image of bad writing

On Bad Writing

I love bad writing.

Okay, sometimes it can be painful to read.  Though, most of the time it’s amusing and fun.  But I love bad writing for a different reason, it is the only way that anyone ever stumbles their way into good writing.  If we didn’t write badly, we would be doomed to never write well. 

What I would advise is when you write something, keep it to yourself for at least a few days.  Don’t be too quick to post online or read it to your friends and family.  It may sound perfectly fine to you, but you know what you intended to say.  With fresh eyes, you may discover something that you’ve said which is really quite comical if not bizarre. 

Don’t be discouraged: Understand this, if you didn’t go through the act of putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, the first thing that would have gone down on paper would have been that bit of absurdity that you find before you.  By committing your bad writing to paper, you have taken the first step, your next revision will not be nearly as flawed as writing is very similar to thinking out loud.  You are sharpening your pen as you use it.

In pursuit of good writing I’d like to lay out a step by step instruction manual on how to achieve bad writing. 

Step one: Find something that captures your intention and put it down, even if it is rough and unformed, on paper (or electronic paper).

Step two: Turn off your internal censor.  Silence the critics, don’t listen to the little voice telling you that this is stupid or simple or no-one will understand this; whatever your choice of pejoratives is, let them go, ignore them.

Step three: Write it for yourself.  Write what pleases you, you should find yourself smiling or even laughing, I have an evil chuckle myself, as you go about composing your work.  Write as much as you want; but keep it to yourself, for now.  Don’t worry if when you are writing you all of a sudden realize that you are finished, don’t push it either.

I should point out that there is nothing that we do that does not improve with the act of simple repetition.  Over days and weeks, you will notice things like: You write faster.  You stop making silly mistakes. You start dropping out those weasel words.  Your skill will improve just by doing.  But you will be amazed how quickly you can write perfectly terrible, thoroughly awful prose and poetry (if you dare) when you simply embrace bad writing and follow the first three steps.

When you are done, don’t go and hit the publish button.

Oh, no, remember you wrote most of that with your filter off.  There are real nuggets in there, but there is also a lot of chafe that needs to be sifted out.  This is the role of editing.

So, let’s talk about editing.  You know that you wrote something awful and now is the time for you to sit back and enjoy the fermentation of your imagination.  You are brilliant, but writing is tricky, because you had your filter off, you have bits of brilliance in your writing.  It’s the job of you, the editor, to find these bits.  It is helpful to adopt a sense of humor when you read it.  Don’t be afraid to chuckle to yourself when you read whatever you thought made perfect sense to you.  Look at editing being your chance to get rid of all the silly extra things that you have written. 

Edgar Scott, dystopian author headshot

Be ruthless in what you take out.  

Take out everything that you can.  Look for extra words that you can remove.  Look for the same idea being presented twice, present it once.  With editing, you are finished when there is nothing left to remove, when there is nothing left to remove, you are finished. 

When you have completed your edit, now read what you have written. What was once shameless and horrible, will now be better organized –hopefully grammatically correct– and inventive and creative because you didn’t worry about it being good. 

Enjoy your bad writing, be shameless, be horrible, it’s the only way you will stretch yourself.

And when you’re ready to move to the next stage, here are 10 ways to avoid bad writing altogether.

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