How to Tell Someone You Hate Their Writing

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Trent S. Lewin the 3rd, Esquire

Have you ever left a comment on someone’s blog saying “I love this!” or “This really moved me!” or “I wish I had written that!” or “Lovely post!” or “Big hugs and lots of love!” or “Just…wow!” without actually having read the post? Or worse – said those things while really not liking the post at all?

When was the last time you told someone that their writing wasn’t good?

And, importantly, why do we resist telling someone their writing isn’t good? Well, we’re all good people and writing is highly subjective, so there’s that. But honestly, if something is really bad, why don’t we say something? Are we afraid of offending someone? Concerned that they’ll criticize us back?

There are consequences to our silence or empty praise. This is the sequence that occurs when we don’t criticize someone’s writing when it’s clearly crap:

  1. They keep writing crappy stuff.
  2. We keep praising their crappy stuff.
  3. Thus they write more crappy stuff.
  4. And soon we are in an endless circle of crapitude that will ultimately smother the literary world with a dense, moist blanket of crud.
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Do you really want to keep eating this?

We should be more honest. More open. More constructive. We should stand up to the crap. We should avoid stepping in the crud. So here’s a list of suggested comments we can leave to break the wheel, when, inevitably, we see blog posts that suck:

  • You know, while there’s some merit to your writing, most of it is about as valuable as my last flatulence.
  • I really disliked this. It made me feel bad about words in general, or that anyone could use them in this particularly unlikeable sequence.
  • Your spelling and punctuation is fantastic. Everything else utterly sucked. But seriously, way to go with those commas!
  • You know that rule “show don’t tell”? You don’t, do you?
  • Please give me more exposition and fully lay out the internal thoughts of your characters. I want to know every detail of what they are thinking. Plot? Story? Trusting the reader to fill in the blanks? Forget that stuff. Just kidding. You suck.
  • This piece was about as inspiring as an anal wart, but much uglier and with a far greater chance of spewing disgusting pus into my underpants.
  • Shit. Shit. Shit. This is shit. When people describe writing that is shit, this is the shit to which they are referring.
  • Wait, haven’t you written this post before? Blathered about the same anxiety and hardship? Oh this time it’s in the form of a poem, you say? How unbelievably clever. Maybe next time you can repeat the same post in the form of a clever dance routine or poignant puppet show.
  • I’m sorry, but I can’t read your stuff anymore. I’m afraid that it may actually impair my ability to reproduce. While perusing your last piece, I actually felt my reproductive organs tightening in a very unhealthy manner. It’s not that you aren’t great, but I want to breed successfully. I’m sure you’ll understand if you don’t hear from me ever again.
  • Your last piece wasn’t funny. It wasn’t moving. It wasn’t thoughtful or interesting. It wasn’t exciting or passionate. While I acknowledge that there were words on the screen, they seem to have exactly no point whatsoever, and I remain curious as to why they appeared there in the first place.
  • You, sir or ma’am, are a complete asshat for writing that spurious piece of trash. I would offer you some criticism, but the inept suckitude saturating this piece with its suck-juices is too acidic to contemplate further, and the noxious odors emanating from this mass jumble of dank ass-paper is currently asphyxiating me.

And there you have it. I have thrown the first stone. Opened with the initial volley. I would suggest that the load of you reading this leave a deservedly unkind comment on the crappiness of this post before I get around to reviewing your posts and leaving my own saucy, brutal comments. Let the honesty commence!

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I shot first.

84 thoughts on “How to Tell Someone You Hate Their Writing

  1. I liked this post! I even made sure to hit the LIKE button before I read it. I especially liked “suck-juices.” I’ll be using that in the future.

    I will admit that I have a very hard time being honest about telling people their writing sucks. It hits too close to home. As a result I only offer feedback to people I know can truly handle what I have to say. As for the rest of the world I may just lift some of your offerings and apply them appropriately to the asshat at hand.

    Side note: Long ago I asked for people to read my book and give me honest feedback. Every single person I asked said they loved it, but then quickly followed up with a request that I read their work (or they sent a dick pic). I assumed they wanted reciprocal praise.

    One man read my opening chapter and said it was good, but thought it could be improved upon in a number of ways. I was absolutely elated that someone had finally told me the truth about how to improve my work. As a first time author I had no delusions about the quality of my writing and simply wanted to grow. I took his advice and my work has been better for it.

    • Hits too close to home is right… it’s hard. Most of what we’re doing here on blogs is about reciprocity I think, but of course there are numerous exceptions. The fine writers I stay close to are all about fine writing. I would love some honest feedback on things I write, and there have been times when that has happened, to the betterment of my writing. I think that’s what writing should be about, but everyone comes at this through their own viewpoint. We’re not all after the same things.

  2. I misplaced my copy of Strunk and White’s, “Elements of Style”. So I’m going to keep a copy of this post to assist me, while proofreading my drafts.

    As to criticizing the writing of others, I would only do that if I knew with absolute surety, that they truly wanted the feedback. And I mean, they have to make that very, very clear. It seems few people want unsolicited advice. And those that solicit advice usually don’t want it, either. Or at least, they rarely take it. So why waste my time?

    Besides, even great writers occasionally write a shit piece that they are very proud of. Why risk alienating them?

    • Yes for sure. But there’s two things there. If we’re posting openly then we’re by nature opening ourselves to feedback. Hopefully people can take criticism. Even good writers blow it at times but I wonder if they know it. Writing is so personal. Feels like everything I write is good even when some of it is clearly crap.

      But the other part is the really bad stuff. That exists. What’s our view on that? Are we helping or hurting by saying nothing? I struggle with that question.

      • How about if we try something out? I’ll give you a stark, bright, 6500 Kelvin critique. And you can do the same with me. Hell, I don’t mind most anything people say on my blog.

        I love your writing style. It leaves me feeling intrigued and sometimes inspired. But sometimes I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. On the other hand, I’ve suspected that you write abstractly or symbolically, as a purposeful way to allow the reader to interpret your stories any way they wish. If that isn’t the case, and you always try to be clear and coherent, then in my view you often fail miserably. But if that is the case, you succeed. Normally I don’t like that kind of story. But your writing style draws me in, and leaves me willing to tolerate the abstract.

        • All right let’s do that. I’ll drudge up one piece on this blog and you have at it. You do the same and I’ll return the favour, deal?

          As for my stuff, I don’t really know what it means and can interpret it in different ways myself, so while that may not be fully the intent, it seems to work out that way. I just put my head down and write, stuff comes out, and it can be whatever a reader wants it to be. I trust people to be smart.

          • If you trust people to be smart, you are very trusting. On my blog, they are usually smart asses.

            But if you want to run one of my posts through the mill, just go with my latest run-of-the-mill post, from May 23rd. Hit me with your greatest shots. I already know I’m not the greatest writer in the world, so I can take it. (said as I tense my abdominal muscles)

  3. I love this! This really moved me!

    And I’m so glad neither you nor anyone else has ever written one of those other comments on my blog. Being told my writing is crappy (even though it probably is) would make me cry. No one wants to make an old[er] woman cry, right?

    Which is why I also don’t point out crappy writing (or photography) in others. Let them have their dreams. If their work is really bad, I just stop following them. And if they try to peddle that crappy work to a paying client, they’ll learn soon enough just how bad they are.

    • I hear you. you never want to dash someone’s dreams. But what if they’re meant for something else? Aren’t you helping them?

      Unfollowing them, hadn’t heard of that. I have to admit, there’s a couple of people I pay attention to because I just don’t understand how they don’t understand that they’re kind of not great. It’s a mystery to me. Others may feel that way about me, too, I dunno.

      • Why do I get the feeling I fall into the category covered by your second paragraph? (Don’t answer that, I don’t want to know, really.)

        As for you, Trent, no one would ever say you’re not a great writer, and I suspect no one would ever unfollow you, either. I know I wouldn’t.

  4. Bravo! Now, I don’t usually offer scalding crit unless it is asked for privately,, “like” work only when I like it truly, and comment only on what I love. if I say nothing I’ve caused no harm, as I lack the energy to tell so many people their writing sucks ☺☺

    Pay me or ask what I really think at your peril.

  5. Trent, your work is absolute, total crap.

    Does that make you feel better??? I know it would make me feel better if I heard that about my own writing. That way I could stop writing and move on to something else. 😉

    Seriously, there are plenty of people who want positive reinforcement and cringe at real criticism. I ain’t interested in that game. I want to know the unvarnished truth. False praise does nothing to help me grow as a person or as a writer. So, fire up your crap shooter. I’m ready for it.

  6. Hi Trent. I chuckled while reading this. Many times I have begun reading a post & clicked away because that familiar brain fog takes over. There are so many people on the internet who think they are writers, & from their club foot prose, clearly are not.

    I feel I could offer constructive critique but I have no wish to offend those who cannot/will not comprehend basic grammar.

    As for making an old(er) woman cry………….’Snorts & laughs’
    Odd how E L James has made her fortune even though she received horrendous reviews.

    Have a good week.

    • Sometimes I can’t turn away from the really bad stuff. Not that I’m great or anything, but I’m sure I was total crap at one point. I always cheer for people who are trying. I mean, you just have to. But sometimes urging people on requires pointing out where they’re weak.

      E.L. James may be a crap writer, but a solid storyteller. I don’t think those things are the same.

  7. Typical Trent being typically contentious. Easiest way to show somebody you think they’re rubbish is simply to stop following them.

    With works more ambitious than a blogpost, then the correct approach is, ‘I liked (this aspect), but (that aspect) didn’t work for me. I couldn’t make the narrative work.’

  8. I think the best reason for not telling someone they suck is that EVERYONE sucks at first. And then, even when we think we don’t suck anymore, we still suck without realizing it. We can write what we think is the greatest thing we’ve ever written, then look back on it later, when we’ve started to suck less, and only then see how much it sucked. We progress through degrees of diminishing suck until one day, maybe, we don’t suck anymore. At least not consistently. And the bottom line is, we don’t usually know where we are on that spectrum at a given time, much less where other people are. So best not to tell them, just let them have their dreams. There’s nothing wrong with a little encouragement even. But I agree that a lot of the “This really moved me!” or “I wish I had written that!” or “Lovely post!” or “Just…wow!” goes beyond the kind of encouragement I’m talking about into the realm of utter bullshit.

    That said, I’ve tried to encourage a culture of constructive criticism (a much needed thing that is mostly absent in blogland), but no one seems to have the stones for it. Even the ones who say they do don’t follow through with it. So I kind of gave up. Probably for the best, since my attempts at constructive criticism usually make me sound like a pretentious ass. I’ve settled into a pretty simple routine: If I like a piece, I will show up in the comments. If I don’t, I won’t.

    • So I get it. Let people have their dreams. But I suppose people get closer to their dreams by getting some feedback… even if it’s not the specific dream they wanted. At least that’s what I think, or hope.

      I don’t think bogland is about writing, to be honest. It’s like an online diary of sorts. So I get why you would give up on an attempt at delivering constructive criticism, it’s hard and often unwelcome. I mean, I know one blogger who consistently writes deep thought poetry, and while it’s nice, it’s ultimately a bit meaningless. You can see kernels of things in there, in the words, but it’s the same thing over and over again. How do you handle this? I like the pretentious ass approach myself. I wish I were braver and more helpful, but honestly, I’m not.

  9. I think everyone has their own taste. Something that I don’t like might be loved by someone else. Also, it would be too harsh a criticism for someone who is just starting and being brave to share their piece of writing. What I do is, if I repeatedly don’t like someone’s content I stop following them. I don’t criticize unknown people but I cannot help pointing out their silly grammatical mistakes. But mostly it is better to just walk away.

    • Yeah I hear you but… don’t we benefit people by giving them constructive advice? Shouldn’t we try to help people? I wish people would give me some constructive criticism! Some do, and I value it. It makes me better, I think.

  10. No ifs, ands, buts, or doubts – my writing is crap, but I still write. Some of us just don’t care whether people find any merit or not. Writing makes me happy, so there. 🥰

    • This post really isn’t about how writing makes you feel, we all do it because it brings something to us. This post is about why we don’t try to help each other better, under the assumption that we might want to be better. Maybe some don’t, I dunno. But I do. And that makes me happy.

      • I believe all writing is like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. Acceptance that perfection is an illusion while improving (contradiction? Nah, just reality) would benefit us all. One of those concepts that would serve us all well whether we are discussing writing or just living life. My comment was more to cheer every writer of every level and not let the comments (negative or positive) get in the way of writing.

      • Oh and yes writing is about how we feel, as both the writer and reader. It is a sneaky aspect that when you get too caught up in the “nitpicky-ness” can be forgotten.

  11. Should you care what other people think? To what ends? You’ll start writing in order to please an audience. Then you’re bad writing will look even more badder still. Most successful artists just plunder through the criticism until their work clicks. If you want your work criticized, sign up for a writing workshop. Those are fun.

    • I care what other people think. So there! I just do. Can’t help it. Call it a failing or a weakness. But you’re damn right. Writing to please other people is a recipe for disaster. People have their own styles. In some cases, that style with resonate with many people. In some cases, it won’t. But it’s still your style and there’s really no point in breaking away from your own voice. Can you improve the lay out and disposition of the words that make that voice? I sure as shit hope so.

  12. I understand what you are saying and I’m sure you are only trying to help or at the very least trying to start a controversy. Either way, it wasn’t something I would have spent my time discussing. Nothing wrong with the topic, its just how you negatively referred to most people not having what it takes to write. It takes practice and seeing how many followers you have makes me believe that you write very well. I’m not asking for you to do the same, I just wanted to put it out there that there are better ways to let people know that they don’t write very well. Many well wishes! Tabby B

    • I’m mostly just poking fun at myself, and inviting criticism because my writing ego is far too big. A number of followers has absolutely zero to do with the quality of anyone’s writing. The number of likes and comments, same thing. it’s very possible to drive traffic in blogland without having much of anything quality to say. So there’s that. But mostly my point is, why not help people get better by being honest? the most common approach I see here is to simply unfollow someone if you don’t like their writing and I totally get that. But that doesn’t help that person. It only helps you. But maybe I’m being myopic in that.

      Also, please don’t take me too seriously, I basically blather all over a keyboard and some highly questionable crap comes out. You’re the first person to call me on this post, I was expecting more to do so, so yeah maybe I’m being intentionally controversial. Call it a quirk. Or a quark. or some other intergalactic particle that got vomitted out by an exploding lump of space-crap.

      • I absolutely agree with being honest with people. And like I had mentioned before, I’m not saying the topic was to blame, it’s how you interpret the idea of being cruel to other people’s “masterpiece.” There are many ways to get your point across without pointing fingers. I hope you are able to maybe reconstruct your writing and possibly make it more of today’s society and how we need to receive affirmation rather than a beating on paper of how lame peoples writing can be. You’ve made a point but I feel you’ve made it more clear in your comment to myself than on your article. Everyone responds in a different way, but I’d love to see you tap into a deeper perspective on this! Good luck and I hope to be able to see that change 🙂 Maybe you’ve inspired me to write a piece myself on this topic. Best wishes, Tabby B

        • Yah sure my writing is most definitely in need of reconstruction and compatibility with today’s society. Thank you for the criticism and making me feel bad about my writing. Oh wait… right. Talk about a feedback loop topped with an icy cube of hypocrisy. Now go write something meaningful and tell me when you’re done and I’ll come check it out and offer you a sincere unblemished totally honest opinion. You know, if you’re up for it.

  13. I agree 12,000% with this but here’s the thing – there are actually people that don’t know what good writing is. They are people who watch ‘Wine Country’ on Netflix and like it.
    No one asks my opinion on things because they know I’ll be honest. I can’t help it at this point. I don’t want to. It hurts sometimes but otherwise we are all living a fucking lie.
    I’d rather be a genuine authentic asshole any day. And here I am being just that.
    I love how you tell it, Trent. Please don’t stop.

  14. This is a simply terrible piece of writing. It’s pointless and unnecessary to point out just how pointless and unnecessary it was. I could write a top 10 list about how bad it was, but I don’t know that many synonyms to the word “shit”. The only redeeming quality of it was that it was short, but only in a sense that I haven’t yet gotten to the point of killing myself – and that might only be thanks to me being a fast reader.

    So, that’s for your collection.

    As for my comments, I am very stingy with praising people – I’m guessing a couple times a year, if at all, I actually get so impressed to leave a glowing comments anywhere on social media. Similarly, I rarely ever see anything that prompts me to criticize. But I just couldn’t say no to you, Trent.

  15. I could not agree more.. snark and all! I don’t have the balls to be truthful if something sucks..like Susan, I prefer to just not comment or “like” but would appreciate the honest criticism if I totally sucked that is for sure!

  16. Wow. Loved this. Wish I’d written it. Hugs.

    This was actually prett funny, though I think if I had regelar comments like those on my blog I’d take up gardening or something instead.

  17. While most of your post is funny, I think you were most helpful when you said “constructive criticism”. It’s not constructive to say, I don’t like your writing. It is constructive to say, I didn’t believe your protagonist would do that, or I had no empathy for your hero. Asking a writer questions can be helpful too, such as “what in this character’s current actions can make her more believable or likable?” But thanks for the eye catching and provoking post.

    • Great point, it’s what you say and how you say it that matters most. I think we get better at writing by having honest feedback that’s helpful. But it’s easy for that to transition into negativity and the line is fuzzy, so I think most people just stay away from it. We’d be better if we could be more honest, I think.

  18. Okay, here are the reasons why people are silent:
    1) they might be wrong. Who are they to say, anyway? God?
    2) maybe, as some said above, the person will get better. But not if they give up.
    3) maybe one is the wrong kind of reader for this post?

    On the other hand, I refer you to the Nerdly LIon, who dared to write a post called “Your Blog Sucks,” to show that in fact, some people are *not* afraid to say it: https://thenerdylion.com/2019/04/24/6-reasons-your-blog-sucks-and-how-to-fix-it/

    • It’s not about saying that someone sucks. It’s about giving some kind of constructive feedback. If we don’t do that, then this is just navel-gazing and we’re just cruising for the next like and vacuous appreciative comment. And that sucks. Anyway, my post sucks. I know it sucks. It was made to suck. A big fat ‘suck’ is written all over it. And I’m proud of it!

  19. I write/rant to blow off steam. I’m not going out to try and win any literary awards. lol. I know how to write, if somebody doesn’t like it that’s too damn bad.
    Your post did make me chuckle though, it’s funny as hell. LOL

  20. Yeah, almost three months later, I’m reading this and laughing my ass off. The picture of the guy with the arrow in his ass fits in perfectly with bullet point number six, if I counted right. The only thing I have to criticize is that nasty looking ice cream cone. I remember you saying you were going to write a crappy post. It only took you years to do so, and it’s still funny af. Your writing style is so different from your blogging style.

  21. Now that I had my smartassery moment, if someone was to critique the word purge that I used to post, I would listen to it and consider the source. Since my goal isn’t to be the next best selling author, I’d likely take it with a grain of salt on my margarita glass.

    Part of writing is accepting criticism. If you can’t you aren’t a true writer. I’d probably PM the person first. Their blog, their rules and all that jazz.

    • Good point on the PM’ing. But also the criticism. I find that a lot of people in blogland can’t take criticism. Me, I honestly crave it. It can only help, and if you don’t feel it’s constructive, just brush it off.

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