Bad Writing

Bad Writing[1]

by Olga Fostiy, Writing Fellow Alumna (BC ’11)


Hearing somebody say that they are a bad writer rubs me the wrong way.

Of course there are good and bad writers.  I encounter bad writing all the time.  But what if you are working with a student and your student has ideas.  Ideas she’s trying to express and to communicate.  Can your student be a bad writer?

Those ideas she’s trying to express might not be clear.  She might not know what words to use or even be aware that what she’s trying to say doesn’t make sense.  It’s vague.  It’s not backed with evidence.  But you ask her what she means.  You ask her to rephrase.  You ask her to walk you through her logic.  And she tries to explain it to you, comes up with new ideas, links them, clarifies them.  She moves her sentences around, writes new ones, questions her word choice.  Her writing might not earn her an A or even a B, but is she a bad writer?

She thinks she is.   When she says she’s a bad writer she says this is who I am:  I am not eloquent.  My vocabulary is limited.  I just don’t have the words!  Moreover, my writing has no rhythm, style, beauty.

But this is a view of writing when form weighs in over content.

When my student says she’s a bad writer I hear something else:  I have ideas but I can’t write them out so that you too understand them.  I have ideas but I can’t explore them more deeply, creatively, critically.[2]

To say you’re a bad writer is like saying you’re not a writer at all.  And this is what rubs me the wrong way.  You might not have fancy words, but you have ideas.  So use the best words that you can!

But then what you write confuses your reader.  Why did you use that word your readers ask. Your grammar is wrong.  What do you mean here.  What is your logic.  What is your point.

So you try to be clearer.  You explain what you mean.   You realize you can make your logic more palpable, connect your ideas more, say more directly why what you wrote is indeed important.

And this is what writing is.  You have ideas and you try to communicate those ideas with readers.  It might be hard.  But the key is that you’re trying.

[1] In the context of this piece, writing refers to essay or non-fiction writing.

[2] Or, to hell with it – I don’t have ideas worth communicating at all.  (But in my books this is a cop out).


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