Be a Bad Writer
As our guest blogger Justin Little wrote the other day, it’s actually okay to suck as a writer. Certainly we all like to strive for perfection in our writing, and that’s a perfectly laudable thing to aspire to, but we must keep in mind that perfection is the playground of those who don’t need to improve. As writers, we obviously do need to improve. We must constantly be attempting to improve, at the risk of stagnation. But in order to be a good writer, we must first embrace the fact that we’re capable of being a bad writer.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) January 2, 2017
Screwing things up is a virtue. When we screw things up and learn to recognize it, we remember. And when we remember, we do better. It’s the same with writing. Being a bad writer is something we all go through. Back in the late 1990’s, I remember two points talking with my stepfather about writing. He wasn’t a writer himself, but he was well-experienced with the cost of success being failure. I remember showing him my work and feeling down on myself, comparing it to the work of other unpublished writers within my online writing community and recognizing how much better they were than I. He told me to shut up and stop pouting– but then he told me that as much as I might suck now, as long as I understand it’s okay to be a bad writer, I would improve.
So I did. I accepted that I was a bad writer, and still– I wrote. I wrote at some points for up to eight hours a day. And because I accepted I was a bad writer, it allowed me to take constructive criticism very easily. Something interesting happened. Over the course of a few months, I took these criticisms to heart. I learned from them. I applied them. I studied them. And the next time I showed my stepfather my writing, he said, and I quote: “Fuck off. You didn’t write this.”
But I did. Believe it or not, that was the best compliment I ever got from him– that I had improved so much that he didn’t believe me.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still a horrendously bad writer. But I was improving. And in the twenty years since then, I still am.
So sure, I’m a bad writer. I’m a worse journalist. I get facts wrong, I miss details, and sometimes I don’t do enough research into a subject before writing about it. I admit that. But the important thing is that when all is said and done, I own that. I accept it. I learn from it, and I attempt to do better, even if it means further failure.
Don’t mistake this as a proposal that as writers, we should be constantly flagellating ourselves, however. The intent here is to improve ourselves, not to think ourselves worthless. This is more to say that the best route to being a good writer is to be a bad one, and to open ourselves up to learning new things, having new experiences, and not to get a big head about it, no matter how many awards we may have one.
If you’re not humble in this world, then the world will throw humbleness upon you.
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) May 3, 2011
In closing, allow yourself to be a bad writer, especially in a first draft. Improve over the revisions. And always remember humility.