Why It’s Absolutely Okay to Write Badly

One of my favorite writers, Cinda Williams Chima, recently made a post on Goodreads saying, “I give myself permission to write badly,” in answer to a question about how she gets past writer’s block.

That’s really what writer’s block, isn’t it? The fear of failure. The doubt that you might not have something important to say. The uncertainty that what you have to say won’t be well-received.

It’s completely okay to write badly though. A first draft is not a final product, and no one expects perfection on the first try.

Writing, like just about everything else in life, is a skill. It must be learned. It must be practiced. You won’t get it perfectly right straight off the bat, so why sweat the terrible first try?

This is a process I’ve been undergoing myself as I write my novel and novella. As I go writing, I find myself reading back a section and thinking, “No, that doesn’t work. I should do this instead.”

That process of editing while writing will delay you terribly. It sets you back to the point where you keep rewriting and revising what you already put down, keeping you from the finish line.

To stop myself from the eternal edit mode, I make notes in the document saying to come back to this. Essentially, I say, “This is future Meagan’s problem.”

It’s fine to write something that doesn’t work the first time you write it down. That’s what revising and editing are for.

You’ll make a rough draft. Then you’ll do developmental edits, revising the story strucuture or character development. Next, you’ll do line edits where you scour the manuscript line by line for syntax. Finally, you’ll do copy edits for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Do you see how many steps it takes to get to the final, finished product? How could you ever expect to do all that work on the first round? It’s not possible (or at least highly improbable).

Give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft. It might not make sense. It might make you cringe when you look back on it. But it’s how you’re going to learn how to tell a compelling story.

The important thing is to simply start. More important still, to keep going. Even if you reach the point where your story gets published, you’ll feel like it’s not done yet. That is the nature of art. It always feels like a work in progress.

Something that helped me get past that constant need to go back and edit was writing each chapter of my novel in a separate document. If it wasn’t all together in one document, I couldn’t go back and edit.

Also, I started tracking what was happening in the story by making an outline with chapter summaries. If something felt like it was missing or I realized a story inconsitency, I made a note in the outline to go back and change or fix that element.

Finding tactics that keep moving your writing forward will help you get past the writer’s block. Are there any processes you practice that help with writer’s block? Share them in the comments!

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Dealing With Imposter Syndrome as a Writer

Notepad with crumpled pages for the trash (Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay)

I may have mentioned before how I work full time and go to grad school part time. So, when does that leave time for writing? The answer is virtually never, and it kind of eats at me sometimes.

There are some nights after work and studying that I do have a couple of hours to myself where I do have time to write, but I don’t take advantage of it. Instead, I catch up on TV or reading. Does this make me a bad writer?

I don’t practice my craft as often as I should. I know I shouldn’t get too down on myself for this because the truth is, I’m mentally exhausted after work and studying, but is that just an excuse? Then again, is it fair to my characters and stories and poetry if I try to work on them when my brain is fried?

I recently completed a poetry chapbook manuscript that I’ve been working on for over a year. It felt so strange to finally finish something that it left me with a sense of doubt as to if it was really finished and ready to be sent out into the world.

Maybe the full-time worker/part-time grad student is the excuse I give myself to procrastinate on finishing something, because once I’m done, am I really done? Is it really ready? I imagine even full-time writers have this anxiety.

Artists never truly feel like their work is ready for the world to see. Or maybe we just feel like the world isn’t ready to see our work? How many times do we see a look back on some work and see critics say, It was ahead of its time? Nobody wants posthumous recognition.

So, here I am with a completed manuscript, and I haven’t done anything with it since I finished it a week ago. Granted, I spend 10 hours working, including the commute. Then, I have to take a break when I get home, otherwise I’ll lose my mind. Then it’s off to read or answer discussion questions or research current events or work on a term paper, and by the time I’m finished it’s 9 p.m.

That makes me seem like an old lady, but it’s close to bed time and all I wanna do is read my book club book because I borrowed it from the library and I gotta finish it within a certain time frame. How did I even finish that manuscript? Oh yeah, at the pace of an animal I’d imagine as a hybrid between a sloth and a turtle. Slow and steady wins the race?

Is it a race? I know I shouldn’t think of it as such, but when I just turned 27 and I’ve considered myself a writer since high school and I’ve barely had anything published, does that make me a loser?

For anyone experiencing what I am, I’m sorry I don’t have clear answers for the questions posed. I suppose there is no right answer though, and everyone has to come to their own conclusions to get them through the writers’ process. That’s different than the writing process, as the two are not the same. Writing and being a writer that is.

How do you all deal with the existential dread of calling yourselves writers?