Novel Fridays: Permission to Write Badly

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Happy Friday novelists!

Last time, we discussed how best to make use of a short writing retreat. In those circumstances, often our goal is to produce the best quality work we can in the time allotted. However, a retreat is an unusual opportunity to focus on writing, much in the way that NaNoWriMo is an unusual opportunity to just go wild. What about the rest of the time?

One of the benefits of NaNoWriMo,  is that it prevents us from being able to look too closely at the sentences we just wrote. You’ve probably had this experience: in the middle of a productive hour, riding the high of your success, you take a moment to read the preceding paragraph. Surely, it’s a work of genius.

Surely.

While there may be a a few sentences that appeal to you, more often than not, you’ll find more than one thing you’d like to fix when you go back and reread mid-draft. This is a natural impulse, but one you must resist. Otherwise all momentum is lost.

So, this week, I’d like to give you permission to write badly.

Is it art or a huge mess?

Is it art or a complete disaster?

Keep moving forward

Ah, NaNoWriMo. The delirium of late nights or early mornings spent writing provides a natural barrier to the kind of introspection I mentioned above. You can’t look back when you’re trying to write 50,000 words in thirty days. You simply can’t. It’s not easy to manufacture the same kind of attitude when you’re writing the rest of the year. Why not stop and reread? Fix that misplaced modifier, correct the spelling of your character’s middle name, adjust a detail every so slightly. Surely, it can’t hurt.

Except, of course, it can. So instead of harried, full-tilt writing, you need another tool in your toolbox to resist tinkering. The one I recommend is acceptance. Yes, your first draft is more than likely riddled with errors. There are plot holes you could probably drive a semi through. Maybe your dialogue sounds completely wooden. Or stupid. In fact, some elements of your novel are probably just really stupid.

Believe me: that’s okay. It’s all okay, because your goal is not to write a perfect novel on your first try. Your goal is to write a novel, any novel. Your goal is to put words on a page. Not just your goal–your job. The mistakes we make while writing don’t unmake our status as writers. In fact, I’d say they confirm it. We write on good days and bad. When there’s rhythm and the words come easy–and when there’s not and they don’t.

Let your writing be bad. Keep writing. Accept your mistakes. Embrace them.

It may be a horrible mess, but it's your horrible mess.

It may be a horrible mess, but it’s your horrible mess.

Know when to think critically

Naturally, at some point we will have to correct those mistakes. But ultimately, this becomes about timing. Sometimes you’re more of an editor than a writer, but not when you’re sitting down to the blank page. On another day, when your draft has mellowed, you can dissect and restructure and critique to your heart’s content. Not while you’re writing. After all, would you rather have an overbearing boss looking over your shoulder and correcting every mistake while you work? Or would you prefer someone who lets you do what you need to do and steps in later to help you polish your final product?

Later is the word for your inner editor. You need that expertise and sharp insight, but just not yet. For the moment, write the next word. And the next one. 

Good or bad.

Have you been stymied in the middle of a draft? How do you keep writing?

About the Author: Julia Patt

JuliaBiopicJulia Patt, Contributing Editor, from Chestertown, MD, is a graduate of Sweet Briar College and the MFA program at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where she was a fiction editor for The Greensboro Review. Her young adult novels—i was a fourth grade zombie slayer and Through Waterless Places—were both shortlisted for Mslexia’s 2012 Children’s Novel Competition, and her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Surreal South ’11Stymie, and PANK.

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