The Benefits of Writing Crap (A Reminder)

DeskbytheseaLast weekend, I was at my desk.

I had just started a new chapter.  (I'm almost to the halfway point in my WIP, so I'm well into the dreaded muddle of the middle.)  And I was throwing horrible combinations of words at the page.   Really, when I say horrible, I mean horrible.

Feeling a little, um, less than happy with my work, I took a break to check email.  And, wouldn't you know it, there was a message from some publisher or another trumpeting an author's "masterful literary debut."  Which made my shoulders sag and my chin drop to my chest.

Because of course, I immediately started comparing myself.  And what I was writing was not masterful, in any way, shape or form, as we used to say.  I imagined the process of the author of this masterful debut.  No doubt, she wrote beside a window, looking out at the sea, with gentle ocean breezes ruffling her hair.  Which was styled, unlike mine, since I still hadn't showered.  And her desk was clean, unlike mine, the surface of which hasn't seen daylight in months.  And most especially, no doubt every word this author wrote was a gem.

Unlike my horrible combinations of words.

I went to that imaginary scene of this masterful debut author writing despite the fact that I know better.  (Exhibit A: the gazillion articles I've written about this over the years on this blog) I know that this author went through a process, just like me, and that she no doubt despaired over her Shitty First Drafts (not to mention subsequent drafts) as well.  

But my mind went there anyway. (For some reason, I'm particularly prone to thinking this about female English novelists.  Maybe because they always seem so accomplished and efficient? And also, Isabel Allende, whose fingertips seem to produce incredible novels like clockwork.)

And so I was forced to remind myself that writing is a process.  And that process does not start with perfectly formed sentences, despite what my runaway imagination was telling me.  And so, I reminded myself:

–When writing a first draft, you're laying down the spine of the story.   Because you most likely do not yet fully understand the spine of the story, your scenes will not spring, full formed onto the page. Rather, they will of necessity be somewhat sketchy.

–Not only are you figuring out the spine of the story, you're still deciphering the story itself.  Yeah, so you think you know how its going to go–and then that new character walks on.  Or your heroine says something that takes the chapter in a whole new direction.  This is why we write first drafts–to let the story have a life of its own.

You'll figure out things about the story only when you get some distance from it.  For instance, last night I met with my writer's group and reviewed an earlier chapter from my WIP.  And realized that there is a thematic element I need to weave in through subsequent chapters.  This is what God made second drafts for.

–A first draft gives you something to go on in the future.  Because you will rewrite this draft.  And you'll rewrite it again after the first time. 

So, don't rush the process.  (And I'm talking to myself as much as to you.)  At the same time, I think its important to acknowledge that writing "masterful literary debuts" does not have to take years.  (For instance, the above-mentioned Isabel Allende started her latest book, Ripper in January of 2012 and it is available now.  Given the glacial pace that legacy publishing moves at, she wrote that baby–nearly 500 pages of it–fast.)

And remember: writing crap is good.  Writing crap is glorious.  Writing crap will get you where you want to be.

So….what about you?  Do you have to remind yourself to write crap?  To let the words be awful on the page?  Or are you one of those rare breeds who polishes every word of the draft before you move on?

As a reminder, my short story Blue Sky is up on Amazon.  (I'm trying to get to making a new book page, on this blog, stay tuned for that one of these days.) It's a quick read, and just 99 cents!

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23 Responses to The Benefits of Writing Crap (A Reminder)

  1. Suzanne C. Robertson 04/15/2014 at 09:27 #

    This is good, Charlotte. Not crap.;-) Thank you! And for some reason in similar situations I picture that same woman gazing at the sea…

  2. Charlotte Dixon 04/15/2014 at 10:03 #

    I'm so glad its not just me!  Maybe it is the collective unconscious's idea of how the other half writes….

  3. Milli Thornton (@fearofwriting) 04/15/2014 at 10:39 #

    Great timing! Tomorrow I’ll be working on my WIP. I know what I want to pull off with it, but the steps for my characters to get to that ending will be epic. Not something I’m feeling capable of. Yet.

    So, it will be back to square one. Just tell the story as it presents itself via me, keeping in mind exactly what a first draft is for.

    Thanks for the chuckles throughout this blog post. You make it fun!

  4. Charlotte Dixon 04/15/2014 at 11:03 #

    Hey Milli, so excited about your WIP!  And I'm glad if this post helps you get some work done on it.  Can't wait to join you for the 10K day tomorrow!

  5. Lori Guenter (@lorigg) 04/15/2014 at 11:58 #

    I just finished “A Writer’s Diary” by Virginia Woolf. It is excerpts from her diary as she wrote. Some of her published work had 20 rewrites. That and this article are timely reminders that nothing is perfect the first time.

  6. Carole Jane Treggett 04/15/2014 at 12:01 #

    Oh Charlotte, how I love your posts! Thanks for (yet) more encouragement to persevere. I’m writing this on a sticky note and putting it on my monitor:

    “Writing crap is good. Writing crap is glorious. Writing crap will get you where you want to be.”

    I certainly like that adage more than my judgey: Quit while you’re not ahead! LOL.

  7. Charlotte Dixon 04/15/2014 at 13:10 #

    Oooh, I didn't realize that, Lori!  Great info.  Thanks for another reminder of how important the rewrite/writing crap process is!

  8. Charlotte Dixon 04/15/2014 at 13:11 #

    I'm so glad you liked my little ode to writing crap!  And if it is in any way helpful I am beyond thrilled.  I so appreciate you reading me and commenting.

  9. Don 04/15/2014 at 14:34 #

    OH CRAP!, as far as I’m concerned, this post is anything but crap… I just love it, and now, thanks to you Charlotte, I won’t feel like so much crap the next time I write crap, but I can now appreciate that crap is part of a process that can be a springboard to something bigger and better. I just have to hang in there!

  10. Leigh Lauck 04/15/2014 at 14:57 #

    Oh, thank you, Charlotte. Wise words. It’s so tempting – especially when egged on by the Voice of Doubt – to hold ourselves to impossibly high, and unrealistic, standards when writing a first draft.

    I, too, recently had a similar experience reading a work of “literary fiction” in my spare time. The writing was so beautiful, I thought to myself, “My writing is crap!” And I had similar dark fantasies of the authoress of this novel sipping tea from a delicate china cup as she tapped away at her keyboard, possibly attired in crisp linen, producing perfection with every graceful stroke.

    Writing is a process. The most important part is to keep writing, even when you want to weep at your own awkward sentences. Getting it on the page is a huge accomplishment, and there will be plenty of time to coax those words into the prose you want them to be later. Or something close. I’m not sure we ever are truly able to capture in language all the things are hearts and minds imagine. But let’s try!

    Thanks for this excellent and timely (for me!) post.

  11. Leigh Lauck 04/15/2014 at 14:59 #

    LOL. “Our” heart and minds. Did I mention I’m getting over being sick and still addled???

  12. Charlotte Dixon 04/15/2014 at 15:34 #

    It seems that this post has struck such a chord and that we all share that feeling that the "other" writer sips tea and eats chocolate and writes delicate, perfect words.  Where do we come up with this notion?  It's so funny!  And I'm so glad I came clean and admitted my thoughts–it feels so much better to know that I'm not the only one.  And I'm so glad this post was a timely reminder for you, Leigh!

  13. J.D. 04/15/2014 at 16:06 #

    I love the picture. I suppose that’s someone writing in the surf. I have to check out Allende. An excellent post, Charlotte.

  14. Charlotte Dixon 04/15/2014 at 19:29 #

    Thanks, J.D.  Do check out Isabel Allende–she's amazing.  Starts a new novel every year in January.  And by the way, what's the scoop on your novel?  

  15. D young 04/15/2014 at 19:44 #

    We always see a rear or side view of someone reading along the surf. Never have I seen a typing table as well! Great post. Way to keep it real.

  16. Charlotte Dixon 04/15/2014 at 19:49 #

    Pretty cool photo, eh?  Not sure how much writing I'd actually get done if I were sitting there working!  Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting.

  17. Don 04/16/2014 at 17:59 #

    I write crap all the time. You have to start somewhere and as long as the crap leads to something other then the crap I’m all for it!

  18. Charlotte Dixon 04/16/2014 at 21:04 #

    Well put, Don!

  19. Zan Marie 04/17/2014 at 07:14 #

    Oh, wonderful! I needed this in the worst way. 😉

  20. Charlotte Dixon 04/17/2014 at 09:12 #

    Happy if it helped!

  21. Charlotte Dixon 04/19/2014 at 09:00 #

    Don, once again I’ve rescued you from the Spam file! I just don’t know what it is about Typepad and you! But you know how much I appreciate you and your comments. And I’m glad you liked the post.

  22. Little Miss Joey 04/23/2014 at 05:42 #

    Whilst I think what you’ve written here is far from crap :) I can so see what you mean! And totally relate!
    It’s so important to just get writing and then write and write :)

  23. Charlotte Dixon 04/23/2014 at 07:15 #

    Hello my new blogging friend! So wonderful to see you here. I’m glad you can relate to the “need” to write crap–I don’t know about you, but I can write it all day. Thank you so much for coming by and commenting.

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