On bad writing

October 1, 2014 § 14 Comments

There’s some writing advice I’ve been dispensing often of late, and it’s this: write badly. Odd, I know, from someone who writes for a living and coaches other writers, but it’s the best way to overcome that “Aaaaaaargh! I’ll never get this damn thing written!” feeling.

Without wanting to brag, I’m a bit of a writing machine. As long as I have a brief – the briefest of briefs, even – I can pretty much sit down and write something decent, no matter how I’m feeling. But every now and then, I can’t. And I’ve finally figured out what the problem is: perfectionism!

Every single time I can’t write, it’s because I’m utterly terrified I won’t be able to produce Good Writing. As if I get one go at it. As if I chip every word out of the Rock of Gibraltar and then that’s it. Posterity will witness my shame forever. (I have a flair for the dramatic.)

But here’s the thing – there’s a backspace key on my computer. And the option to cut, copy, paste and edit until it’s as good as I can get it. And it’s never going to be perfect – there’s always something you can change or improve.

So when people tell me they are struggling to write something now, I tell them to write badly. Because, most often, the hardest part of writing something is getting started. And most excellent writing doesn’t just flow from the writer’s brain fully formed – it is edited and rewritten and rejigged and tweaked and crafted into a thing (hopefully) of beauty.

And then, when it’s been printed or published somewhere, every writer I know will look at it again and wish they’d left out that word, or inserted a comma just there, or rephrased that paragraph completely. It will never be perfect.

So stop hankering after perfection, or even Good Writing. The thing is just to start. Get the words on the page, and keep going. And then leave them there for a bit and get some distance from them for a couple of hours at least. By the time you come back to them you’ll be able to see what needs fixing, I promise you.

Don’t give up on writing just because you’re struggling with the words. Start. Write badly. You can always fix it.


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