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  • Morgan Wykstra

Learning to be a Bad Writer

Hi, my name is Morgan, and I’m a chronic self-editor.

Sometimes it can take me hours to fill the blank space of one page. Why? After every sentence—nay, after every phrase—my inner editor obsessively reviews those words and gets to work on trying to make them sound better.

Rough drafts? Please. I’m churning this thing out perfectly the first time. Because honestly, the thought of spitting out a rough draft with cringy word choice and half-baked thoughts makes me want to swan dive off a cliff.

But I am now learning to embrace my bad writing.

Unfiltered first drafts are generally dumpster fires, don’t get me wrong. However, I believe they are an important part of the creative process. Allowing yourself to just write establishes a steady flow of words that may contain a “gold nugget” of inspiration or take you in an unexpected direction.

Probably the most “freeing” piece of creative writing I’ve done was in seventh grade when everyone was forced to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Getting 25,000 to 50,000 words within a month is no easy feat for a seventh grader (or lots of other people… let’s be real). I had no choice other than hopping into my story’s unknown, dark abyss.

And wow, did I write.

Of course, I don’t plan on those words ever seeing the light of day. But that experience made me later realize that messy and imperfect drafts are okay.

During high school and the beginning of college, my inner editor made itself at home in the creative part of my brain. Unlike my NaNoWriMo experience, now people were going to see my words. And critique them. The pressure for perfectionism caused me to rarely produce an actual “rough” draft.

But I gradually realized that my inner editor was slowing me down and causing writer’s block. I remembered how freeing NaNoWriMo felt and started giving myself permission to be a bad writer. This change in mindset was instrumental in the development of one of my favorite characters from a short story I wrote in my Fiction Writing class. I learned a lot more about him than I probably would have otherwise.

Kicking your inner editor out during your first draft and—temporarily—locking the door leads to beautiful things. You’ll discover traits about your characters that surprise you. They might make decisions you weren’t planning on, like reading that letter that didn’t belong to them, hesitating before killing that traitor, turning the boat back towards their homeland, or deciding to not run from that zombie. You’ll discover feelings and insights rooted deep inside of yourself that were there but previously unrecognizable. You might decide that “gray-laced heavens” and “frail lightning coats the sunrise” aren’t actually half bad descriptions.

So, how can you be a better bad writer? Here are some strategies I’ve used to keep my inner editor at arm’s length:

Give yourself time, but use it well. Procrastination and imminent deadlines and stress-induced writing can fuel an inner editor’s fire. Take away that power by giving yourself plenty of time to write that story or poem before it needs to be stellar. Allow space for a bad draft and a good draft.

Set a timer. Of course, a little pressure never hurts. Try setting a timer for five minutes and go, go, go. Even if you’re writing, “I don’t know what to write,” the page is being filled, and you’ll eventually find your stride. This eliminates free time to sit there and think about how that last sentence you just wrote is cringy. There will probably be a lot of not-so-great sentences, but there might be one or two that are brilliant or bring out a new or surprising idea for your piece.

Go where the wind takes you. If you usually write chronologically, ignore the impulse and, instead, start where you’re feeling inspired.

Be nice to yourself. Meticulously edited “first drafts” happen out of the fear of not being perfect the first time. What a crazy expectation! Remember that all first drafts suck, and that’s okay.

Learning to let yourself be a bad writer takes time but is well worth it. So get that horrible first draft out with reckless abandon! And when you’re ready, unlock the door and let your inner editor back in. They’ll probably have lots to say, but you’ll be ready.

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