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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

When Bad Is Better

bad is better anstockphoto5836635 (2)Question: When is bad writing better than good writing?

Answer: When wanting to write something good means you don’t write at all.

When you’re polishing a piece of writing into the final manuscript, you want to select each word with deliberate precision. This is the time to fine tune the rhythm and tone of each phrase with both intention and intuition. The urge to make the writing the very best serves you and your readers.

Good writing always comes from rewriting. But first you have to have something to rewrite.

When you create that first mess that you can later craft into a polished manuscript, the desire to write something good can interfere with the ability to write at all. Allowing yourself to write badly is always better than trying to write so well, you don’t write at all.

trying too hard canstockphoto7917520 (2)All too often, the desire to write well becomes an expectation of excellence that creates resistance. This resistance slows the transfer of ideas from your mind to the page/screen where you can later refine them. At the worst, the expectation-generated resistance causes you to avoid drafting altogether.

The desire for perfection that serves you so well when you’re rewriting only gets in the way when you write the first draft. You don’t need a draft to be the best it can be – that’s why we call it a draft. You don’t even need it to be good. You only need to get the ideas, images and phrases out of your head and onto the page/screen.

You can’t possibly craft words in the first draft because you don’t know what you want to say yet. You don’t even know what you think yet. But once you get something on the page, you can start to manipulate what’s there to discover order in that mess.

When the urge for just the right word or the best phrasing makes you hesitate and impedes the flow of your imagination, it does not serve your writing. A good first draft is slightly more ordered and focused than random chance would produce. A bad first draft is one that is painfully slow to create because you keep second-guessing yourself.

The worst first draft is the one that never gets written because the desire to write well has blocked the ability to write at all.

What’s the best thing you ever wrote badly?

What’s the best thing you never wrote because you tried so hard to write something good?

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9 Comments on “When Bad Is Better”

  1. Karen Stinson January 3, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    karen write Karen Stinson karenstinson@gmail.com 612-940-3276


  2. Joel D Canfield January 2, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    It was 20 years or more from my first song idea to my first song.

    It was 30 years or more from my first mystery idea to my first mystery.

    It was only 2 years or so from my first desire to write non-fiction to my first book.

    Guess which one I care about least? Don’t tell all my business clients, but if I never wrote another business book, I’d live.

    If I never wrote another song, I’d die. (If I never write another mystery, I’ll disappear from a locked room, leaving no clues other than the smell of lime rind and sawdust.)


    • rosannebane January 2, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      Lime rind and sawdust… that’s intriguing!
      The connection between how much something matters and how long it takes us to do it is also intriguing — and proves how important it is to keep writing (even what matters most, no especially what matters most) “no big deal” that we’re willing to make mistakes with. Thanks Joel!


      • Joel D Canfield January 2, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

        Direct relation between fear and time, eh?


        • rosannebane January 2, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

          Yup! So much of life seems to be about learning to respond to fear…


          • Joel D Canfield January 2, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

            I started a project once called “The Opposite of Fear.” It’s one of my greatest passions, successfully facing fear.


  3. Alan Furth January 2, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    Happy new year Rosanne! I am half way through your book, and loving it. Got a feeling that I will be writing a lot more during 2013 than last year 🙂

    Here’s a clip I stumbled upon the other day that made me think of you and your advice about handling our inner critic.

    Well, let’s say that Dave’s advice on how to deal with The Creature is a bit more, uh, blunt — only to use it as a very last resource:

    Starts at around 3:00 min

    Happy new year!


    • rosannebane January 2, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      Thanks Alan! Yes, Dave’s advice is a bit more blunt, but sometimes blunt is what you need to use with a really harsh critic… I’m delighted you’re enjoying my book. I’d be tickled if you’d share that with your writing friends and allies.
      Happy New Year!



  1. Are You a Creative Super-Conductor? « The Bane of Your Resistance - January 8, 2013

    […] you’re trying to pass the current through an uninsulated, worn-out wire. (Note: As we saw in the previous post, this is a prime time to allow yourself to write […]


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