#NaNoInspo: Write Badly

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeMy November post for the Insecure Writers Support Group Blog Hop is all about writing badly.


Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. — Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird.

A quick Google search on “Anne Lamott shitty first draft,” reveals that lots of bloggers have written about this quote and the importance of writing badly. Now I could do the responsible thing, and find another topic, or I could just carry on anyway, because I really want to write about writing badly.

Guess what I’m going to do?

One of the most valuable writing lessons I’ve learned in the 5+ years of my fiction writing “career” is the value of the shitty first draft. Or, more politely: the value of writing badly.

Pointless digression #1: Can it really be called a career if I’ve never been paid for it? I don’t want to contemplate that too closely, so I’m going to move on to…

Turning off your inner editor (or how to tell that a**hole to shut the f*** up)

I’m writing this post on November 1, also known as the first day of #NaNoWriMo. For the first time since 2014, I’m doing NaNo as it’s “supposed” to be done, i.e. I’m trying to write 50,000 words of a brand spanking new novel. I’ve spent the last 4 years or so editing my first NaNo novel, i.e. being a perfectionist. Fix this plot hole, delete that redundancy, spend 20 minutes trying to find a stronger verb for a sentence I’ll edit out 10 minutes later… you get the idea. My overly-aggressive inner editor has been having his nitpicky way with me for quite awhile. And now that I’m trying to write something new, I’m having trouble getting him to shut up.

Pointless digression #2: I picture my inner editor as Stripe from Gremlins (if you’re under 40, Google it or visit the Wikipedia entry. I’m not going to post a picture and risk being sued out of existence by the MPAA just to save you clacking a few keys, ya lazy bum.) Editor-Stripe looms over my desk, gnashing his many, pointy teeth at every digression, weak verb, or passage of rambling dialogue I create.

When I first sat down this morning to start writing the novel I’ve been outlining for 3 weeks, I struggled. It took me about a half hour to write maybe 200 words. Why? Because I kept trying to make them good. I’d frown at my monitor, type a few words, frown some more, take a swig of Diet Coke in the vain hope that caffeine+aspartame=inspiration, and type a few more words. It took me the better part of an hour to figure out my problem and give myself permission to write crap. I went to a write-in this afternoon and cranked out > 3,000 words in a little over 2 hours.

Why you should write badly

Admittedly, most of those 3,000 words are crap. But that’s OK, and here’s why:

  1. I can make them better later. I can take Stripe’s shackles off and let him loose on my steaming pile o’ prose (this is what normal writers call, “revising”), and it’ll get better. Gradually. Iteratively. And with much gnashing of teeth (Stripe’s and mine).
  2. I have to write the crap to get to the good stuff. Writing crap is my way of feeling my way through my story, getting deep into my characters, and exploring various blind alleys and winding paths to see which ones lead to creative gold. I have an outline, yes, but until I actually write a first draft, my characters are abstract ideas. They take their first breaths as living, flesh-and-bone people when I spew out a bunch of verbal diarrhea in a blank Scrivener window. Poor things. Isn’t that a helluva way to enter the world?
  3. And the very best reason: Sometimes—only sometimes—there’s gold in that thar crap. The words I think are terrible, just page filler to pump up my NaNo word count, turn out to be actually good. My writing teacher says that’s because when we give ourselves permission to write without editing, we tap into our subconscious in ways we can’t when we’re trying not to suck.

So my words of inspiration for you this National Novel Writing Month, are these: Give yourself permission to write crap. To write badly. To write so badly that you inadvertently summon the Demon of Suckitude, who will spend the entire month perched on your shoulder, whispering adverbs in your ear.

Pointless digression #3: And now I’m picturing the Demon of Suckitude in a cage match with Editor-Stripe. Send help.

How to write badly

Anyway, if you doubt me, try it for yourself. Try making yourself just write. No editing. No making frowny-faces at your monitor while you try to cudgel some brilliance out of your under-caffeinated brain. Just write. Let the words flow, and put in placeholders for stuff you aren’t ready to write yet, such as:

    • Stuff you need to research. Example: [research history of 18th century couches and enter description here]
    • Plot holes you could drive a C130 through. Example: [explain what the heck Stripe is doing in my living room]
    • Pieces of scenes you need to figure out. Example: [explain exactly how Stripe goes about shredding the 18th century couch]
    • Descriptions you haven’t figured out yet or aren’t in the mood to write. Example: [describe the Demon of Suckitude’s hairstyle and genitalia]

You can use your writing software’s comment feature for this, but I like to put my placeholders in the text in square brackets, so I don’t have to take my hands off the keyboard to grab the mouse and navigate to the menu that contains the comment feature. I can also find them easily later, because I don’t normally have square brackets in my writing for any other reason. And, bonus! If the comments are in the text, they’ll be included in my NaNo word count when I validate at the end of the month.

You’re welcome.

Wanna see some other great IWSG posts? Check out the list of participants
here. (Powered by Linky Tools)

21 thoughts on “#NaNoInspo: Write Badly

  1. During NaNo, I find some of the best plot twists or ideas or lines of description show up when I least expect them. You just never know. And that’s part of the fun. Or so I tell my inner perfectionist. 🙂

    I totally knew who Stripe was! But then, I’m over 40. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My writing teacher says the same thing. I appreciate the encouragement! I’m finding my NaNo novel to be a slog for some reason. I love the story, think it has all kinds of potential… but despair that I lack the ability to make it happen.


  2. Love your search history. I might just have to try following your trail to see what you found out! I’m so glad “shitty” drafts are encouraged. I have many and now can be proud. Great to have you in the IWSG group.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was a really interesting (and hilarious) post. A while ago, I wrote about quality vs. quantity and I feel like your post really ties in well with it because my focus was on the ‘quality’ aspect of writing. This hits the quantity aspect. I agree that it’s good – nay, necessary! – to write badly when drafting. It forces you to get all those ideas out on paper without getting caught up in the editing circle of hell. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It discourages me, too. I’ve been struggling with that now that I’m drafting something new. I get the words down, but sometimes (most of the time), I feel like I just wasted an hour or two spewing out worthless words. But then I go back and read them another day, and sometimes some of them aren’t so bad. My morale is definitely lower now that I’m drafting instead of editing – and this is supposed to be the fun part. *sigh*

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just left the drafting phase of my next WIP. It went better than expected because–I think–I did it in a spreadsheet. It let me see the big picture much easier. Now I’m editing and slogging along. I’ll second your ‘sigh’!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Love your Anne Lamott quote and your whole post. Guess I should finish up what I’m doing and get back to writing. Thanks for the entertaining and helpful break.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This makes such sense, to just keep writing and to give yourself permission to write badly and to keep writing, even if you need to research or write in things you don’t know or don’t feel like right now. I’ll try the square brackets trick. Happy IWSG day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it does, and I’m getting better at writing badly (is this a good thing??). My husband says there’s talk of remaking Gremlins, so maybe a whole new generation will get to know Stripe in all his destructive glory. I wonder if he’ll be as cool in CGI.


  6. Beautiful post (and I love your personification of the inner editor, hilarious XD). It’s encouraging to remember we all have sucky first drafts.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.