‘written’ instead of ‘write’. There are more mistakes,please look up on them.

      • http://Mathecash.com Yufei Geng

        Yep, I have a lot of grammar mistakes I must admit. That’s why I am too shy to put it on my blog. But, thanks for reminder me, I will try to do as possible as I can.

        • Drunkespeare

          Yufei,

          Don’t pay attention to that person who was trying to correct your grammar. His own writing if rife with mistakes, which leads me to think he’s trying to belittle you to make himself feel superior. For one thing, starting a sentence with e.g. is always wrong; if you can find an exception to the rule, the e in e.g. needs to be capitalized. Another example of his many errors is “I would want to bring your attention to the grammar,as [sic] it is replete with error.” Did he actually write “replete with error”? Is the grammar “replete” with error or is the writing “replete” with error[s]? And in what century did he learn that “I would want to bring …” is acceptable
          Standard American (or British) English? Also, in America, ma’am (short for madam) is the more accepted word “used to politely speak to a woman who you do not know,” not “mam.” The British also say and write ma’am, but they do occasionally write mam.

          I could parse Professor sagar09’s comments and find other mistakes or poor choices, but why waste our time. He’s just trying to show off. I’m sure someone will parse my comment and find something they can nitpick about, or they might come up with some “rule” that’s more folklore than rule. I guess some people need to do that sort of thing.

          Perhaps you and I need to improve our grammar. Who doesn’t—except perfect people who’ll never have anything interesting to say or write. Don’t be intimidated. Especially for fiction a writer, your story is more important than your grammar; you’ll revise and edit your manuscript many times before you get the words right.

          I have a blog for fiction writers, but it might not be what you need: http://www.measure-and-madness.com/ Stop by and see if there’s anything I might do for you.

          If you don’t find what you need on Jeff’s blog, or on mine, keep looking. There are plenty of people willing to help you, not criticize you. I’d be glad to suggest some useful books and websites.

          Drunkespeare

          • http://Mathecash.com Yufei Geng

            Thanks for letting me know this points, I agree with you. We can decrease our grammar mistakes as we edit and edit content again, as “our writing” growing up, as we are going to be professionalism. I am getting encouraged by your comments. Loving your comments now! I just stop by your blogging, I am fascinated right now! Drunkspare, write more, I would love to read it as your fellow reader.

            • Drunkespeare

              Yufei,

              Hey, thanks for the compliment. It will take me a few more weeks to have my blog site fully customized. I’m not much of a geek. I should be posting regularly later this month or in early October. If
              you are serious about writing, pay attention to what Jeff has to say about the hard work and determination.

              I advise you not to share your writing with anyone who is not directly involved with its production—that is, don’t casually share with your friends, family, or online strangers until it’s published. I have a good reason for saying this. However, it helps to find someone who actually knows about the writing process. If you don’t have someone already, I give free advice and you can contact me anytime using the email on my blog site.

              Wishing you the best.

              Drunkespeare

        • Drunkespeare

          Yufei,
          Forgot to say that you need somebody who can tell you what’s good about your writing, not what’s wrong with it. You can always fix what’s “wrong.” I’ve done a lot of editing and believe me every writer has a lot that’s “wrong” with their writing. But they, and their editor, improve through revision what’s good.
          Drunkespeare

          • Drunkespeare

            Yufei,
            Should have written “all writers have a lot that’s ‘wrong’ with their writing.” But then I don’t let mistakes or errors bother me: I can edit my writing or have someone else do it.

            Drunkespeare

  • http://www.measure-and-madness.com/ Lamont E. Wilkins

    Jeff,
    Really appreciate your post. Some of what I’m going to say has more to do with the comments than with anything you’ve actually written in your post. I’ve been a writer and editor for many years, and I completely agree that “Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it.” If it wasn’t hard, everybody would be doing it successfully.

    After reading some of the comments, it seems that some of your followers misinterpret what you meant by this: “When I ask people to rewrite a guest post or make suggestions on how to improve their writing, they get defensive. Or more often the case, I never hear
    from them again.”

    Since you, Jeff, are directly involved with the publication of anything on your blog site, I do not understand why any professional writer would object to your input or feedback. Disagree with you, yep; get defensive because you’re doing your job, nope. If they act
    that way I wouldn’t have coffee with them even if they were buying.

    Some comments seem to think that you are saying they should welcome criticism from anybody—regardless how much the person offering the critical comments actually knows about writing or editing. I’m not going to turn this into a dissertation, but I have good reasons for believing that some writers should keep their unfinished work to themselves—unless they’re getting advice from a knowledgeable person who knows how to give constructive advice. As for me, I take advice only from literary agents, editors, and others involved with the publishing process.

    I’ve never been a fan of workshops. If a workshop works for you, then great. But all writers are not the same. And we should respect writers’ individual needs. Charles Johnson, Raymond Carver, Louise Erdrich, and many other accomplished fiction writers honed their craft in university workshop. I suspect that many other talented writers are discouraged in workshops by the pointless and sometimes malicious criticism they received from students who think criticism means only “to find fault.” I don’t think every literate person has the skill required for giving constructive criticism of an unpublished work of fiction. Intentionally or thoughtlessly, I think some criticism does more harm than good.

    When it comes to family members and close friends, they can say the strangest things about an unfinished novel or a draft of a completed one. Jeff, you know how many edits a novel goes through before it’s printed—even with ebooks. Most people are not used to reading unedited manuscripts. When it comes to getting advice about my writing, I’d never trust my brother, mother, or best friend’s opinions—well, my best friend is an
    editor, so I’d trust her. If I want advice about a manuscript I’ll get it from someone who knows what he or she is doing.

    Your blog is one of the first ones I checked out when I started thinking about becoming a blogger. I’ve just launched my blog but won’t have it fully customized for another month or so. I’m not much of a geek. Anyway, thanks for posting so many interesting articles. Now that I’ve officially entered the blogosphere, I have to visit your blog more often. Thanks.

    Wishing you the best.

    Lamont E. Wilkins
    aka Drunkespeare
    http://www.measure-and-madness.com/

    • Lamont Wilkins

      Jeff,

      I know that comments are supposed to be our unedited thoughts, but
      I made a mistake that needs correcting. In my last comment, I wrote, “I suspect
      that many other talented writers are discouraged in workshops by the pointless
      and sometimes malicious criticism they received from students who think
      criticism means only ‘to find fault.’” If I had taken time to edit myself, I
      would’ve written “. . . students who think to critique means ‘to find fault.’”

      Sorry about my poor choice of words.There are important differences between criticizing and critiquing.

      Lamont E. Wilkins
      aka
      Drunkespeare

      http://www.measure-and-madness.com/

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  • Erin Lindsey C.

    I definitely needed this boost of encouragement!! Thank you! As a young writer, it’s sometimes hard to be confident in my work. This post has reassured me that I don’t need to compare myself to others. Thank you.

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  • Katyan

    To be honest, I’ve always experienced troubles when writing. I used to write a lot. I used to post my works in public sites and I got lots of positive feedback. Then I got arrogant. And when I wanted to write again, I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. I became a perfectionist and that was my biggest mistake.
    Currently I’m trying to get over my own pride and try to work again. For three years now.
    Good luck to everyone who is writing, please don’t repeat my mistake.

  • Dominic M

    I absolutely agree with everything you have said. It’s a well known fact that writing is 99% effort and 1% talent. That’s an exaggeration of course put it frames the idea well. You hone your craft slowly and painfully over time. It’s often not about what you scribble down in the heat of the moment but how you re-word and edit the first draft. In this case, more is more. It’s also a collaborative experience, involving a third party, an editor. You need a fresh pair of eyes. But the bottom line is that you need an enormous amount of drive and single mindedness. Most people are not temperamentally suited to the peculiar sacrifices and demands of the fully-committed writers life. It’s at the point people need to get real. You must be prepared to sacrifice everything for your work. Relationships, children, a real job, a social life ( excuse my spelling and grammar, I m using an iPad). You must spend a lot of your time alone, in your room, beavering away. Most people can t live like that. Most people don’t have that sort of drive. Honestly, who would want to live like that? It’s a lonely existence with very little to recommend it. Otherwise you could be a columnist or journalist, these people are usually talented. They began in their formative years and showed natural talent earlier on which they built upon.

  • SueH

    Thank you for this post – it inspired me when I needed it most. I wrote my first book and feel like I wrote 5 after going up the learning curve, taking critiques, and editing till my fingers ached. I’m in the query process now and that is its own dose of hard work/perseverance. If anyone out there (women’s fiction) is looking for some exposure to an agent, please see this post from Writer’s Digest.

    http://tinyurl.com/of5zgqz

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  • http://www.redconvoy.com redconvoy

    I have to say that you are right. Someone year later told me that there was not enough description in my work. I looked back and found that one story did and the rest didn’t. I thanked the person. Sometimes we write so fast or we get too much into it that we forget who we are writing for.

  • Christine Baely

    I must agree you speak the truth. However creating something from nothing, putting it in words and than editing and correcting it is a gift very few have. To write what you believe you have to say to others and actually doing so, is much harder than what is commonly believed. Also to finding your own wick pointers within the story you have written it is even more difficult especially when you must become your harsher judge and jury. What I have discovered is we can all try our best but one book will not make us writers and I don’t mean about getting famous or successful but I mean in the way we build our characters, we express our stories and how capable we are to touch the hearts of those who honor us by reading what we have created in the first place. Honestly nobody ever becomes great, as we all keep trying and learning every day something new and keep growing, this I suppose keeps happening until the very day we leave this world. Yet I must also admit, putting the effort the persistence, the willpower, the energy and the belief we can actually offer something worthwhile, is what keeps us all going, even though doubt and fear are always a companion of ours in this long searching dream. Be blessed, Be well.

  • Ambercarl123

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