Why You Should Embrace Bad Writing

It’s about to get real up in here.

Are you ready for it? NaNoWriMo just ended (cue the collective screams of exhaustion) and I’m not quite sure how to handle that. I mean, yes, I AM VERY HAPPY IT’S DONE. Because wow, even I was ready to stab myself in the thigh with a spork if I muttered the phrase NaNoWriMo one more time (which I just did twice in the span of three sentences. Omgggggg). But I also have a lot of mixed feelings too. Relief. Sadness. Doubt. Pride.

Wait…pride? What?

Okay, brace yourself for this, but my writing is actually pretty bad. Like, really really bad. Shocker, I know. But over the years I’ve learned to accept this, and in some ways, I almost welcome it. My first drafts are BAD. So what? Why does that matter? Does that mean I fail as a writer? That I’ll never be allowed to go back and edit them until they’re better? Will I have to stop writing forever? Have I shamed myself and all the real writers before and after me?

No. Honestly, how freaking ridiculous is all that? That’s like saying because I drew a lop-sided stick figure when I was seven I’m never allowed to pick up a sketch-pad and pencil ever again in my life. Well you can pry my sketchpad from my blue and lifeless fingers because that’s never going to happen (but really, please don’t, that’s gross).

I’ll be honest, one of my biggest pet peeves is the classic mantra everywhere of “I never get any writing done BECAUSE I’M A PERFECTIONIST.”

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So am I. That’s why I slog through my first draft and don’t even think about editing until it’s done. I let it stew in its grammatical errors and typos, and relish its awkward, hobbled-together glory when it’s all finished. Why? Because I’m a perfectionist. And perfection isn’t a blank piece of paper. Perfection is an ugly, strange, goofy, imperfect mess, ready and waiting to be cleaned up and shined to a polish.

I spent years loving writing, without ever actually DOING any writing. Why? Because I was a “perfectionist” and I hated literally everything I wrote. My dialogue was stupid or my prose were too purple. Nothing unfolded the way I wanted it too, and I spent hours re-writing, erasing and re-writing, hoping that someday I would finally get there. But in the end, I spent years on novels that never made it passed the first five chapters. My so-called perfectionism turned what could have been this really great, awesome, THING, into absolutely nothing at all.

So now, I write.

And it wasn’t easy. But I reached a point/age where I looked back and realized that I wanted a book more than I wanted perfection. Because a book is real, it’s more than just an idea or a dream. It’s something to share with others and rifle through the pages to find a world and characters I created. But perfection? That’s a myth. It’s a myth that promises a lot, and steals away even more.

So when I see other authors limiting themselves by their own fear, it makes me want to shake them (in the nicest way possible) because they don’t need to doubt themselves! I’m probably the most violent motivator ever, but it’s just because I don’t want them to end up like me. Old. Oh, and without a book to show for it.

So, why should you embrace “bad” writing?

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Everyone writes junk

Yes, it’s junk, and no, it’s not a bad thing. Extra words, superfluous descriptors, repetitive dialogue and clunky passages. It’s all there. We all do it, in some form or another. Even your favorite authors who have been writing for decades. EVEN ME. Whoa.

But does that mean everything we write is junk? NO. Between the haphazard grammar and choppy sentences are solid gems, just waiting to be dug up. Just because you write junk, doesn’t mean you ONLY write junk. Don’t be afraid of the junky bits, they’re going to be written either way, so why fight it? All you’ll wind up doing is pushing back and losing all the real pieces of beauty hiding underneath, and who knows? Maybe some of those ugly parts aren’t as ugly as you think. A quick round of editing might be all it takes for a piece of coal to become a diamond. Give it a chance.

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Editing isn’t a bad word

Let’s just repeat that on auto: “Editing is NOT a bad word.”

Now keep going. I admit, I might be a little hypocritical on this as I’ve yet to actually reach the point where I HAVE to edit anything, but I’m not going to let it scare me before I even get started. There are so many horror stories out there and I’ve heard them all tenfold. For a quick rundown, what are some of the nasty things about editing floating around out there?

Editing is:

  • boring
  • difficult
  • slow
  • painful
  • tedious
  • awful
  • ugly

Stop the editing hate! What did poor editing ever do to deserve such a horrible reputation? As writers, we need to flip it around because what does editing REALLY do? Like, for really reals?

Editing:

  • gives us beautiful manuscripts
  • helps make things clearer
  • gives us a chance to revisit our characters
  • let’s us play around with words

Editing makes our novels beautiful! Embrace it! Rejoice in it! Editing isn’t a monster, it’s a sweet, sweet angel come down the from Writing Heavens ready to help us make our dreams a reality. While we’ve been cowering away in fear, we should have been celebrating!

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Garbage is precious

This one took me a long time to accept, but once I did it was the final key that allowed me to be free. I mean, who wants to have garbage associated with their name? I don’t. You don’t. I don’t know anybody who does. But the truth of the matter is, we’re all so wrapped up in hiding our own garbage no one is really paying attention to anyone else’s. What we do pay attention to is the finish product-when all the sludge and grime is wiped away and we have something beautiful to share. That’s what people see. But you’re never going to have that lovely shining novel if you don’t let it be an ugly, timid little story first.

Beauty is born from nothing. It starts as a spark, an idea. It hobbles down onto the page and a rickety skeleton takes shape. From there all the words come pouring out. It’s ugly. It looks like garbage.

But it’s not. Not really.

Because now you have something. A solid something to sculpt and mold and transform into what you truly envision. You can’t do that with nothing. Don’t be deceived by first impressions, there’s so much more than initially meets the eye.

 I know that it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and saying ‘Hey! I don’t care if I might suck!’ It’s a complete shift in thinking, in how you view yourself and the things you pour yourself into (figuratively, not literally of course). Because writing is personal and sharing is terrifying, and getting over all that self-doubt is not something that happens from one day to the next.

But my hope, for all you adorable baby bunny writers out there, is that someday this shift in thinking does happen. Writing is already difficult enough as it is without your own brain telling you you’re not good enough. You are good enough.

How do you feel about your less-than-perfect first drafts? Have you learned to embrace the editing process? What part of writing do you feel you need the most improvement on? 

2 Comments

  1. YESSS THIS POST IS PERFECT AND I COULDN’T AGREE MORE!! I nearly quit writing because of perfectionism! I think it’s like one of the top killers of authors honestly…like there is a place for it and we can’t deny the pain it causes a lot of us, but we caaan’t let it kill our writing. 😭 I love my disgustingly messy and gross first drafts, because I KNOW they can get better! It took me a long long time to change my thinking, but it changed my writing so much. <3

    Soooo much agreement for this post!!

  2. I am both afraid of my bad writing and editing, which is why I don’t open my first draft to read back on what I wrote and try to edit, hahaha. This was such an inspiring and helpful post, thank you so, so much for writing it. I am a bit of a perfectionnist. I hope that little shift you’re talking about will happen soon and that I’ll be okay with everything and make my garbage beautiful haha 🙂 thank you!! xx

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