How Not To Write - 28 Short Tips On Bad Writing | William Thomas Online | William Thomas

How Not To Write - 28 Short Tips On Bad Writing

Midnight Blue | Ford Mustang


(Revised Edition)


27 Short Tips On Bad Writing


By William Thomas





1. Always start before you know what you want to say. If writing is an act of discovery, why not find out what you're talking about as you go along?



2. Even when you think you know where you're going, never outline or organize your thoughts before you begin. This destroys the spontaneity of digression, the ego-rush of rambling, and the opportunity to put down long run-on sentences like this one.

A murder of crows -Tat'yana Zherebtsova

A murder of crows -Tat'yana Zherebtsova


3. Never use one word when more than a half-dozen different terms and expressions, will do. Even though the most appropriate noun is uniquely qualified to express its own intrinsic meaning, it can get as lonely as that crow on my roof when not surrounded by big, black, cawing flocks of redundant, unnecessary and murderous modifiers.


baffled reader -disneybaby.com

 baffled reader -disneybaby.com

4. Never say what you mean. Only what you might mean if you weren't writing something else. This makes readers responsible for figuring out what you're trying to say for themselves. Why should you do all the work? If you don't know what you want to say, keep saying it.


5. Post everything you write online or in the mailbox immediately. Never wait at least 24-hours to see if you’ve screwed up. Mainstream media mesmerizers have learned that it’s better to be egregiously wrong than late.


word processor mush


6. Do not look up the meanings or spellings of unfamiliar words. Let your grammar and spell-checker choose. That's why it's called a word processor. Letting a digital blender decide which phrases to deploy will ensure truly creative composition using look-alike but otherwise nonsensical terms in combinations editors will reject and no reader will ever decipher. Everyone likes surprises.



chocolate overdose

7.  Everyone also knows that how you start and end a piece of writing are the most important bits. It doesn't matter what goes inside, where you can toss your weakest sentences instead of painstakingly developing your thesis, argument or plot. No one pays any attention to the cake mix. (Except experienced readers, who can tell whether it's worth continuing within a few sentences chosen at random from the middle of your work.) Go ahead. Tell yourself it's all about the first bite of frosting and the lingering taste of that last bite. Until the ingredients in the middle make everybody sick.   



draft horse-pinterest

8.  Good writers are obsessed with the details that make their stories come alive. It wasn't a plough horse, or even a plow horse. It was a Clydesdale. It's not a "car", which come in bewildering and often inappropriate shapes and styles for the task at hand, but a midnight blue Shelby Mustang. Many people eat cereal in the morning. Our heroine spoons raisin bran. It's faster and much easier to just say horsey, car or breakfast.


Rediscovering Jack Kerouac

 9. Punctuation doesn't matter. Throw away that copy of the Associated Press style book you never purchased anyway. Capitalize at random. Or not at all. Commas are like tapping the brakes. Use lots. It's fun to watch the reader's head jerking back and forth. And separate paragraphs are for wimps who can't sustain multiple ideas in one long go. Kerouac wrote pages and pages and pages without commas periods semi-colons colons or any line breaks. Pretend you're him.



10. Use dashes – instead of commas. This shows how modern you are. Hyphens, on the other hand, are going extinct like everything else. Ignoring the hyphens connecting formerly hyphenated words saves time, ink and paper. And wear-and-tear on your printer.

Horton Hears A Who -Dr. Seuss


11. Avoid using anecdotes and examples that engage the reader's heart, mirror memories and imagination. Such illustrations divert attention from your own cleverness. Always write about what's going on. Never write directly. Never just say what is. Something is always like something else. Be sure to use lengthy descriptions for the briefest action being described.


[Horton Hears A Who -Dr. Seuss]

12. Watch your buts. The strongest assertion is completely negated when followed by a "but". You can make sure every "but" is necessary, but this usually isn't worth the effort. No lazy writing is.


Japanese Tea Ceremony never repeats -japaninsides.com

Japanese Tea Ceremony never repeats -japaninsides.com


13. Use tons of clichés and gratuitous slang like this. This avoids the tiresome work of having to write in fresh ways that delight, provoke and otherwise reward your readers. Nothing is new under anyone’s sun except everything. "First time, every time," the Japanese say. What do they know?



Oakland's Diesel Bookstore -nbcbayarea.com

Oakland's Diesel Bookstore -nbcbayarea.com

14. It's mind-blowing and a source of false hope for aspiring writers that books are still being sold. Still, there will probably always be a need for such trendy personal accessories and home decor. Don't be taken in. Most wirelessly-harassed people are distracted twitterers who don't like reading more than a few words at a time. Pander to them. Remember, only you the alleged writer can destroy the last vestiges and beauty of written language that began when some unknown scribe in Sumer used a reed to scratch intentional marks in wet clay around 5,500 years ago.

Donna L Martin's The Story Catcher -donasdays.blogspot.com

 Donna L Martin's The Story Catcher 



15. Don't read books! Especially well-written books of more than a hundred pages that assure you at the get-go that you are in good hands. This wastes valuable TV time and could distract you from writing like some shallow, illiterate durak. Scrolling quickly through Faceplant is preferred. And texting is good finger exercise. Trying to read a book will only make you fidget. Why not jump up right now and go look for more potato chips?   


 Luciano Pavarotti -pastemagazine

16.  Everything is vibration. How words sound, the rhythm and cadence of sentences, are as important as their meaning. Probably more. Good writing is music. To discern whether your words sing, listen to them read aloud. Though it lacks inflection, hearing your computer read back what you've written instantly reveals clunky words, unclear meanings and weak transitions. Even typos. 

portrait of my muse when I started writing -dreamstime.com

(Do not try this at home! You could become infatuated, as I have, with my Aussie reader's voice. She is heart-failure gorgeous, tireless, and never stumbles over naughty words.)

Remember, long before human notions, emotions and actions became history, everything of lasting import was communicated orally. Like milk in the fridge, make sure your writing stays confined in your head. When it curdles don't say, "stinky cheese" aloud.



17. A surprisingly difficult way to get readers to remember your work is to make then laugh out loud. 

An even more indelible impression is easily achieved by making them so mad at you for wasting their time they throw your book (or their iPhone) across the room.



Fruit tree pruning

18. Never, ever revise. Each self-utterance is precious beyond words. Don't risk ego death from a single cut. Forget that constant pruning bears the best fruit. Every word and punctuation mark must further the work-in-progess. If they don’t, leave 'em in. Fearlessly editing what you've written can be brutal and scary. Instead of feeling liberated, you may be left with writer’s remorse for murdering your favorite darlings. Ouch!


I listen to my own writing read back until no more changes can be heard. Whether an article, short-story or book chapter, this can take dozens (or many more) read-throughs to get every note and beat on key. Don’t be a tweaker. It's a hoot seeing and hearing the spirit and meaning of a piece reveal itself through each twist, tug and excision. And everyone knows that writing isn't supposed to be fun.

19. Lazy prose is a sin against Seshat, the leopard skin-wearing Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing. So treat every word you first put down as a marker. Then go back and exchange them for "more better” ones that are not completely worn out from common usage. Think of this as a treasure hunt in Seshat’s gilded tomb. There is only one word in any language that precisely expresses what you need to say. Find that word

Or not.


Algeria Ahaggar and Tassili Regions natural art

20. Lucky for all of us, writing is easy. At least, good writing looks easy on the page. I've spent days honing an opening paragraph, weeks rewriting a 2,200-word article, years revising a book manuscript that finally reads as effortlessly as if I've just dashed it off. Don't waste your time. Better to mock your readers by ripping off their time, attention and hard-won cash with no worthwhile compensation. Why spend so much energy chipping away and polishing a sculpture when you can just sign and display the rock?




21. Like a tyro pilot avoiding touch-and-go's, bad writers avoid practicing daily. Which is why they never learn to discern the fabulous from mere flatulence. (And why bad writing makes us hold our nose.) Before you can break the rules promoting clear, concise poesy or prose, you must first master them. This means serving an apprenticeship. It does not matter how long this takes, because if you need to write like you need to breathe, you will. Feel the heat. If your hair's not already on fire, don't even bother striking a few wet matches. (Originally written with the markers: trying to light a few...



22. When in danger, when in doubt, exaggerate. With all the bedlam on the Net, only the most outrageous deceits and hyperbole will get you heard above the din. Soon you will have no credibility and no readership, and you can move on to more rewarding pursuits. Like bogus eBay offerings and counterfeiting bottlecaps.


Lao Tzu

23. The Tao says if we push the river, we will end up swallowing a lot of water. Many wannabe writers wait a lifetime to be inspired. Others force their blood-soaked words onto the page as if they know we're all on death row. Fortunately, there are work-arounds. The best one is to load a blank document and start writing. Even a shopping list is a start. You never know what a random entry might spark. Until you write it down.


brain break

Are College-Educated Women Bad Wife Material?

24. Taking breaks can expedite the work. Following my heart attack, I couldn't write for an entire year. After decades seeing my work published in sailing, travel and (a few) literary magazines and anthologies, this was disconcerting. 

I let it be. Turns out my muse was taking a long-deserved rest. Since she's come back from her holiday in ancient Greece, it's been all I can manage to keep up with her continuous outpouring of articles, haiku-like aphorisms, books and web posts. [willthomasonline.net]



Automatic writing -etsy.com

channeling writing -etsy.com

25. When you're in the zone, the work flows through you. Which is why, when I read "my" best stuff, I'm always shocked and delighted. "Who wrote that?” I keep asking.  

The surest way to kill creative inspiration is to take full credit for this most mysterious gift. One dark night when you are woken by your muse at 4:30 a.m. (as I was for this piece), you will realize that your best writing doesn't come from your conscious mind. Your job is to spend a lifetime developing the craft required to load, transcribe and edit your own inner dictation. Because the best writing is really channeling, take care to ignore that inner voice providing ideas, one-liners, and even entire outlines for later development. Instead of turning on a light and making notes, roll over and go back to sleep. Insult your muse like this often enough and she will finally shut up and leave you alone.


nutso -diamondmedia360


26. Just because booze and pot are legal doesn't make getting looped a useful shortcut to good prose. An intoxicated muse is prone to upchucking all over the page. Give her a few tokes and the resulting nonstop stream of sentences, phrases and bon mots will keep you up all night, leaving you exhausted and strung out.


The test comes when you read over all those message fragments in the morning. If what came across as sexy and attractive last night reads well despite all that smudged makeup and tousled hair, you may decide that judicious use of mind-and-mood-altering stimulants can occasionally be indulged. Keoskette, neh? Be careful! An out-of-control muse is like a runaway horse. Hard to direct and easy to break a leg.                   



27. The best way not to write is not to write.








My first published work appeared in a military high-school literary magazine in Tennessee in the mid-Sixties. My first paid article was published in Mountain Gazette in 1968.


“William Thomas” is the winner of 4 Canadian writing awards. 

I am the author of:

Scorched Earth


Bringing The War Home


All Fall Down: The Politics Of Terror And Mass Persuasion


Chemtrails Confirmed


Days of Deception: Ground Zero And Beyond


Sanctuary (landscape photographs of Hornby Isalnd)

Writing under my birth name, Randy Thomas, my writing has appeared in more than 50 magazines in 8 countries, with translations into French, Dutch and Japanese.


Photo-Captions that did not fit above:

homepage: Whispers of the Heart, Not Just Words - Getty

midnight blue Shelby Mustang - photographer unknown

draft horses - pinterest

Jack Kerouac - Cassidy, Ginsberg, who knows?

Luciano Pavarotti - pastemagazine

portrait of my muse when I started writing - dreamstime.com

laughing woman (glyph) - pinterest

fruit tree pruning - tree-care.com.au

breaking rules jets - photographer unknown

natural art, Ahaggar/Tassili region, Algeria - photographer unknown

Mamma beer bottlecap - Moïcani L'Odéonie

Lao Tzu - selfie

brain break - artist unknown

Socrates hectoring my muse, circa 430 BC - artist not exhumed

Nutso intoxicants - diamondmedia360

muse smoking pot - unknown former outlaws

oops, rules broken - doofus unknown

Baby Boy Laughs Hysterically at Book of Animals -onenewspage.com


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