People write for all kinds of reasons. We write to remember what groceries we need to buy, to pass on a note to a coworker; we write text messages
Those of us who strive for a career in writing may find that writing for work and writing for pleasure are two very different animals. (I’d like to think of one as a soft,
When we write for pleasure, not often do we pay attention to things such
Writing for work, however, we meticulously take apart every letter, every morpheme; every word becomes a burden too heavy to carry, so we deliver it upon a page, hoping it’ll stick.
I remember a time when writing felt free and freeing and I wasn’t scared of my black blood ink staining the white sheets of my journal. But as soon as I had declared I wanted to become a writer, all words were sucked out of my body as if I were a lemon seed stuck between an old man’s teeth.
I sat down.
I wrote a word.
I read a page.
I screamed and cried in madness, disappointed about my inability to do the one thing that brings me joy.
Writing Badly On Purpose
I hadn’t written in months when all of a sudden a spark of inspiration, an electric shock, almost, burst through my body. It was as if a knowledge that had been buried deep was finally uncovered. It was the realisation that even when you write badly, you still write.
It’s such a simple truth and some of you may know it. William Faulkner said it. Truman Capote said it:
“It takes a lot of bad writing to get to a little good writing.”
In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning, neurologist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl describes a concept called paradoxical intention. Instead of avoiding something that you are scared of, you do this exact thing and continue doing it until your brain is rewired to stop associating it with fear and worry.
For example, if you are afraid of speaking on the phone with strangers because you fear you’ll say something awkward, call a stranger and say THE MOST awkward thing that comes to your mind. It works!
After this colossal, life-changing, epiphany, I started doing the one thing I had been most afraid of: write badly.
I wrote cheesy haikus (“My coffee tastes like / Roasted Caramel with a / Hint of Nostalgia”), I created word lists to inspire me, and sometimes I just wrote different letters across a page – anything that would get me to write without the pressure of having to share it with the public.
And out of all the nonsense, all the ‘bad stuff’ that landed on my pages, every now and then a poem or short essay evolved, one that I would
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Why Writing Badly is Harder than it Sounds
One of the exercises I teach in my creative writing workshops is to write the worst possible sentence you can think of, disregard every single rule about grammar, spelling, and punctuation you know and then do it again. You’ll see how difficult it is to write badly.
All our lives, we’ve been trained to follow a certain sentence structure, put commas in places they need to be and spell words the ‘right’ way. But let me tell you
“Feel don’t, anything any-nothing. Feel do right feel”
You will find out that once we throw out anything we’ve learned about writing, we will revert to a more primal approach to language and oftentimes focus on sound and rhythmic patterns, making our writing more interesting. I have countless student examples from this writing exercise that are packed with literary devices such as alliterations, assonance, eye rhymes, and even metaphors.
Writing badly can help us loosen up, overcome our fear of failure, and brings the realisation taht we can enjoy the process of writing. Because that’s what it’s all about, am I right?
Anna is a freelance writer and creative writing coach living somewhere between Austria and Arizona. When she’s not reading a book, or working for clients, she manages an online community dedicated to nature writing where she shares more of her creative writing exercises. You can find it here.