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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.

Wanna Write Something Good? Start With Writing Something Awful!


writers block caused by expectationThe desire to write good stuff and especially an expectation that you’re supposed to write good stuff is a guaranteed, one-way trip to Resistance City.

How can we possibly write anything worth reading if just wanting to do that triggers our resistance?

We sidle up to it. We surrender the desire for any particular outcome and become willing to write badly.

You Gotta Be Willing to Be Bad!

To write well, first you have to write at all. And to write at all, you have to be willing to write badly because, on any given day, you have no way of knowing whether what you’ll produce that day will be the brilliant prose or luminous poetry you hope for or complete and utter dreck. If you’re not willing to risk writing dreck, you won’t write at all.

Writing badly is what Anne Lamont calls the Sh*tty First Draft or what Marla Beck calls the Swiss Cheese Draft.

The Dreck Draft

I challenge my students – and now I challenge you – to write something truly awful, clichéd, hackneyed, awkward, stupid, incomplete, unbelievable, sappy, sentimental, boring, grandiose, or any other adjective you would hate to have ascribed to your writing.

writers block breakthroughYou’ll be amazed at how freeing it is to not only give yourself permission to write badly, but to intentionally write the worst stuff you can think of.

And you may be surprised at how difficult it is to keep writing badly, which the point of the exercise: writing anything, even writing badly, loosens you up and gets you into your writing rhythm. Before you know it, you’re writing and then if you’re not careful, you may just start writing well.

If you’re getting worried that writing a Dreck Draft will disintegrate your skills, that if you keep trying to write badly, you’ll get good at being bad, that’s just your resistance talking. The ultimate goal is not to write badly, it’s to be willing to write badly. The Dreck Draft is just an exercise in developing your willingness. You really can’t keep writing below your own skill and talent level for long.

No Good at Being Bad

I’m not at all disappointed or surprised when my students say something like “Well, I started the Dreck Draft assignment, but I couldn’t do it. I wrote a page or so of dreck, but it kept getting good, so I gave up on the assignment and just wrote.” BINGO!

Come on! Do your worst!

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9 Comments on “Wanna Write Something Good? Start With Writing Something Awful!”

  1. Katie W September 9, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    I’ve come across this idea for years from many people, but it never connected with me until I read your post and Marla Beck’s post.

    I was always trying to write my best, but it wouldn’t meet my expectations (of course). I’d remind myself that first drafts are usually crap, per expects like Anne Lamott, but that felt like telling myself that I sucked, because I wasn’t trying to be bad.

    However, when I take the “dreck draft” advice and INTENTIONALLY write poorly, it’s not me that sucks, because I was never trying my best. I’m no longer trying to write good prose and feeling crushed when it’s crappy, but instead intentionally write crappy prose and am then thrilled when it turns out to be good or is salvaged into something good.

    Thanks for the perspective shift!

    Like

    • rosannebane September 9, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

      You’re welcome Katie! Thanks for sharing your experience with the exercise. Keep showing up!

      Like

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  3. Anya Achtenberg June 13, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    then, FB, – Writers: Re: the Annie Lamott dictum which is repeated ad nauseum, about writing “shitty first drafts,” I say —-

    How about transcending the old moralistic good/bad junk? How about the fact that no first draft is “shitty” but rather part of a process? Why keep judging and being contingent with the good/bad thing instead of fully extricating oneself from the hackneyed good/bad constant measuring and judging, and fully enter the process of writing? Where even in a “bad” draft, there are many signposts of where you need to go — or even where you don’t….

    I just hate the repetition of Lamott’s “shitty first drafts” which automatically sets up someone — either external or internal, judging everything. Writing is not judging, nor being judged.

    Frankly, I think the question is not whether you are willing to write badly, write fecally-tinged first drafts, but whether you are willing to write courageously, unflinchingly, deeply, and without constantly judging your work as you create it, but being so moved, so involved in your work, so challenged by the impossible task that calls you, that you let go the mundane good/bad/merde-ish measure of a work in progress. Your own.

    Like

    • rosannebane June 13, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

      I never thought of it that way, Anya. And I can really appreciate your perspective. How much more freeing it is to simply write without judging at all. Please let me know if you’d like to write a guest post expanding on the idea of writing “courageously, unflinchingly, deeply and without judging.” email me Rosanne at RosanneBane.com (without the spaces).

      Like

  4. Anya Achtenberg June 13, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    How about transcending the old moralistic good/bad junk? How about the fact that no first draft is “shitty” but rather part of a process? Why keep judging and being contingent with the good/bad thing instead of fully extricating oneself from the hackneyed good/bad constant measuring and judging, and fully enter the process of writing? Where even in a “bad” draft, there are many signposts of where you need to go — or even where you don’t….
    I just hate the repetition of Lamott’s “shitty first drafts” which automatically sets up someone — either external or internal, judging everything. Writing is not judging.
    Frankly, I think the question is not whether you are willing to write badly, but whether you are willing to write courageously, unflinchingly, deeply.

    Like

  5. Joel D Canfield June 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    Ha! Synchronicity. I just posted something similar:

    http://somedaybox.com/write-drunk-edit-sober-is-that-right/

    I hope both our readers get it.

    Like

    • rosannebane June 13, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

      Joel: I love it when synchronicity is at work like that!

      Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Writer’s Naptime or Craptime? | Bane of Your Resistance - May 5, 2016

    […] may have heard me say (or read my post) that to write well, you have to be willing to write […]

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