The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Written

Lately it feels like that’s what this current WIP is turning out to be. I wrote the other day about how I had my first good writing day in a while but something I didn’t quite clarify was that “good” wasn’t necessarily referring to the actual writing itself. Yes, I gained clarity and yes, the words were flowing but that didn’t mean they weren’t garbage. They were and they are and the more I write the more I dread revisions because this puppy is going to need a lot of work. But what I’ve come to realize in my quest to write a first draft without obsessing over every word is that it’s not the words that matter. What matters is the story. And not whether or not it’s good but whether or not it’s there.

Through five books I’ve been the type of writer who would rather sit and wait than type something that wasn’t just right. I would spend an hour on just one paragraph trying to capture the perfect mood and the perfect word and the perfect rhythm. But perfect takes patience. Perfect takes forever. And perfect is just not worth pursuing in a first draft.

So this time I decided to try something different. I realized that the block I’d been experiencing with my current WIP wasn’t caused by some spontaneous loss of creativity but by my ever-present quest for perfection and if I was going to get back on track then I had to give it up. And not half-heartedly and not just for a day but absolutely. I had to give myself permission to write something awful, something cliche, something amateur. I had to give myself permission to fail.

So I’m trying to do just that. I’m sitting down every day, being present and being brave and I’m writing. Without trying to go back and edit what I did the day before, without agonizing over every word, and without constantly feeling inadequate. It’s a huge challenge but it’s one that I’ve taken on because I truly feel like if I can conquer this I’ll have conquered so much more than just my inner editor. Because giving myself permission to fail creatively isn’t just about writing, it’s about life. It’s about life and it’s about me. About forgiving me and loving me and trusting me. Trusting that even if my first attempt at something isn’t stellar that I can be strong enough to start over and that I can be strong enough to keep starting over until it is. Because that’s what it takes to make things good, to do things right. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to finish.

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26 thoughts on “The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Written

  1. Gwen Stephens says:

    I get it, as I’m also a perfectionist. I call this method “word vomiting” and I’ve tried it a few times with short pieces. It’s hugely liberating. I once read a quote from author John Green, who said he deletes around 90% of his first draft. Getting the story out, as you said above, it the goal.

    • Wow!! That’s some major reconstruction! And I think “word vomit” is a pretty accurate description of the kind of work I’m producing right now haha. It’s definitely really difficult and I feel like I have to check myself every second but instead of editing, I’m taking notes as I go, and that’s one thing that has really helped to ease my mind and allow me to move on to the next thing.

    • You’re so right. I can and I will! It’s all about perspective I think and realizing that no one will ever see this draft and because it’s not for sharing, I can use it solely for discovery–something I feel like maybe I haven’t let myself play around with in such a long time.

      • Kate Sparkes says:

        I’ve found it hard to let go of perfectionism, too. You’re way ahead of me, anyway– I never even finished a story until I started to let go of that. I was just forever re-writing first chapters… *shudder*

        “No one will ever see this draft” needs to be on a poster for over my desk. 🙂

        • Yes or tattooed on my arm in battery acid so I never forget it! I don’t know why I get so paranoid about first drafts being perfect, maybe because I’m worried that if I don’t figure things out now I might never and then I’ll just have to scrap the entire thing–my worst nightmare. But that’s why trusting myself has been such a key part of this “shift” for me because if I’ve always figured things out in the past, why doubt that now?

          • Kate Sparkes says:

            Right. You need to trust yourself.

            And we do need balance. I did manage to draft a novel when I let go and allowed myself to write crap if I had to, but I’ve also hit plenty of snags in revisions because I didn’t let my inner perfectionist worry about character motivations and things like that. So I think that for me, the balance lies in letting my perfectionist side do some preliminary planning, but then shutting her out while I explore the rest of the possibilities and just get that first draft DONE.

            Can’t edit what’s not there, right?

  2. I’m struggling with self-doubt too! I’m taking too long to complete my sequel, and its all because of doubt. It is the worst feeling in the world, and it makes it hard to filter any criticism or comments you hear about your work or just writing fiction in general. Lately, I’ve been feeling the urge to say “screw it!” and just write as I please. But I’m not brave enough yet!

    • It really is the worst feeling in the world and even though the doubt will always be there to some degree, I think we can teach ourselves when to ignore it and when to use it to our advantage. I’m in the middle of writing a series as well and maintaining one particular story over almost 300,000 words has been no easy task. It’s exhausting and within that exhaustion, I’m a much easier target for all of those inner criticisms to cripple me emotionally. But what’s really lit a fire under me to just finish this story already has been setting deadlines. And not only that, but recently I realized that I’m going to have to find another job, and since I know that’s really going to eat into my writing time, I know I can’t waste a second of it.

      • I’m job hunting too, which is another factor in my delay. 😦

        • I know what you mean. It’s such a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I’m sad to be giving up time I usually spend writing, but on the other hand I know it will serve well for my peace of mind to be bringing in more money every month–something I’ll need once this series is ready to be published. But that’s life and even though I’ll have to rearrange my schedule it doesn’t necessarily mean I have to rearrange all of my priorities. Writing can still be first in the sense that I’m working to finance my dreams and I will still write in every moment of free time I have. But that’s also why learning to show up and just write is so important. I want to make the most of the little time I’ll have, not waste it.

    • So simple and yet so true. I go through phases where I’m extremely disciplined and then not so much but as I get older and take on more responsibility in all aspects of my life, I’ve realized this very truth–that showing up is really half the battle.

  3. Banish the doubts and push through to the end of the draft. The story will dictate where you go after that. Maybe doubts and obsessions are just part of the process? A painful part, for sure.

    • I do think it’s all just a part of the process–after all isn’t the obsession to make something perfect merely driven by our desire to reach our full potential and therefore for our stories to reach their full potential? But I do think it’s inhibiting when one becomes totally consumed by doubt. Creatives just can’t work under that kind of pressure and that’s why I’m trying to let go of some of those thoughts that have been holding me back. And I have to say, so far it’s working. My manuscript isn’t good but the important thing is that it has the potential to be and that’s all due to the simple fact that it is there. The words are there and the sentiment is there and for a first draft that’s enough.

  4. Julie Israel says:

    Have you ever listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk? She talks about having a “genius”/muse as a sort of external construct in a way that unshoulders some of the burden of perfection from the writer. That is, the writer shows up every day and does her part, even if Winged Brilliance doesn’t, and that we shouldn’t have to feel poorly for our “bad” days. Here’s a link, if you’re interested: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

    • Not in its entirety but thanks so much for sending me the link! That definitely sounds like a productive state of mind to be in. Guilt has only ever led me into a downward spiral that takes so long to climb out of. Finding out some different ways to combat it will definitely help in my attempt to blow through this first draft without second guessing every word.

  5. Gus Sanchez says:

    “And perfect is just not worth pursuing in a first draft.”

    Actually, perfect is NEVER worth pursuing, in any draft. I say this because, as writers, we convince ourselves that we must pour over every word to make it sound just right, but what we really should be doing is committing ourselves to whatever we’re working on. If it works out and it looks and reads brilliantly, then that’s awesome. If it doesn’t come out the way we’d hope, oh well. That doesn’t make you a bad writer. The point is, write your story to the very best of your abilities. Leave a body of work behind, rather than a prolonged and concentrated effort on something you consider to be “perfect.”

  6. Fredrik Kayser says:

    A lot of artists and writers feel an overwhelming pressure to perform, myself included. I recently watched a presentation on TED by a woman named Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s called “Your elusive creative genius” and I strongly recommend watching it, 15 minutes well spent in my case as it eased a lot of the stress many of us do feel. She had a very interesting point of view on the creative process.

  7. Oh man, I’ve been beating my inner perfectionist into submission lately. This draft is 90% garbage so far, but that 10% of non-garbage is actually pretty cool! I’ve just got to get the crap out first. 😀

    Julie Israel, that TED talk is awesome! I can’t believe I’d never seen it before. =/

  8. Reblogged this on laekanzeakemp and commented:

    *To celebrate my two-year blogging anniversary, I’ll be re-blogging some of my favorite posts from 2014 throughout the month of December*

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