Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

be bad May 19, 2012

Filed under: OUTLANDERishness,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 7:54 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A colleague of mine was telling me yesterday that she wants to write.  She is terribly impressed that I have written these books.  She would like to write a play.


But she hasn’t.


Because she gets in the way.  She doesn’t know which direction to take a scene in, so she takes it neither direction.  She doesn’t know how many characters to use, so she has none.  She has so many things, that she has nothing.

I told her that she should give herself permission to write a crappy play.  If she can free herself from the idea that what she has written must be good, she can actually write SOMETHING.  Once there is something on the page, you can edit it into something better.  If there is nothing on the page, well, there’s nothing!

I read that Diana Gabaldon wrote Outlander as a practice novel.  She thought she’d try writing a novel, and since no one was ever going to see it, she could do whatever crazy thing struck her fancy.  She gave herself permission to have fun with the experience, and she did.

When you give yourself permission to be bad, you give yourself permission to take risks.  Let the voices in your head go nuts.  Catch what they say.  Don’t think about it.  Don’t worry if it’s ‘right’ or if it’s ‘good.’

Just let it BE.

Try writing the same thing from different characters’ perspectives.  Try different narrative styles.  You need to put the time in and explore the process.  You will find something interesting, but you won’t if you don’t let it happen.

Give yourself 15 minutes.  Tell the inner critic to leave you alone, and just write.  Don’t stop yourself from achieving your dreams.  Don’t be your own enemy.

Write it.


21 Responses to “be bad”

  1. Reblogged this on Shawn L. Bird and commented:

    I spent a year repeating this to my English students. I was gratified by the number of kids who wrote on their evaluations that the permission (and encouragement) to write badly freed them more than anything they’d ever learned in English. Powerful. As the sign in my class room says: “Write Crap. First Drafts don’t have to be good. They just have to be written!”

    • iamdjamyla Says:

      I agree Ma’am. I always believe that in writing, you have to release all your inhibitions first and write everything down. The grammar, the technique and everything else will follow. Anyone can master the technicalities but true masterpieces are the ones that you write straight out of your heart.

  2. Great advice:-) A timely reminder – thank you!

  3. summerstommy2 Says:

    I find when writing performance it helps to have the characters speak to me. I ask myself what might they say at this point. You start, write some dialogue knowing that later you will go back and edit. I find I write far too much in my first draft, that’s when you are pleased the PC has a delete button.

    • Yes. I tell my students that they may need to write themselves into a scene. Figuring out where they are, and what’s happening, but when they edit, they should be able to cut that stuff, and start at the action. They needed to write it, to give themselves the context, but the reader doesn’t need it.

      Meg Tilley (actress and writer) told me that she cuts those scenes, but puts them at the back of the WIP so they’re not really gone. She finds that easier because it’s not a permanent good-bye, but then when she re-reads, if she is happy with them missing, she is okay with chopping off what’s not needed. That’s an interesting strategy for those who are very attached to their words.

  4. ken Says:

    great advice…I am my own worst critic, which often prevents me from writing ANYTHING

    • Give yourself permission to write badly by promising your inner critic that he’ll get his chance later! Sometimes he’ll shut up long enough to let you do it. No second guesses. Words on page!

  5. tjtherien Says:

    it is a very interesting perspective, but I’m afraid for me it wouldn’t work as I don’t edit, my rough draft is my final draft… I try to write a certain calibre, I do a lot of mapping out in my mind before pen touches page and then when it does I write stream of consciousness… I do not criticize myself while I am writing… when I am done writing the piece (prose, or poetry) I give it a quick read and then I either trash it or post it… I have an ever-evolving story I am writing online in this fashion…and all the poetry I post on my primary blog is also unedited. I think what you are saying is what works for most people. I just lack the discipline to write in this fashion… I could also see myself obsessing in the editing stage which is part of the reason I don’t do edits or revises…the other reason is just plain laziness… one day I may try writing using the process you’ve outlined,

    • It is a sign of maturity as a writer to recognise one’s weaknesses. I think all beginning writers imagine their first drafts are golden (think of the pride of grade three or four students!) but eventually, with maturity, comes greater awareness, and with it, greater skill. There is an particular emotional place to be at.

      Of course, short works like a blog post may require very little editing. I will post a commentary or a poem after thinking through the big ideas for a day or two, but then just write it down. However, something like a novel, to be interesting for the reader to read (and not just cathartic for the writer to write!) must be shaped, and manipulated. For example, the act of writing the characters can reveal new information later, that must be hinted at earlier, relationships become important, and so development must be fine tuned, and if in the end you need an axe (as Stephen King puts it), the axe needs to appear at the beginning. You often don’t KNOW those things when you start, even if you outline.

      How much of your work have you sold?

      • tjtherien Says:

        I don’t write professionally, I turned down a promise to publish over 20 years ago, although I have done spoken word in Toronto including the stage of the Elmo Combo and received good feedback. Responses on the story I am writing stream of consciousness (which is here on WordPress under the title “This is Not a Harlequin Romance”) have been very favourable. I am about 11,000 words into it…I only started at the end of May, and I got laid up for two weeks with a torn rotator cuff…

      • Good luck with it. Sorry to hear of your injury.

  6. thegodspark Says:

    I wish back when I was in high school, I can’t believe that it was almost a decade ago, that I had an English teacher like you 🙂 I had a lot of bad experiences… either they didn’t challenge me, stimulate my creativity or intellect or they were simply uninterested in me or my writing. But honestly, it gave me a lot of freedom to find and develop my own voice. But still, I would have really appreciated a teacher like you 🙂

    • I always hope I have one or two students with the spark to do more. I have a couple who probably will be professional writers one day (they’re linked on my Writers page) when they’re done their university training. I have had several very talented kids. I always think about S. E. Hinton who wrote The Outsiders when she was in grade 11. She failed English that year. It just annoys me. I like to think that a responsive curriculum could allow such freedom, and celebrate such an ambitious project. Now I think I should write her. Hmm.

  7. Yes! That’s why it’s called writing practice, and why unfinished (as in unpolished) works are called drafts! If you are a professional baseball player, you spend time every week in the batting cage. Most of the swings you take there will not be your best, which is why you keep working. If you never give yourself permission make crappy swings, how will you ever get to the point that you’re making good ones? To paraphrase William Purkey, you’ve got to write like there’s nobody reading.

    • I had read an article last summer that we don’t give our kids enough writing practise in school, and I thought it was true, so I incorporated it into my class room and was really pleased with the result.

  8. Imelda Says:

    I love this advice. Thanks, Shawn. 🙂

  9. Thanks for the advice and all the wonderful comments add so much more depth to the exchange. I’ve always loved English, you can do so much with a turn if phrase. I do admit I might be biased there but I am looking forward to receiving more of your work 😊

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