1. You’re not actually into it and that shows.
If you don't like your own work, it's pretty damn difficult to get anyone else to like it either. Why? Because readers can usually tell when you're just phoning it in.
It's pretty damn hard to write well--and reach your potential--if you're not really into it. Maybe you're not interested in the subject, or maybe you're not even that interested in writing itself. Whatever the reason for your own disengagement, you can't expect readers to be into it if you're not.
2. You’re not rewriting.
A lot of people seem to be under the notion that they can write for 20 minutes, hit publish, and enjoy a windfall of readers. That's not how good writing works.
Sure, there are some unicorn writers out there who can pump out a viral story in a short amount of time... but do you know what you don't see?
Rewrites. Typically, there have been years of work a writer puts in before they become popular enough for readers to care about what they write, regardless of what they write.
But if you aren't writing enough to tackle those rewrites, don't be surprised if your readers quit coming back for more. Most readers aren't looking for the same old thing from a writer. Readers want to be wowed.
And whether they realize it or not, most folks want to read the work of writers who are constantly growing and getting better with time.
3. You have no distinct voice.
Nobody can hear what you're trying to convey when you sound like everybody else. If you don't have your own writing voice, there's very little for any reader to remember about you.
A distinctive writing voice is among the most underrated needs for any writer. Why do you think certain writers become so much more popular than others who say (essentially) the same thing?
Because how you say something matters. How you say things is at least just as important as what you actually say. Sometimes it's even more important.
4. You’re clearly jealous of other writers’ success.
No writer can expect to get ahead by tearing others down. Sure, it's one thing to write in protest of cultural norms. You might even mention the types of writers who perpetuate the various problems you write about.
But attacking individuals is an entirely different thing. This is amplified when you write to complain about other writers getting the success you think they didn't earn. And the success which you seem to believe should be yours.
When you as a writer seek to lift yourself up by personally criticizing your colleagues, you give off the vibe that you're jealous of their success and even worse--you think success is something owed to you.
Most readers don't respond well to writers who give off jealous airs, and why would they? Reading such complaints just feels gross.
5. Your readability isn’t where it should be.
Some writers are so intelligent that they are practically rocket scientists. Seriously. But even rocket scientists, er, especially rocket scientists need to work on their readability.
It's not that readers need your stories dumbed down, but they do need your stories to be pleasurable to read. Engaging content is easy for the audience to absorb. It doesn't require readers to constantly look up new words or Google new ideas.
In most cases, writing that is too heady needs a more conversational makeover. Most people aren't going to look forward to reading your work if it always feels like homework.
Likewise, they aren't going to keep asking for seconds if you're lacking a basic grasp of grammar and sentence structure. Such things make a writer's work way too hard to decipher.
6. You're coming across as entitled.
Clearly, every reader will have an opinion about who you are, and you can't please everybody. However, an outright lack of humility coupled with an attitude of entitlement is pretty hard to overcome.
You might believe you're producing incredible, life-changing writing, but most folks can't get past the ego of a writer who seems to think they are god's gift to readers.
Furthermore, writers should not try to make their readers feel indebted to them. Writing is good work, and it is hard work too. That still doesn't mean that any person must read your work--or like it.
7. You have too little white space.
This is more of an issue today for writers who are being read online. Large text blocks are tough for readers on mobile devices to get through--especially when many readers bookmark stories to finish in their own time.
Even as a writer and voracious reader, I often feel a sense of overwhelm when I open up a story and am greeted with one enormous text block.
Furthermore, those large text blocks detract from your voice and the overall flavor of each story. If readers know to expect too little white space from you, they may find themselves less interested in finishing your work.
8. You write the stories you think people want rather than the stories YOU really want.
A surefire way to write better is to focus on writing about issues where you have strong and passionate opinions. People sometimes ask me if they should write about hot button issues like politics or sex.
That's the wrong question.
When you approach writing as "giving the people what they want," you're pretty much shooting yourself in the foot. Success is more often found in writing the stories your readers never knew they wanted. (But you knew!)
If you're not writing the stories you would want to read yourself, how can you expect anybody else to want to read those stories too?
9. You’re just not resonating with readers.
The ability to resonate with an audience is essentially Writing 101. All works of writing will eventually live or die by this fact.
When most of the people who read your work are unable to identify with any of it, you won't have repeat readers. It's impossible to gain ground shouting to the wind. You need real readers who can care about you and your mission.
If, for whatever reason, your work doesn't resonate with readers, it begs the question: why? What is missing from your writing?
When a writer can't answer that question themselves, it's time to ask some readers and do some major soul searching.
10. You're careless about the whole damn thing.
Maybe you're lazy with images and headlines. Or maybe you're just not putting forth your best effort in general.
There are hundreds of different ways to be careless with your work as a writer, and it's easy for the little things to add up and leave a very big, bad taste in any reader's mouth.
Carelessness goes beyond the honest errors. It's putting out your worst efforts yet expecting your work to be well-received and highly praised. You might need to slow down and put in more love.
11. You’re not reading your stories out loud before hitting publish.
Some people send their first drafts out into the world without a second thought. Others do a bit of rewriting, but they never take the time to read their words out loud.
Reading your words out loud helps you identify repetitive or clunky phrasing. And it allows you to pay attention to the way your words fall on the ear. This matters--and possibly much more than you think.
Sometimes even "good" writers forget that writing is an art which should, in a sense, always be beautiful. It needn't be flowery or perfect by any means. But you do want it to carry its own pleasant ambiance.
12. You’re not really saying… anything.
Have you ever read something for five to ten minutes only to set it down and wonder what the hell the writer was even trying to say? It's possible--and sometimes easy--to spend 2,000 words without ever making any kind of point at all.
Most readers can't identify with writing that goes nowhere and takes no stand. That's only natural. And you can't expect to find an audience if your writing constantly beats around the bush so much that nobody can interpret anything from it.
Don't be afraid to ruffle feathers and make a point with which some readers may not agree. You can't please everybody anyway, so you might as well say whatever it is that you really want to say.