By: Marilyn L. Davis
“A day of bad writing is always better than a day of no writing.” ― Don Roff
When I think of peoples’ job titles and descriptions, I get an idea of what they do every day.
- Counselor? They listen to people talk about their problems, help them find solutions, and, well, counsel.
- Artist? They draw, paint, and create, well, art.
- Welder? They join metals together, fusing, compressing, and well, welding materials together.
- Writer? Well, duh, they write.
I’ve said before that I have a hard time thinking of other professions where people are allowed to say, “I’m not feeling it.” Oh, maybe they say it, but they show up anyway. We writers, on the other hand, can avoid the pen/paper/computer/laptop and find umpteen reasons not to sit and write.
I think one of the poorest excuses we give ourselves is that we don’t have anything good to write.
So sometimes, you need to give yourself permission to write badly, aimlessly, and without stressing about the tangents. You’ve shown up, and you’re writing words. It’s your first draft, and as Ernest Hemingway proclaimed, “The first drafts are shit.”
What other occupation gives you that luxury?
Write to the Audience of One
Harvard psychologists, V.A. Howard and J.H. Barton, summarize existing studies in their book Thinking on Paper with the observation that drafting involves “intuition, imagination, risk-taking, a headlong plunge down new corridors of thought and experience.”
So, in our drafts of posts, papers, or books, we give ourselves permission to simply create. We’re not editing, revising, reworking, or even being critical—we’re simply writing.
It is a lowering of our publishing standards to be sure, nonetheless, it’s accomplishing the primary goal – getting thoughts, feelings, and words from head to page.
In many ways, we go about writing from the wrong perspective. I work with some very gifted craftsmen and carpenters at the recovery house. I wanted an outdoor shower near the volleyball court. All seven of them listened as I told them what I wanted. A few asked questions. Some just nodded their heads and said that my idea was workable.
Then they went and got supplies. There were piles of wood, plumbing, rocks, and plants. So much for day one of my shower.
Day two, they leveled the ground, built a frame and poured concrete, leaving a hole in the middle —nothing creative there.
Next, they seemed to spend days measuring, sanding, and staining long pieces of wood.
They framed the shower, cut out places for the plumbing, and stacked rocks and plants off to the side. I could see progress, but it wasn’t the attractive unit I envisioned when I asked them to build it. But dutifully, each day, I went to see their progress.
Then, it was a bunch of plumbing necessities which, again, only showed the promise of a shower.
The other thing I noticed was that they made flags when they were uncertain if an action needed to be checked by someone else, or they didn’t have the right drill bit – they gave the next crew a head’s up.
I equated that to writing my draft and thinking, “I bet there’s a quote about this, or I know there’s a study to support this theory.” But, rather than stop writing my draft, I’ll highlight a section, or write in a different font or color, as an alert to fact-check during the revision.
I was off for two days, and when I returned, I was amazed. They had covered that frame with decorative touches, put flagstone around the base, and moved the plants.
What struck me was that for the first time, I understood the process these men had used to create the shower, and recognized that the finishing efforts were not the most important, but compiling the raw materials and the construction was what made this project work.
Drafting: Unfinished Construction with the Intimate Self
For the first draft, I’m one person – the dedicated writer – slaving away over…oh, you get the picture. If I conjure all the great authors, find my comfortable place, and let the fingers fly, I become the intimate of myself – my words, voice, and style. We’re forming a partnership and creating. Sometimes, what I’m creating doesn’t seem coherent or logical. The words represent tangential thoughts, Other times, I find that I’m writing in-depth about one aspect.
Either way, I’ll let them stay in the draft, because if I stop to find just the right, most authentic quote, or review all studies known to man, I’m no longer in writer mode. I’ve now switched to research mode, and that interrupts the flow. I can’t be worried about links, typos, or loose ends. I’ll flag them and tidy those in the revision.
I’m sure you have your own images of “a writer,” and I guarantee if you’ll let yourself just write, you might be surprised that the big blank page is filling up. And for that audience of one – your intimate self – don’t edit or revise.
Okay, It’s Written. Now What?
When you give yourself permission to write badly, unfocused, and seemingly without structure or direction, you’ve got words, sentences, and paragraphs that, when edited, revised or reworked, can and will produce an excellent post, blog, or a book.
The other benefit to just writing is that in your revision, you may find the beginnings of additional posts—those darlings that don’t work in one post, but are useable elsewhere.
But guess what, if you never gave yourself permission to write badly, you’d still be staring at the big blank page and waiting on the good stuff.
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