You heard me. Write it badly. Start a new page and put “It was a dark and stormy night” across the top and then fill it with every bad cliche, familiar trope, and predictable ending.
Why? By choosing to write badly, you’re leaving all those fears and anxieties of “is this good enough?” at the door. There’s freedom in choosing to write badly. Even if you only have 10-minute increments to write in, decide when you sit down that this work-in-progress will be messy and bland.
In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron writes, “Creativity flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance. Your artist, like a small child, is happiest when feeling a sense of security.” (P.42) So what would be more freeing than just leaving the restrictions of “rules” and “conventions” at the door and write whatever the hell you want to write?
But she warns of this her book The Right To Write. If we stop and realize what we’re doing could be actually good, or we might not pull it off, or we start wondering what others will think, then we’ve hit a wall. But she has a solution. “The Wall is the point where doubt sets in. No longer writing for the sake of writing, bro longer happy just one splash in the pool, suddenly we think about those other people in the pool with us, whether they are faster, better, stronger, showier. In short, we begin to compete, not just create. . . . Instead of ‘I’m great.’ we say, ‘I am willing to write badly. I am willing to do the work to finish this project whether it is any good or not.’” (P.74) “When we insist on being great, the Wall stops us. When we are willing to be humble, we wriggle our way under the Wall and back to the glee of writing freely. By being willing to write “badly” we free ourselves to write — and perhaps to write very well. In other words, we go back to sketching. . . . If we let ourselves sketch it in a little at a time, trusting each addition and doing only ‘the next right thing,’ our work blooms in the end.” (P.75)
What happens when we free ourselves to write badly?
- We get the first draft done. A bad first draft is always revisable.
- We fire the inner editor.
- We agree with the doubt and fear but write anyway.
- We strengthen our skills when it’s time to edit.
- We can count it for our daily goals. (I have to write a certain amount every day, whether the words are good or bad!)
- We use it to build up a habit, which will help us build endurance and discipline and write better.
- We use it to help us not take ourselves so seriously.
- Because we’re accustomed to our own bad writing we handle our critics better.
- If we’re honest with our bad writing, we’re more approachable to other writers.
- We no longer fear failure because we are familiar with it.
- Writing badly helps us tap into our subconscious.
- Writing badly creates a sense of accomplishment.
- And I believe that writing badly is better for your confidence in the long run. The more time we spend “playing” and not worrying about “being great” the more freedom we’ll have and our best work could come out of it.
Brenda Ueland wrote in If You Want To Write, “Yes, you must feel when you write, free. You must disentangle all oughts. You must disconnect all shackles, weights, obligations, all duties. You can write as badly as you want to. You can write anything you want to, a six-act blank verse, symbolic tragedy or a vulgar short, short story. Just so that you write it with honesty and gusto, and do not try to make somebody believe that you are smarter than you are.”
Are you convinced yet? I am. I’m going to set my timer and write as badly as I possibly can. You should too.