Is Bad Writing Contagious?

Plenty of things are contagious. For example, we all know that the measles, chicken pox, and even the common cold are highly contagious.

However, is bad writing also “contagious?” Are you more likely to write badly if you are surrounded by bad writing?

The question is a pressing one since bad writing is everywhere around us these days.

Bad writing can be found on blogs, in social media, and in text messages. Even pieces published through the traditional media are not immune.

It would seem that we are in the middle of a bad writing epidemic.

Personally, I think that exposure to bad writing can lead to a sort of error “blindness.” For writers, this means that if you read a lot of poorly written stuff you’ll have an increasingly difficult time recognizing bad writing and/or writing mistakes.

For me, this is a particular concern since I do a bit of editing from time to time. I worry that too much exposure to writing mistakes will make it harder for me to see problems in my own writing.

The antidote for writers, of course, is to surround yourself (as much as it is possible) with good writing. Seek out well-written pieces and make a point of reading them. In fact, make it a habit to read good writing every day.

What do you think? Is bad writing contagious? Do you find it harder and harder to recognize problems in your own writing after reading something that is poorly written?

Share your answers in the comments.

(BTW, I should mention that I think that good writing can also be contagious in a good way. But that’s a different post…)

Comments

  1. says

    Interesting thought, Laura, but I haven’t found it to be the case. Most of my editing clients are great storytellers and poor writers, so I see a lot of bad writing. I don’t think it’s jaded me into overlooking errors—and I hope it hasn’t.

  2. says

    I agree there’s a lot of bad writing out there! But you nailed it with this: “The antidote for writers, of course, is to surround yourself (as much as it is possible) with good writing.”

    I think the more likely danger is that repeated exposure to bad writing gives a decent writer a sense of over-confidence. I try to read sublime prose from time to time to humble me and help me focus on improving myself.

  3. says

    Thanks Lillie and Patrick!

    Of course this is a YMMV (your mileage may vary) post. For me, I know that I need to keep reading good materials so that I can stay focused on quality.

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