• Kara Newcastle

Writing Wednesday: Writing Badly

Writing Wednesday: Writing Badly

“Have the courage to write badly.”

-Joshua Wolf Shenk

Like the Ernest Hemingway’s “The first draft of anything is shit,” this was another quote I hung on my wall by my computer. It’s reassuring in its simplicity—have the courage to write badly.

It’s something I struggled with for a time, and something that all writers struggle with at one point or another; for some reason I started thinking that I had to write a masterpiece every time I sat down to type. Didn’t matter what I was working on, a short story, a novel, fiction, nonfiction, fanfiction, a blog, an article, I believed that everything had to be perfect and eloquent and amazing and beautiful the first time I wrote it … and that didn’t do anything except stress me the hell out.

Why I started thinking that way I’m not entirely sure—maybe it was an ego thing. I do remember reading a lot of crappily written books at the time, and being irritated that these no-talent hacks were getting published and I wasn’t, constantly telling myself that I could write better than they could. And yet, whenever I wrote something down, I wound up deleting everything a few seconds later. I started obsessing over the perfect word or wording, coming up with original metaphors and executing perfect grammar every time. I started thinking that I wasn’t good any more, that I had lost my talent or—horrors!—maybe I never was talented to begin with. After a few months of this, I went back and reread my old reviews and wondered why people kept saying they enjoyed my writing when I didn’t think I was any good at it.

Then I went back and reread some of my old stories and realized that, actually, they weren’t that terrible. That got me to think about when I wrote my very first Nike story back in 1996. I broke out the old Trapper Keeper and reread those stories. They weren’t great. They were rife with mistakes and inconsistencies … but I remember writing them. I remember writing them and not being worried about whether they were good or bad. I just wanted to write.

Upon that epiphany, I went online and did a little research, trying to figure out what I had done to derail myself and whether or not anyone else suffered the way I had. It turned out that every writer has had a period of time where they thought they had to write perfectly every time they sat down to work (and other crises, which I’ll get to in the future), and this led me to a series of quotes from authors on writing. I made a list of the quotes, but Joshua Wolf Shenk’s was one of my favorites because it’s so to the point and yet reassuring. I read that quote and could imagine him standing beside me, patting me on the shoulder and saying, “It’s fine. Just write whatever you want. You can go back and fix it later.”

So go ahead and write some crappy stories. If the most colorful sentence you can come up with is, “The dog was brown,” don’t worry about it. There’s plenty of time to go back and tweak whatever you’re not satisfied with AFTER the story is finished (or after you’ve written several pages worth of stuff.) Don’t let yourself get bogged down with perfectionist thinking. If you feel like you’re writing badly, then write badly.

Just make sure you write.

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