Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Art of Writing Crap: an Anecdote

As a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard that a first draft is supposed to suck. Sure, there are those rare individuals that write finished drafts (cough me cough), but the general consensus is that those people are rare, and the average Joe shouldn’t focus on churning out perfect scenes. The average Joe should write. Just write. The theory behind this is that it’s easier to revise 500 crappy words than it is write 500 perfect words. It makes sense. Everyone knows how daunting a blank page can be.

So no matter how awful it is, how much it makes you cringe—just get those words out there.
Well. That’s all good and fine expect for this one minor fact: I’m a borderline perfectionist. As such, it’s my duty to write my best. Always. Without exception.

I always thought the practice of “write crap now and edit later” an interesting one, but it didn’t work for me, so I didn’t try to develop it. Until Something Happened. Over the past few months, I’d noticed that the better the quality of my writing, the lower my wordcount.* That didn’t bother me until my wordcount fell below 500 words per day. What did this mean? Was there some way to counter-act it? Had others gone through this experience?

I went to my favorite forum, “
Absolute Write,” and created a thread about the topic. The user Pup posted a reply that really stuck out:

“…There’s still a balance point at which I have to tell myself: I need to get my words for the day done, so I'll just write crap for a paragraph or two to get through this part, and then edit it at the end of today or tomorrow.

So maybe letting yourself writing crap on a limited basis would help. Not page after page, but just a line or two where you're stuck, or a paragraph or two, and then mark it and go on, and fix it as soon as possible.”

I’d never tried that before. Somehow, the idea was revolutionary. Write a sucky sentence, just to get myself started? Could I do that? Was I allowed?

I’d particularly been dreading the next scene in my WIP. It was a notorious “transfer” scene, something to get my story from point A to point B. I had no clue how to start it without making it suck. But if I couldn’t avoid it, why not give the “writing crap” maxim a try? With Pup’s advice in mind, I sat in front of the blank page and wrote the crappiest first sentence that I could think of:

“Leigh went outside.”

Man, that was awful. I chewed my lip in distress. A moment later, I typed on.

“She moved towards her car, the air thick with the smell of chlorine and freshly cut grass. Her shoes clopped over the walkway. Her phone buzzed, and she tilted her hip up to check the caller ID.”

I read it, contemplating. There were some good sensory details in there. I actually liked the part about Leigh’s shoes clopping. Maybe this could work.

So I wrote the scene. It flowed without any hiccups, and reading it over afterwards, I it was a lot better than I had anticipated. What about that notorious beginning? I edited it in 20 minutes, no sweat.

Lesson learned?

Sort of. I still don’t like the idea of writing lower quality. It grates my insides. But now I know it works, and sooner or later I’ll be frustrated enough to try it again.

My question to all of you is: what's your experience with writing crap?

-Creative A

Psst: Interested about my quality vs. quantity problem? I'll post more next Wednesday.


Anonymous said...

For me I hate it when I make a typo and then I compulsively go back and correct while I am writing. This is a no no from everything I've read, but damn I just have trouble stopping. Lately I have been working extra hard at just writing and ignoring mistakes until after I finish the piece. Very hard, but the flow seems to come better. So my goal is to just write even if it seems like crap, then edit the next day.

Steve Davis

Creative A said...

Hey Steve :)

I've been there, done that. I've heard that some authors actually write that way, and they do well, but I'm not quite that obsessive. Yet.

I was surprised how hard it was to write the crappy first sentences...I almost stopped a few times. But, once I got going, it grew easier. I kinda did what you did: I promised myself I would go back and edit it. That helped.

Rachael King said...

Hi there - I just posted a link to one of the episodes in response to your comment about 'Scribbling'. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Shoot... My whole first drafts are crap, though well-edited(not revised). I can barely stand to read them again for the edit. If only I could write first-offs like you.

Creative A said...

Thanks Rachael :)

Anonymous: It was neat back when I could still write that way. But after a while it wore me out. I couldn't keep up to my standards. Since writing this post things have actually gotten a lot better - while my first draft is nowhere near finished, I'm pleased with it, and I am writing again almost every day. So that's good.

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