Written by A Guest Author August 13th, 2020

What to Say to Bad Writing

by Janice R. Torres

I was recently asked by a good friend of mine to take a look at their writing and let them know what I thought. I had never read any of their work before, having met them through a freelancer’s meet and greet, but I wanted to be supportive. So, I agreed to read through a few pages.

As I began reading, I felt my heart sink lower and lower into my stomach.

It was terrible.

I was left with a conundrum: how do you tell the person their work isn’t good without coming off as a jerk? And how do you create a balance between being honest and being kind?

Every writer experiences this event at least once in their writing career. If it hasn’t yet, it will.

And it can be a struggle.

Luckily, there are ways to ensure you’re not only giving them the critique they need, but that you are also learning how to be a good sounding board for the future.

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings.

Don’t feel guilty about not enjoying what you’re reading.

It is perfectly okay to read something and think it’s terrible. Feeling that initial gut reaction to what you’re reading is crucial to working through the pitfalls of bad writing. It informs you of your ability to distinguish between what works and what doesn’t.

What’s not okay is telling the person who wrote it your first impression.

Expressing your initial reaction to the person doesn’t allow you any headspace to see past the first read. And it doesn’t give the writer any space to feel anything other than defensive.

Look for Opportunities, Not Mistakes.

Reread the writing. What made it bad for you?

Was it the syntax? The topic? Structure? All the above?

By looking at the specifics of what made you react this way, you glean the information needed to give the proper feedback and not just tell the person it ‘sucks’.

While working at a restaurant years ago, I had a manager who refused to tell people they made mistakes. ‘They are not mistakes,’ he would say, ‘just opportunities to improve.’  

Shifting the mindset to being there to help improve the writing allows you to pinpoint and address specific things they can work on to get their writing to the next level.

Discuss the Positives First.

Think of all the times you’ve been critiqued or criticized right off the bat for something.

Were you able to openly hear and be receptive to what they were saying? And being complimented on anything afterwards didn’t really feel genuine, did it?

Find something positive, even if it’s one phrase that seemed to spark an interest for you and say that first. Use words like ‘try’ and ‘suggest’.

Examples: ‘This sentence works great! How about trying it over here?’ Or ‘I get what you want to say here, but I suggest rephrasing it.’

Be Appreciative.

This person came to you for advice and critique. They value your opinion of their work. It is an honor that someone has placed their trust in you with something that can be so personal.

Remember: you are not the end-all and be-all of writing. Not every article, blog, or short story will tickle your fancy.

And that’s okay too.

If you keep that in mind, following these steps is easy.

Because not only have you given the person something constructive towards their writing life and experience, but you’ve learned to see your own writing in a new way. And it can develop some self-kindness towards your own writing journey.

Janice R. Torres is a full-time writer, storyteller, and former music maker. She has contributed to several online health & fitness publications and blogs, mainly focusing on ways to maintain a healthy mindset. When not working on freelance content, you can find her, red pen in hand, editing her first novel.



We Send You Publishers Seeking Submissions.

Sign up for our free e-magazine and we will send you reviews of publishers seeking short stories, poetry, essays, and books.

Subscribe now and we'll send you a free copy of our book Submit, Publish, Repeat