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!

Becoming a Real Writer

It’s hard to feel the confidence to say you’re a writer. I often said I like to write, but never really said I was a writer. Even when I started writing a book, I still didn’t call it a book. I called it a story or manuscript at most.

Recently though, the more I write and the more people ask what I’m working on, I started saying, “Oh, I’m writing a novel.” The first time those words came out of my mouth without any hesitation took me for a loop. When had I made the tranistion from hobby writing to writer?

As I think about the transition, I realize it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took place over the course of years of honing my craft and practicing the skill. It started as, I like to write, then changed to, I am writing stories and poems, until eventually it turned into I’m working on a manuscript.

The day I first said out loud, “I’m writing a book,” I knew I had arrived at the next phase. I am a writer. What a thrilling and yet nerve-inducing feeling it was. To speak the words, “I am a writer,” is no small feat. Ridding myself of the imposter syndrome has taken years, nay, decades, of hard work.

So, when do you know you’re a writer? When do you know you’re a real writer? The answer is: there’s no formula. It’s different for everyone. The idea of “real” before a label is arbitrary. For me, it happened when I stopped being scared of what people would think if I said, “I’m a writer, but I don’t have any big, famous publications.”

Others may never publish anything at all and consider themselves writers. That’s great. The truth is, only you can define yourself. If you want to call yourself a writer, then you’re a writer. Don’t let others’ expectations or standards sway you from your path.

What about any other fellow writers out there? When did you start to consider yourselves “real” writers? What does being a writer mean to you? Let me know in the comments!