The Merit of Writing Badly

I’m rushing, writing this.

This week, I worked extra hours at my retail job, had a running job, went to a party where I slept over, and spent a lot of time working on a different project with a friend. I’ve also been reading an exceptionally good book. I managed to squeeze in a little creative writing of my own, but this blog post was sadly slept under the rug.

I don’t say all this to make excuses. Rather, it is relevant to the topic. Because, you see, I wanted to get something out. Something posted. Sticking to the weekly routine. This is something those writing books would encourage. Get it down, remember. Even if that means getting it down badly.

With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. How far you can take this advice? After all, you couldn’t really write pages and pages of hackneyed nothingness and chalk it up to a case of practising quantity over quality. Or maybe you can. It’s still writing, technically, even if you have barely thought for a moment. Maybe it’s helpful to occasionally exorcise yourself of clichés. I don’t know. But usually, surely, it should really be as good as you can do in that moment, if you want to improve. But how do you find that line where you can write as well as you can without the inner critic stopping you every five minutes?

Some of it must be down to context. The sheer length of a novel means that merely setting out everything that happens, perhaps even in order, is genuinely helpful in sorting through your thoughts. This is the scenario that NaNoWriMo is designed for. I’m not sure this is as necessary with short stories or essays – in my experience, a bullet point-ed list is as much detail needed before jumping in with a rough, but decent, first draft. Blog posts I tend to just start and hope for the best, seeing as I’ve hopefully been thinking about it for a while.

I have actually found that all of my best writing has been done when part of a very long writing session. True, this has occasionally been when I actually felt inspired – my absolute favourite 2000 word chunk of mine was written all in one go with virtually no editing – but more often, it is scraps of sentences and scenes which came out in a short burst amid a longer, forced slog. In my attempt at NaNo last year, the fact that I had to meet the target every day meant I found not only some surprisingly fresh turns of phrase, but also entirely new unplanned scenes. Because I didn’t have the time to plan! I just had to write. Not all of those scenes will end up in my final piece, but I contest that it’s always good to know how your characters would have reacted if something different had happened, or what they were doing ‘off-screen’ in between the action.

If you’re writing badly, forcing yourself through, pulling the words and letters out, at least you are writing. At least you have told your brain that this is what is supposed to be doing. And that can only be a good thing.

Of course, in most scenarios, I wouldn’t recommend immediately posting such a piece and calling it finished. Unfortunately, I really need to sleep, so that is what I must do. I am interested, though – how bad can your first drafts be? Does it vary depending on the genre? Has it changed throughout your journey as a writer? And do let me know if you’re planning on taking on NaNo!



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