I thought of calling this post something more tactful, but I decided to stick to this title, because this topic has been on my mind recently. Now, we all surely have different notions about what this means, but for me, it’s pretty straightforward: Basically, bad writing falls into three categories — clumsy, overly precious, and trivializing.
When writing is so clumsy, rambling, and poorly edited that it obscures the ideas it is trying to convey, I quickly lose patience. Just recently I picked up a book about St. Francis of Assisi. Now there’s a fascinating fellow! You’d think it would be hard to write something dull about him, but somehow, this author did. He rambled on about present-day Assisi and his sentence structure was so repetitive, I had to skip some of the text. Finally, I just put the book down.
Overly precious writing also rubs me the wrong way. By this, I mean writing that constantly calls attention to itself. It’s as if the author is waving a flag at the end of every sentence and saying, „Aren’t I clever?“ „Isn’t this a witty thought?“ „Isn’t this just an amazing construction or turn of phrase?“ To me, truly artful writing is artless — it doesn’t call attention to itself, it calls attention to the ideas and emotions it is expressing. That’s one reason I love Willa Cather: Her writing is like a clear windowpane and through it, you can see into the heart of her stories.
My third category may sound a little strange, but there’s a kind of writing that flattens things out rather than enriching and illuminating them. It also takes subjects with emotional heft and diminishes them because of the way it dances around them or uses humor clumsily to address them.
Well, these are my candidates for bad writing — what makes you cringe?