You are allowed to write badly.

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We’ve probably all heard the adage, “Give yourself permission to write crap,” but I want to talk about it because it’s such an important one. We must face the inevitability that not every word we type will be fabulous, and that’s okay. We are allowed to be imperfect. Welcome it, embrace it. It’s your right as a human.

There is nothing more stifling than staring down a blank page and thinking, “This MUST be good.” Because we know what’s really being said: “I must be good. If this isn’t good, then I am not good, and I must be good.” As if your very worth as a person hinges on it.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve struggled with this.

That pressure only produces the opposite effect: strained words, wooden words, words bogged down with expectation and disappointment. Screaming at your brain to be good just makes it cinch up tighter.

It’s the mirror-side of self-doubt. When you’ve written well in the past, been praised, found success, the pressure to keep it sets in. There’s this faulty logic that to be a good writer, you must always be good, or else you’re a fraud who never had it to begin with.

That is false. A bad story does not define you. A day where the words slog out of the pipe like mud-caked hairballs does not define you. It’s one story, one day. Or maybe it’s many stories and many days, and that’s alright too, because sometimes we have to trudge through dark woods to find the sunlit knoll.

Besides, the goal should not be to write with talent. The goal should be to write with joy. With curiosity. With excitement. Talent serves the ego, but joy serves the soul, and the soul will feed you in a way that ego never will. (This is massively harder to do than to say, I know. I’m still working on it, but it’s a mission I try to remember.)

And hey, paradoxical as it is, if you let yourself write crappier, you will write better. Win win. So write that crap. You’re allowed.

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18 thoughts on “You are allowed to write badly.

  1. I’ve just finished working on my second book. The first two versions of which were utterly appalling! I’ve always found it good to get the terrible drafts out first, especially in something long form, as it tends to find it’s own voice only once I’m into the story, and not before a few terrible goes at it.

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  2. As time goes on I enjoy writing more and more, not just as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. I increasingly enjoy the creation of it, whether it’s good or bad. Which is good, because in my case it’s mostly bad.

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    • That’s so wonderful that you’re enjoying writing for its own sake now. The happiest times in my life were when I was creating purely for the fun of it and not fretting about how good or bad it was. Sometimes I get caught up in really fretty places where I’m consumed by results, and I look back on times when I was fully about process and I miss it, even if what I made during that period was crap.

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  3. Such a simple piece of advice and so incredibly difficult to heed! I’d put it on a par with the one that haunts runners – “it’s ok to run slowly”. I think it’s one of the drawbacks of writing on a computer – it’s too simple to just keep changing so the temptation to improve every line is constantly there. I wrote some utter garbage longhand on a flight a few weeks ago and it was absolute bliss!!

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    • Believe me, I know how incredibly difficult it is! I’ve gone through periods of my life that were full of pure, joyous artmaking, and I’ve also gone through periods where I was so stressed about being good that I paralyzed myself. I HAD to find a way out because I was afraid I would never write or make art again, and that was too devastating for me to accept. So I had to do a lot of work on myself and eventually I was able to untangle myself from it, but it comes in waves, you know? It’s a lifelong process for every author with its peaks and valleys. I LOVE that you enjoyed yourself so much on that flight, garbage or not – the bliss is what matters!

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  4. A great reminder! Writing for joy, curiosity, and excitement should always be top goals. It’s not like we’re writing school essays here, lol (unless you like school essays, than by all means, find your joy in them!)

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  5. Great advice, Noel, but as you said, hard to heed. I think free-writing helps unclog the pipe, sometimes it gets me to that sweet spot where words flow more effortlessly. To get the pen moving is the hard part, once the words are on the page, I can always go back and edit. One teacher recommended we free write about three times as many words as we wanted to end up with, then edit out the crap (2/3) and polish the rest. 🙂

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  6. I find that the easiest way to write crap is to remind myself that it makes great fertilizer. As long as I know that I can go back and fix it, I can muscle my way through the fits of terribad writing.

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