Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Difference Between Good Writers & Bad Writers

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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 work 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 often closed off to 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 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, she 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.

Bonus: Take your writing up a notch. For tips delivered directly to your inbox for free, click here.

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

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Jack Collins

    I always thought that having bad writing skills just means that you are just thinking too fast you have no time to write neatly

    • Surly Gates

      Right. Clear thinking precedes clear writing.

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  • KAREERTRAX

    each one has a song within himself to be sung… if it is left trapped its the worst agony of all. good writer’s realize the caged bird within and express through writing The craft of writing is hard work after you have answered the call All this applies to athletes artists entrepreneurs singer anyone. Everyone has a calling all you have to know which is yours!!!!!!!!

  • Ian Long

    I can sum up what a good writer does in three words: they stay involved. This idea encompasses the main difference between being a good writer and being a bad writer. Good writers write while bad writers procrastinate about writing.

    When it comes right down to it, writing is a discipline that you have to work at every day. With that said, there are so many ways to stay involved in the craft.

    If you simply make it a goal to stay involved, then that impending white space of doom will quickly turn into a fertile playground of creativity. And while there are a number of ways to do this, I’ll highlight some that I use.

    * Don’t think of your manuscript as a linear piece of work; rather, give yourself the freedom to pick and choose what part of your story you want to focus on. Who says you have to start at the beginning, if you’re stuck, jump to another spot. Invariably, putting the stuff you’re struggling with on the back burner will allow your brain to work through a problem that may be contributing to writer’s block without you even knowing it.

    * Sometimes if I know what the problem is, I’ll write myself a note and demand my brain to figure it out. It sounds ridiculous, but I have yet come across a situation that my inner brain can’t solve.

    * Research is another avenue I love that allows me to stay involved and while technically it’s not writing, it keeps me grounded to my work and often leads to other ideas, which leads me back to my office.

    * Another key to being a good writer, is finding a place where you can write in peace. For good habits you need a good environment where you can create. This should be your temple. It’s sacred and the people around you need to understand this.

    * And finally, have your work critiqued. This allows you to build that thick skin you need for rejections and it also points out major flaws you tend to gloss over. Furthermore there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dosing of humble pie.

    If I know anything writing, it’s that I know a lot more than I did when I first started. If I know another thing about writing, it’s that I probably won’t ever know everything there is to know about the craft.

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    • Britt W.

      Thank you Ian for your words of advice and encouragement. I found this article because today I felt like ‘the bad writer’.

      ‘I don’t feel motivated. I have no idea what I’m doing. My story is horrible, etc.’

      I have these moments of doubt and struggle because it’s a symptom of being human. I need to remember that. I need to remind myself that I know no one who is motivated 100% of the time. I know no one who has it all figured out and knows exactly what they are doing. And my story is a story. It’s started. It’s easy to start something but difficult to finish.

      Allowing myself to fall down and struggle is just as difficult as letting my characters do the same. Coincidence? I think not. Because no one WANTS to struggle. But isn’t there something beautiful within the fight? Isn’t that why we are drawn to books in the first place? To meet real people, to know of their insecurities and realize they are so similar to our own? It’s what makes books tragically beautiful.

      Today I will remember that I am human. That I am a writer not based on how many books I have published (or the lack thereof), but because I choose to sit down and write today. Because I embraced the tragic beauty.

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  • We think the main difference is perseverance. The writer’s work must be constant, and the task of writing involves an everyday effort. That’s why we founded our creative writing school in order to provide assistance to writers.

  • I think I write good English, I am not being arrogant. I do not proof read that is my problem and I type too fast. If someone tells me that I am a bad writer then it bothers me a great deal. I was an ESL teacher.

    • Surly Gates

      I was an ESL teacher and I think I write well. I hope I’m not being arrogant, but I do not proofread and I type too fast. When I’m told that I am a bad writer it bothers me a great deal.

  • Kat Person

    I know I can be, and I have ideas I know I want to get out there, stories I want to tell. I can talk about writing hours on end, give every tip in the handbook, yet for some reason, no matter how passionate it makes me feel, I blank out when I start. The world is built, laws set, characters fleshed out, and plot set in motion, and I know my writing is good. Yet when it gets down to it I can’t continue for more than a few chapters. It’s infuriating. I feel like it’s a lot harder for me because I have ADD, ADHD, and OCD, the triple threat to anyone who wishes to sit down and focus. All these tips are great for people who aren’t constantly struggling with perfectionism and rabbit trails, but does anyone have advice for those of us who can’t seem to grasp the concept of focus?

    • Flora Greystone

      I know that this is late. But I think that anyone else with problems concerning focus shouldn’t try to write a whole story. Well, maybe. I don’t know much about the diseases, but I don’t think that it’s something that you can overcome. But if you like to write, maybe you can make a blog and post some short pieces? Also, here’s something I tried in order to improve my writing: I found bland parts in books with descriptions, and tried to write them in a way that it captivates the reader. For you, it could just be some practice, and a way for you to enjoy writing if you can’t do much. Perhaps that will help. And since you have some neat ideas you want to share, try writing a tiny bit every day. But that probably won’t help, for as I said, I do not know much about ADD, ADHD, or OCD. I do not know what it’s like on your end. But I do have trouble continuing more than a page of something, merely because I think it sucks, and I get infuriated. It’s not much like your case, but getting only a little done must be irritating, right? Perhaps if you had a friend who could sit down and write with you and encourage you to focus, that would help? Again, it may not, and I am sorry for that. But it might. Maybe. Try joining a writer’s group.
      You could try googling ‘How to keep focus when writing’ and see what comes up. I think that there’s an article on this website on how to stay focused.
      Also, why not develop short stories off of those ideas? Maybe some extras that happened in between parts?

      • Kat Person

        I’ve tried the google thing. I don’t really have anyone to sit down with though, and I’ve done some short pieces, thought not in a while. I’ve also done what you’ve done with books.

        I’m just so easily distracted. The focus point of most people without zoning out is, what, ten minutes? Try two. Maybe less. I HAVE to stay stimulated in some way. Multitask. Move. Thinking. I switch back and forth between five different tasks. You should see the number of tabs open on my computer right now. Not to mention the number of ideas for just ONE project…one CHAPTER can be overwhelming. I’m pulled in about one-hundred unorganized directions. It’s exhausting.

        • Brandy N Werczynski

          You sound like me. SO glad I’m not alone. When I get to writing, I shut down internet and phone. I usually have 4-6 things I’m working on at once. It used to be much worse, but I am learning to manage better, through self-discipline and several self kicks in the butt. I have to have my environment in order or I cannot focus. Sometimes I get in a zone and it’s amazing. But usually I’m all over the place. If you ever want to connect for tips, send me a message. I’d love to share what has helped me and what I’m still working on,

    • Brandy N Werczynski

      Look at it this way; every time you write one chapter, that’s one chapter ahead. Some great authors manage 500 words a day. Some up to 10,000. It’s never the same for anyone. I have ADHD and focus can be terrible sometimes. Too much going on in my head. I carry a voice recorder around with me. Sometimes I think and talk too fast to type then I get overwhelmed because I’m a paragraph ahead in my mind but only two sentences in on typing, then I forget what I needed to write because I’m already on another paragraph in my head. UGH! And a few chapters each time is really good. Just write what you can when you can. When you’re done, put it away for at least a couple of weeks then go back and read and edit it. Sometimes I look crazy walking around looking like I’m talking to myself, but it sure does help. I also use dragon naturally speaking, because, well, I’m just a slow typer and my mind just doesn’t slow down that much. There are days when I can barely get past one paragraph. Happy writing…

    • Shelley Turnbull

      I’m like this too, and I have that cycle of “this is brilliant, this is average. Oh, dear Lord, who will want to read this awful muck?” travelling through my thoughts. Sometimes when I get a block, I write a scene going on in my head. It may be later on in the book. It may be outside the story, but in the same universe, and I find that if I’m losing inspiration, writing just a few paragraphs where I find the vein richest pulls me back on track. I don’t know if that will work for you?

      • Kat Person

        Hm. I have tried that a few times. I wish I could just have it magically appear on the page while picturing the scene in my head. Even if badly worded, because you can rewrite it better. :/

  • Sara Petersen

    Great post! And good writers finish! 🙂

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  • Helsta

    I think if people are typically responding negatively to your feedback that it might be a good idea to examine how you are delivering this feedback. I think many, if not most, people are open to helpful and constructive feedback, delivered in a positive and supportive manner. But people are not as open to cold criticism. Perhaps you might think about improving this?

    • Guest

      feedback is feedback. the delivery isn’t important, you just need to have thick skin.

  • Eve

    This is great.I think young writers really need to read more posts like these,I find them really helpful.

  • LiLi

    This was extremely insightful. I recently had a revelation: That I wasn’t the best I could be. After writing a story I considered to be the best I’d done yet and taking 4 months to rewrite, revise, and edit, I turned it in to an editor who said it was, and I quote, “Poor quality writing” among other things. She liked the story and its plot, but my skills weren’t up to par. I didn’t graduate with a degree in English, I just really like to write and have been told I was great at it. My best grades in college were in English. I’ve made money writing. I just wasn’t prepared for the stinging criticism. What did I do? I slept on it. I went over her feedback and changes, realized I needed to brush up on my grammar skills, particularly those I was never taught. I needed more education in creative writing, which I was already doing before the editor, so I was on the right path. Overall, I ended up realizing I had a long way to go. I wrote my editor thanking her for her hard work and opening my eyes to new things before I went public. I asked a few questions and can’t wait to learn more from her. This is a journey, and I’m prepared for it now.

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  • Marques Ware

    Writers all over the world need motivation and inspiration to keep going. its hard when your staring at a blank page. i am just starting out as a writer and i am discovering how much commitment this craft takes. if your like me and need some motivation every now and then when things get rough, follow me on twitter @Marq_writez another good page is @Litrejections. This post is awesome.

  • Michel Linstrom

    I don’t want to be a writer, good or bad, but I can’t stop writing. I never revise what I’ve written since it’s mostly my journal but I keep writing it anyway, day after day, without anyone ever seeing it. It’s like my second nature. I write every chance I get whether with a keyboard or a pen. When I’m close to neither my hands would get twitchy, my head would spin out of control and I’d be short of breath; my whole being would itch to find writing apparatus and right then and there command my hand to do its bidding regardless of my brain’s say in the matter. I just can’t stop doing it. It’s my survival tactic. I don’t care if the product of my writing is good or bad; I just know I have to write or my brain would go numb and I’d be dead inside. I don’t live in a place where writing is lucrative, nor do I have any other reasons for doing it. I don’t even know how to use punctuation correctly. I just know I have to write because to me writing is therapy and living and I’d be dead without it.

    • Surly Gates

      Yours is not the kind of writing he’s taking about. He’s talking about writing that is meant to be read by others.

      • Michel Linstrom

        And I didn’t think anyone would read my comment, yet someone did. Maybe one day I’d look back and revise my stuff; and I’d be brave enough to show it to someone and maybe it would be more than just pages on my computer? Out of instinct I just know I have to keep doing it. Aren’t writers once just people who write a lot without getting paid for it? As of now, though, I have no plan to be one.

  • Barry Sarner

    Great advice and perfect timing . . . Thank you

  • Surly Gates

    I think you’re right about the pridefulness and arrogance. If I was speaking, and someone told me that I wasn’t being clear or that they couldn’t follow the flow of what I was saying–why would I be offended? Since I’m the one trying to be understood, I would try to make myself clearer. So it’s strange that writers would object when editors tell them their writing isn’t working. Ego must play a big part. Give me a single clearly crafted paragraph over some long winded sloppy essay or novel from someone who thinks every word they type is some kind of gift to humanity.

  • jorgeacevedo

    Recently a literary agent used the words “you are a reasonably good writer” when describing his review of a book proposal I had sent him. What am I to do with the words ‘reasonably good’ that keep circling in my head? Does that mean that I am going in the right direction or that I am just a plain average communicator? What’s your take? You give such great advice! Thanks for your time.

    • Brandy N Werczynski

      You’re going in the right direction. Except for the few ‘word magicians’, you could say most writers are plain communicators. Not sure where to go from there? Look at what reasonable means to you, and work at perfecting your writing. Get more feedback and listen to what the people say. Keep writing and editing and submitting. Keep going forward with passion and one day it will be “You are a great writer”. But never bend your own principles. Not everyone will love you or like you. And that’s ok, because a writer doesn’t write for everybody. But I would take the comment as you are on the right path and look to hone in on your storytelling. After finishing a manuscript, I like to walk away for a while then come back in a few weeks to edit. (At least a couple of weeks) It gives you a whole new perspective on what you wrote and you see things more clear.

      • jorgeacevedo

        Thanks for your positive encouragement and insight. Since I wrote that comment I sent my manuscript to an editor that was recommended to me and she was very complimentary of my style and sense of humor in writing. It has given me new hope about enthusiasm about writing and even starting on a second book. The difference in opinions between editors is amazing. Can’t give up trying. Thanks again for your help!

  • Shelter Somerset

    I think you’re confusing success with talent which do not have to be mutually exclusive.

  • James

    An analogy might be helpful about now.

    A vocal coach who has Youtube classes, books, and tapes concentrating on highly technical breathing, tongue movements, and secrets of the pro’s was all amp’d up when interviewing one of the best rock singers in the business–and when he’s asked him if he used so and so technique or this and that throat movement, the singer replied, “Sorry man, but I’m a Natural… I just sing”

  • Guest

    I walked into this article ready to learn something I didn’t know, and that… didn’t really happen. It’s not that I disagree with your points, because I don’t. It’s just that your points are generic. A soccer player who goes to every practice will be more successful than one who skips when they’re not in the mood; an artist who sketches all the time, even in the margins of their notebook, will be better than one who only draws once a month. This was an article about perseverance, not ring a writer – and sure, writers need perseverance, but what else do they need?

    • another guest

      this is definitely common knowledge, but sometimes it really just needs to be said.

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  • Oriasotie Ehis

    thanks alot, the article was really helpful. In need of an editor or review that could tell me the truth about my work. Contact Jaycass50@gmail.com anyone that’s interested.

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  • Jonny Lupus

    “She” is not a pronoun that can apply to everyone, you virtue-signaling, intellectual faggot. Seriously, you wrote a good article, but using a pronoun like that for affirmative action points just makes you out to be a pompous d-bag.

    • Sarah

      wow im #triggered

    • disqus_2WE5eZrg16

      Then what’s the alternative?

      “He” is not a pronoun that can apply to everyone, you virtue-signaling,
      intellectual faggot. Seriously, you wrote a good article, but using a
      pronoun like that for prescriptivism points just makes you out to be
      a pompous d-bag.

      “They” is not a pronoun that can apply to everyone, you virtue-signaling,
      intellectual faggot. Seriously, you wrote a good article, but using a
      pronoun like that for gender neutrality points just makes you out to be
      a pompous d-bag.*

      Get outta here.

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  • Belinda

    Well-written piece

  • mariangreen

    I get completely that a writer has to write and persevere with their writing . Really enjoyed this post. It’s encouraged me to keep going and to work with more professionalism at the craft of writing . That means I have to overcome my laziness and fear ! But I’m sure going to try.

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  • Haley Dewings

    Italics are annoying, but ‘decent’ post. 😉

  • Lincoln

    I like this. It was inspirational. I am definitely a writer that keeps going. Even when I fear I’ll never get to where I want to be, I keep going. Thanks.

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  • Worth reading! 🙂 As following my opinion, a good writer spend time to give something valuable information to their audience/readers. Beside a bad write try to finish his writing without giving value. They target to finish their writing quickly.

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  • Anuradha Chawla

    Goins,

    Great Site and excellent articles – I especially like this one as becoming a great writer is something I am striving for. Frankly, all of the points you made about becoming a great writer apply to becoming a great anything – software developer, farmer, mathematician, etc. But seriously, you make some great points and set some great standards for me to aim for.
    Thanks!

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  • Susan Davis

    I have 3 books self-published, the 4th being edited (again) and the fifth in the works – but how do I sell them???

  • Susan Davis

    DISCIPLINE!

  • I have to bookmark this.
    Whenever I feel like giving up I visit this article again.
    I need to get this into my head!

  • Imogene Tyrrell

    I agree with this for the most part, but I would add that a writer must not only persevere when it comes to writing, but also when it comes to building an audience. I read comments from others who have said that they ‘did everything right’ but didn’t get anywhere, I have learned that once the writing is done, a whole new level of perseverance is required in order to get your work out there.

  • I do agree that anybody can become a good writer with discipline, but I also believe that there are natural born writers that will always have a leg up which makes the ones trying so hard to write eventually give up. I have been working on my own writing on my blog GRN Honey, http://www.grnhoney.com/a-president-in-denial-why-the-peoples-climate-march-is-more-than-a-protest/

  • Bob Marshall

    The difference between good writers and poor writers? One word — talent.

  • Luke Prior

    good article but the phrasing of the opening premis is weird. the implication is that if you’re published then you’re good because you didn’t quit. but we know you don’t have to be a good writer to be published.
    the difference between a good writer and a bad one IS skill. if you quit then you can’t even call yourself a writer to begin with.

  • denise ray

    You either have it or you don’t.

  • A great article! Thank you Jeff! It inspires me to keep doing my best a freelance writer. The tips that you have exposed in the articles are quite good. When you are doing any kind of creative activity, the sky is the limit. Really. Me, I don’t understand writers who have good skills but have a lot of pride. That’s the main reason why the fall over time. It’s tricky trap. You think that you are skilled enough and don’t give a damn about other experts in the niche. That’s where you professional growth as a writer stops. I hope I’ll never fall a victim to this.

  • David Stevenson

    Great read. I’m a professional journalist and you never stop learning. I’ve been published for years but have taken jobs sometimes paying less to get exposure to things that will raise my game. Famed UK political hack Andrew Marr’s autobiography’s title sums up the point I think you’re trying to make. It’s called ‘My trade’. Not art that you’re born with, something that you work at everyday.

  • GhostofSeamus

    “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, she will write. And she will get better.”

    She, she, she.

    What is this assumption that I’m seeing on more and more articles like this, that every author is a “she?”

    • Because we’ve had hundreds of years of assumptions that every author (and reader) is a “he?”

      • GhostofSeamus

        And you really think that THIS solves that??

        • Sean Jarvis

          Well it certainly means something if it’s getting your panties in a twist. Of everything you could have commented on in this article you chose to point out the pronouns used.. says a lot about your threatened masculinity. No one is trying to ‘solve’ anything, you’re argument is ill-founded and says more about you than it does about the writer.

  • Latimoris White

    A good writer never quits & continue on to becoming more better & improve their skills over day & night . There is no such thing as a bad writer just fear inside to see how much work you are willing to put in . Good writer alway think outside the box & have a good mindset & heart at ease. Writers can also write how they are feeling , another way to express . Writers focus on what’s the importantance of improving their skills & staying calm even if what they wrote wasn’t as good expecting to be ,that’s okay revise & go over the words & correct sentences & take the advice you have receive & put it in your writing to make your writing outstanding & outstretched & good attitude. Writers can tend to feel defensive over how they write because they want to become a perfectionist, I know exactly how that feels,back in middle school I thought my writing was excellent but I over the years , I have kept writing all day & night & coming back to school the next day to show the teaches & listen to the feed back

  • NITIN

    Thank you so much Jeff.Really needful words for me as i am aspiring to be a good writer .I am Nitin from India. I know unless i put in my own efforts such great teachings will be of less use to me.But i have a query, can you please guide me??. Whenever i begin writing i take a lot of time in getting thoughts and while putting those words down often i miss the coherence. Can you please advice me as to how to overcome it …..waiting for your kind response Jeff. Thanks regards Nitin

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    Where are my trophies?

  • Dee Lawrence

    It’s the perseverance part I find difficult. I enjoy writing but watching T.V. is certainly easier after 10 hours at my day-job, helping with kid’s homework and washing the dinner dishes.

    Mind you, I’m not complaining. Except for the 10-hour day-job — I’m complaining about that.
    I’ve written about how I keep writing even when busy. I’d love to get feedback: https://write2retire.com/2017/11/24/write-often-tips-suggestions-writing-frequently/