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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writer's update: the importance of writing badly

I thought of the idea for this post earlier this week when a friend of mine who is participating in NaNoWriMo read a scene from mine and told me he didn't like any of the stuff he'd written. This November, I'm actually finding it quite hard myself to like what I've written so far, but a few minutes ago I hit the 25K mark on my word count and I feel like my story is finally starting to take shape. 

The thing with writing is that, unless you're freakishly amazing all the time, you're not always going to be able to write well. Not every word you put on the page is going to be something you'll be proud of. Actually, a LOT of what you write is going to be really, really, really shit. Right now, that's how I feel about 15-20 thousand words of what I've written in the past thirteen days. So why do I keep going? Because if I don't accept the fact that sometimes I will write badly, then I will never have the chance to write well. 

I have several friends who aren't participating in NaNoWriMo because they think the rules are stupid (Holmes, I'm looking at you). And that's okay too, because everyone writes their stories differently. Everyone has their own creative process. For some people, that means word-vomiting into Google Docs as fast as you can, including for NaNoWriMo, and for other people, that means staring at the computer screen for hours on end and only getting out a few carefully thought out and worded paragraphs at a time. Regardless of which approach you take, there are going to be days where you write shit, an days when you realise you're shitting gold. Sometimes it comes out somewhere in between and you know what you've got in front of you has potential. Even some of the worst stuff you write could have potential and that's the thing--being a good writer isn't about always writing flawlessly amazing words every single time and becoming a bestseller overnight. Being a good writer is about being able to identify what parts of your work are good, what parts are bad, and what parts are okay. It's about being able to identify where potential lies and bring that potential to the surface. It's not just about the first draft. It's about the editing process too. It's about redrafting. And sometimes it's about making a hard call and moving on to something else even though you've already put a lot of work into what you've already written. 

Sometimes, it isn't about which approach you take (QUITE-WRITE-A-FIRST-DRAFT-HURRY vs staring-at-the-screen-and-being-pedantic-about-every-word-I-write). Sometimes it's about which approach your story wants to take. At the moment, my NaNoWriMo is my first attempt at novel-length literary fiction. Yes, yes, crucify me and tell me what a snotty bastard I am for temporarily turning my back on genre fiction. The thing is, my attempts at literary fiction in the past have used the process that does not work well with NaNoWriMo and at times I've stopped and wondered if trying to write this particular novel for NaNoWriMo was a bad idea. And maybe it was. Maybe this would have been way easier to sit down and nut out slowly. But I started something and now I'm going to finish it. And even though it's probably going to be one of the worse novel-length pieces I've ever written--what with it's inconsistent voice and inability to STAY literary and not slip into one genre or another--the fact of the matter is that at the end of the this project, I'll have the first draft of another novel, which I already think has potential, even if it's only in the story and not so much the way it's been written. At some point, maybe later in 2015 or 2016 when it's been put aside for a little while and I've worked on something else and I can return to it with fresh eyes, I'll return to this novel and see if the writing can be salvaged or if I need to write it all over again. And I'm okay with writing it all over again. I am a writer. It's okay to press delete. And it's okay to hit the backspace key. And it's okay to abandon a project completely and move on to something else. As long as I maintain that I am a writer and I don't give up on writing. 

Writing badly is also important so that you can get it out of your system. It's more ideal to do this when you're NOT working on a big project that you're trying to take seriously, but beggars can't be choosers. Once the bad writing is out and on the page, what else is to follow but the okay writing and the good writing? And that's why it's important that we allow ourselves to write badly sometimes. And I don't mean to encourage anyone to be lazy in the way they write and then use this as a justification. I'm just saying: it's okay. 

So even though I hate most of what I've written so far and I'm now halfway to the NaNoWriMo word goal, I'm going to keep going, because I think I've gotten the worst of it out of my system and things are starting to perk up a little now. And whatever I wrote awfully at the start is something I can return to later and write all over again. Because that's what I do. I am a writer. 

How badly can you write?
Bonnee. 

10 comments:

  1. How badly can I write? I haven't even seen the bottom of this crater called Writing Quality yet!

    Where I find myself right now isn't so much thinking my writing is bad as much as it is thinking "What's the point of all this stuff you've just written?" I'm at a similar point in terms of word count as you, and I'm feeling a little adrift in the story again as I've slipped a bit away from the 'outline slightly, then write' approach I'd been taking. I do find this happens quite often with me, so no reason to panic just yet.

    Out of curiosity (and this may be something better dealt with in another post rather than a comment), what about this particular story made you choose a literary style? Was it a case of you choosing the style, or did you hit upon the story and feel like that was the treatment it required?

    Good luck with the NaNo!

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    1. You know, I'm not entirely sure which would be worse out of thinking my writing is bad and thinking it doesn't have a point, but either way, I think it should be written anyway. Nothing wrong with changing your approach a little, or not sticking to whatever you outlined--aside from a very brief framework (this was originally a short story) I'm completely winging it as I write.

      I chose the literary style for two reasons: 1.) because the most recent book I'd read that was still resonating with me when I came up with the idea was God of Small Things, so the style was stuck in my head, and 2.) because as I mentioned above, this was originally a short story, but it was for a uni assignment earlier this year which required it to be literary as part of the criteria.

      Best of luck to you with your NaNo as well! Thanks for visiting :)

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  2. I'm only sort of half-ass doing NaNo. I'm just trying to ride on everyone else's enthusiasm and make it work for me. :P

    So far, I'm still a very slow writer, but I busted through one story barrier I'd been facing, so I call it a win. And, yeah, first drafts are shite. One reason I'm so slow at the writing is because I can't stop editing as I go. But I do know there is value in just free writing and seeing what comes out. It can lead to a great discovery. So keep pouring those words out. :)

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    1. I think I very much started off riding on everyone else's enthusiasm, but then a friend and I decided to start directly competing and that got me going. Hope you can ride through til the end of November :) Thanks for visiting.

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  3. I absolutely agree. I think a lot of writers have a tendency to be perfectionists - me included - so it's hard to give ourselves permission to write badly. When we do, though, and when we later fix that writing in revisions, we end up learning so much.

    Good for you for sticking with your NaNo story. Have fun with the rest of it!

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    1. I love the learning process of revision. I'm trying to pin-point when I started letting myself write badly and worry about fixing it later instead of trying so hard to get everything right the first time. Don't let perfectionism be your downfall! Write your heart out! :) Thanks for visiting.

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  4. As always I'm impressed with your speed, writing 25K words in 2 weeks. I write like a turtle compared to you. I know that many revisions are needed before a manuscript is ready so I write badly the first draft, just trying to reach the finish line. Once I have a complete "badly written" first draft then I slowly go over the pages to improve the writing and add pages. It's great that you try to write in different style and genre showing your versatility. Best wishes with this literary novel and with all the other novels.

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    1. 50K always feels like such a big number at the start, but this year I hit 25K and then sorta went, wait, I'm already half way, really? I think it gets easier the more you do it. There's nothing wrong with needing to go over your manuscript many times for revisions before it's ready to be sent out into the world. Thanks for visiting again G.M :)

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  5. This is so, so true. It's partly why I haven't participated in NaNoWriMo before, although I can usually quite honestly use timing as an excuse as well. (Like, right now I'm working on revisions for my agent, so that has to take priority. I'll do a new draft when I finish revising.) Really, though, I have a hard time letting go of that editor and just getting the words out. I admire anyone who can do it. Good luck to you!!

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    1. I know NaNo has bad timing for a lot of people--I'm very lucky for it to be so well timed for me. I used to have that problem, but I think challenging myself to participate in NaNoWriMo last year helped a lot. Thanks for visiting, Caryn :)

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