So I am writing a book, the start of the book sounds interesting even to the my "board" of readers. After a while I had 586 words in total SO FAR,I am not sure if my writing is nonsense. This is my 5th revision of the book, all the other ones were nonsense - my teacher told me.

Is there a good way to tell if my writing is nonsense? I would ask the group if they think it's good, but I am beginning to feel like they just don't care.

just to clarify, my readers haven't read all of them, my teacher has read 3 of them and the group has read 2.

A short example:

I locked my door and walked down the stairs. Missing all the blood and the occasional dead body on my journey downstairs. The hairdresser was dead, I was thinking about how would I have a haircut. If no one existed after this I wouldn’t care about my hair style.

  • 3
    What do you mean by "nonsense"? Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 9:01
  • 2
    What did your teacher tell you? Did the teacher say "this is nonsense" and nothing else? Did the teacher use the word "nonsense" at all? As an example, the jabberwocky poem is one of the greatest nonsense poems written in English, it's a work of art. What do you (or your teacher) mean when calling a piece of writing "nonsense"? Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 13:26
  • 2
    @B.L.E. To me the question is not clear, because I do not see it as a question about beta-readers getting tired, which is the aspect you addressed, but a question about a particular assessment of the writing: unless I know what is meant by "nonsense", I cannot answer whether the assessment is just or not. As for perceived hostility, that's why we explain in the comments exactly what needs to be addressed, and explain right from the start that once edited, the question will be quickly reopened. Oh, and downvotes too can and do get retracted after editing. Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 13:29
  • 5
    When a post has a path to being edited and becoming a good question, putting it on hold early is a blessing. It gives the author some breathing room to edit the question as much as needed, with helpful comments (we hope), without worrying about answers coming in that might not be aimed correctly (because answerers don't know what the final edit will look like). I get that it can be discouraging for new users to get their first question closed, but if the community is in touch and supportive, that can go a long way.
    – Cyn
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 14:35
  • 4
    Well we want to you stay here. :-) This particular question may or may not turn into a good question for the site (which doesn't mean it can't be a good question in another setting), but you're a writer and you belong here on Writing. I'm not seeing if anyone has invited you to take our tour and check out our help center but please do.
    – Cyn
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 15:11

5 Answers 5


Read about and learn story structure. This is not to plot your story, but to understand the types of writing in each part of a story. I break the 3 act structure into four equal parts; each of which has a middle point, which is a kind of turning point. So basically, we have four segments, with four middles, gives 8 parts that are roughly equal in length; within 5% of the total story. Below MC is Main Character, or if there are multiple main characters, the Main Crew.

Act I: Begin: The MC and their Normal World are introduced. Act I Middle: The Inciting Incident; something happens that upsets the Normal World, but the MC tries to solve this problem as if it hasn't. That doesn't work. The ramifications of the Inciting Incident grow more complex, until ... Act I: ENDS, Act II Begins: The inciting incident has escalated so much it drives the MC out of their normal world, into a new world, reality, journey, quest, whatever. In Act II beginning, the MC recognizes this is a New Threat that must be defeated lest it destroy them, even if what they are protecting is just their one child suffering from a disease, or the World from a dictator, or the whole Galaxy. Act II: Middle, and END here the problems get more complex, complications get introduced, perhaps there are failures, but they are learning some important things about solving the problem. ACT III: Beginning, Middle: Now things start to become simpler, the complications start to unwind, or be resolved, either violently or diplomatically. Act III: End, Act IV Begin: The last piece of their puzzle is revealed, the key to resolving the book-wide Dilemma that began with the Inciting Incident. But they still don't know how to solve it. Act IV Middle: They reach the point of No Return: This is the final battle, or the expending of their final resource, or it is time to use the magic amulet and you get only the one chance. There is uncertainty here, they are putting everything they have on a roll of the dice that may go wrong. Or on a battle they may lose. Or the Wizard bets his life on a spell he's never gotten to work. Or in a real-world story, the woman bets her life on luring the killer into a trap, or the con-men play the final risk-it-all con on their evil sucker. The dramatic confrontation.

Act IV (and story) ENDING: In my stories, they win the final battle, and return to their Normal World, or more accurately in my stories return to their New Normal, in some way better for the adventure. More mature, or in love, or somehow improved.

Judging whether what you write is nonsense.

Knowing what part of your story you are in, you need to decide if what you write is conveying what that part is for. If you are writing the beginning of a story, then ignoring blood and guts is likely to be very unrepresentative of a "Normal World." Maybe it is, I don't know, but I suspect you are rushing the action to try and have an impact.

Learn to critique your own writing. The biggest problem beginning writers have is relying on their own memory to fill in the gaps in the story as they read. The only way you can critique your own writing is to leave it alone for a few weeks (write other parts), and then read it with fresh eyes. If you find yourself struggling to remember why you wrote something or what the context was: You have written badly. A reader doesn't have the benefit of your memory, 100% of the context must be written. If you can't make sense of what you wrote without relying on your memory, then others can't make sense of it, and that is the definition of "nonsense."

As for test readers: I never engage a test reader until I have finished a story, the whole thing, and I never ask them to review a segment more than once. Unless they say a scene seems to drag, then I'll cut and ask them to review the edited scene.

I think you are too anxious to receive positive feedback, not anxious enough to receive negative feedback (or even resentful), and you just need to be more patient if you want to be a writer. Most professionals take about a year to produce about 120,000 words; that is 10,000 per month totally completed and edited and reviewed to death. That's about 400 a day, working 25 days a month; that is 300 work sessions. Now most don't write just 400, they write 2 or 3 times that. I often write 2000 words in a day. But self-editing, self-critique, deletions and restarts bring the average down to 400 completely done words per day.

  • 1
    +1. I find it extraordinary that whenever I read one of your answers I know who it is that's written it long before I see your name at the bottom. Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 22:59
  • 1
    That is good and marked it as an answer
    – Axisnix
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 15:38

I think you have several things going on here:

  • You are probably overthinking your writing. With less than 600 words written it is far too soon for you, or anyone else, to know yet if you are writing nonsense, or even what you are writing at all.
  • You are exhausting your ‘board of readers’, by getting them to keep rereading re-writes of the first 600 words.

To be realistic, at 600 words you have hardly begun. As an example, to complete the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge you have to write 1,666 words a day. Any advice I give here is on the basis of having done 3 years of Nano, generally averaging no fewer than 2k words per day.

Now, no-one is saying that you have to hit a high daily total, but one thing that many people learn when they do take part in NaNo is that if you try to re-write, edit and polish as you go, you won’t get anywhere. You have to get a body of work down before you can mess with it. So you need to work out what you can change about your approach that will let you get this book out of your head and onto some pages.

So, are you a Discovery writer or a Planner? By which I mean, have you already planned your book out so that you have a good idea of the structure of the story and can use the writing process to fill out the detail, or have you got a burning idea in your head and you want to discover where it takes you if you just start writing?

Of course there is a whole spectrum of approaches, I plan out every significant pivotal or progressive scene and write around those, but I know some people literally don’t know what they are going to write until they set their fingers to the keyboard. No one approach is intrinsically better than another, but it might be that there is an approach that suits you better than the one you are using now.

Whatever approach you settle on, you should accept the fact that you are not going to write a perfect draft straight off the bat. Editing and re-writing are inevitable, everyone does it to a greater or lesser degree. But the key point it you can’t edit until you have written something to edit.

The more you write, the more you discover your own style, which will in turn make editing easier. Worrying at the same couple of pages for five revisions won’t help you learn how you write, it just keeps putting off the moment where you find your flow.

What I would suggest for now is that you, first, thank your ‘board of readers’ for the time and effort they have taken and tell them that you will wait until you have something more substantial before you ask them for opinions again, if they are still willing to do that beta reading.

Next, set yourself some clear goals, they might include:

  • Reading up a bit on different approaches to writing, there are lots of resources on the web.

  • Consider setting aside your current book project for a bit and doing some other writing, perhaps of short pieces to help you loosen up your writing muscles. There are lots of websites that provide writing prompts to help you do just that.

  • Look into whether anyone runs writing classes in your area. I took some classes, which I really enjoyed. I found that when you meet with a group regularly and critique each other it can be an eye opener to your own bad habits, not just when people critique your work, but when you can see other people going through the same difficulties. I would warn though that the shorter cycle of assignments and praise can be a bit addictive and become an end in itself, stopping you from getting on with your book, but to help you find your flow, it could be worthwhile.

For the record, this answer is 687 words long.

  • I do some small writing like poetry, I am in a writing club. I am sort of both, I have the idea in my head but I know where I want the idea to go.
    – Axisnix
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 13:38

If your beta readers had to read four revisions of your work, they are rightfully tired of it and growing disinterested.

The common practics (of experiences authors) is to give their first draft to some friend or family member (e.g. their spouse) for a first feedback. After revising their story they give it to beta reader. After revising again, they give it to their editor. That is, every round of critique is done by different readers. No reader gets to read the same text twice.

This makes sense, because if you read a revised text with knowledge of an earlier version, you no longer have the fresh eyes required for test reading. If your readers are familiar with earlier revisions, they have the same problem that you as the author of the text have yourself and become unable to recognize mistakes.

The common solution for beginners, if they find they are revising the same text again and again, is to write another text and abandon the present one. If you find that you cannot complete the process of revisions within about three rounds, you probably either lack the ability as a writer or your text is beyond help. In both cases, writing another text is a better solution than keeping working on the same text. Your progress as a writer will advance quicker if you write one text after another than if you keep revising the same text (because usually text by beginners have fundamental flaws that cannot be easily repaired).

In those cases where proficient writers rewrite the same text multiple times, they do so without the help of beta readers and it is part of their (usual) writing process. That is different, and apparently not what you ask about here.

  • OP has edited and clarified the question in a way that might invalidate your answer (making it not incorrect - in general terms, it is; but turning it into one that doesn't answer the question). You might want to take a look, and edit if you feel the change to the question warrants it. Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 13:42
  • Rereading my previous comment, it's ambiguous. I meant "in general terms, your answer is correct". :) Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 16:33

With all due respect to your teacher, I'm not sure "nonsense" and "sense" are useful terms to use in critiquing your writing. There are authors who are justly famed for writing inspired nonsense --Lewis Carroll being one of the most famous examples.

Your sample seems to have an offbeat sensibility and sense of humor. It wouldn't be to everyone's tastes, but I found it intriguing. It may simply be that your teacher isn't the right audience for this particular piece of writing. A teacher's job is to help a student understand basic technique and best practices in writing. For that reason, he or she may be pushing you towards something more conventional.

Since you seem to want very quick feedback, I'd advise you to postpone any novels, and write short stories instead, until you develop a better sense of your own self as a writer. If neither your teacher nor your "board" members are receptive, I'd recommend finding a place to post those online instead.

  • Well I always got one other thing to write about. What would you advise?
    – Axisnix
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 19:34
  • @FluxedScript I'm not sure I understand this question. What would I advise about what? However -- please see this question, it's based on your comment. Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 19:48

Did your teacher use the word "nonsense"? If so, do you know what he meant by that? The word "nonsense" could mean many different things.

It could mean that the text consists of meaningless random collections of letters, like "miovs coiuerwqlk fgoiasdasd afsd jalkj". Or you have real words but they don't make coherent sense, like "Door running cat orange feeble brightly." I don't think that's what you mean here.

It could mean that you have real words and coherent sentences but the text isn't believable. Like if you wrote an essay explaining why you think serial killers are good for the stock market, I'd probably find it unconvincing and say you were writing nonsense. Or if you wrote a novel where the characters' motivations don't make sense, or where events happen for no apparent reason, I might say you're writing nonsense. Perhaps that's the sort of thing your teacher meant.

Like any criticism of your writing, I would say, If you respect this person at all, consider what they said, but don't necessarily accept everything they said. If someone says that your writing is bad and names flaws in it, it might well do you good to consider if you could not improve your writing by changing the things they complain about. But if someone just says that your writing is nonsense or garbage or whatever and gives no advice on how to improve it, I'd generally ignore them. Don't give up writing because one person said your writing is bad. There are lots of stories about best selling books that were rejected by a dozen publishers before they were finally published.

To be blunt, it may be that you are just not cut out to be a writer and you be better off to give up the idea of writing and try something else. But I wouldn't give up because one person said he doesn't like my writing.

Side note: As others have pointed out, 586 words is not a lot of text. That's like 1 or 2 pages. You are just getting started. Try writing a lot more before you make any decisions about your writing future. And probably you should write a lot more before you ask others to review it. Personally, my practice has been to not show my writing to others until I have what I consider a good first draft of an entire book. That may be waiting too long, but asking others to review your writing one page at a time is just going to cost you friends. :-)

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.