bad writing

The road to good writing is paved by bad writing

Draft one

You need to make a mess

The most common mistake for any writer to make, is to believe every written line must be genius and perfected from the start. In reality, creating a fictional reality is messy business. Accept that making a mess is inevitable to save yourself the dead-end stress that prevents you from even getting started. You see, the mess you create is exactly what you need further down the road. The mess you make when you have a free-writing session, when you write imperfectly, stupidly even, that mess is full of hidden gems. The best ideas come from free association. The sooner you quit censoring your creativity, the more ideas you will develop and the better they will be. Learn to not only accept a mess will be made, also learn to work with the mess. Also, we learn a lot from correcting mistakes.

The self-doubt is part of the natural process

The self-doubt, the worry, the confusion, it’s part of the process for every single writer. It is not a reflection on your ability to write. So stop worrying and write imperfectly. The less you care, the better your writing will be. On revision, every mistake can be fixed.

What to do when you hit a wall

Feel like you’ve hit a wall? Keep writing. Do a free-writing session. Pick up a writing prompt and spent 10 minutes writing about it. Whatever you do, keep trudging through the mud. Just like bad first drafts, the slumps in progress are also part of the mess. Skipping the bad days may be a tempting option, but the best and quickest way out is to work through them.

Draft two and beyond

Talent & Skill is obtained by hard work

Every pro started off as an amateur. Skill is obtained through the learning curve, through hard work and many hours of practice. Just like no Olympian got to the top by sheer natural talent, neither do writers. A good writer is a writer who didn’t quit. Who produced a hideous first draft and then improved until it became excellent. Who studied the craft and practised applying the techniques.

Checking the draft before re-writing

Step one, become the reader. Put the story away for a while so you can look back on it with fresher eyes. Read it as if you have never laid eyes on it before. Consider asking feedback from a person who has never seen it before, for objective feedback.

Step two, pretend to be an editor. Look critically at your list of scenes and what happens in them. Are there scenes that could be cut without it affecting the story? Cut them. Are there scenes you can combine into a more compact punch? Do it. The signature of any good writer is the skill of word economy. Good prose does not drag along. It only uses the words necessary to tell the story and deliver the punch, no filling.

Step three, rewrite whatever mistakes or confusions you have found so far. Polish your prose. Repeat this process after every finished draft.

Self-editing: writing is rewriting

Every writer will read back a piece of their own and think: oh my God. This is terrible. I’m an awful writer. I should just quit. The trick is dealing with this emotion. Activate the rational side of your brain and recognise the signal for its true message: something isn’t right, a problem needs to be fixed. Release the emotion and focus on identifying the problem areas and ways to correct them. Writing is rewriting.

Cleaver, J. (2002) Immediate Fiction.