Why You Need to be a Bad Writer
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is ______!” I’ll let you fill in the blank.
In his statement, Hemingway hit on THE key to great writing: bad writing!
I know it sounds absurd, but hear me out. It’s a tough sell because by nature we want to get our writing just right from the beginning. It is as if we think that someone is going to see our first draft. They won’t, not unless you show it to ‘em! But if you can resist that urge, you can generate ideas and copy faster.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Think progress not perfection.
Give yourself permission to write imperfectly. The first time, just get it down. Lower your expectations. Remember that Hemingway didn’t even sound like Hemingway in his first draft! That’s why they are called rough drafts.
2. Don’t edit while you write; edit after you write.
These are two distinct tasks that each requires a different approach. Not to mention that each uses a different side of the brain. The edit-while-you-go approach will both stress and wear you out. When that happens, the creative juices dry up, often resulting in that dreaded monster called writer’s block. So write now, edit later.
3. Write the way you talk.
That means don’t think about formal English or proper grammar while writing. There is a legendary story about Sir Winston Churchill. One time an editor was highly critical of a grammatical faux pas in one of the prime minister’s speeches; he had ended the sentence with a preposition.
Sir Winston reportedly wrote the gentleman back and said, “That is pedantic nonsense up with which I shall not put!” Remember that formal communication isn’t always the clearest communication. According to formal grammarians, the phrase, “At what are you looking?” is technically correct. But, “What are you looking at?” is more clear. And that’s the key. Read your copy out loud and go with the version that sounds better.
4. Fourth, KISS everything you write.
You know, Keep It Short and Simple. Simple doesn’t mean simplistic.
Keeping your writing at the 7th grade level is ideal. One of the best tools to accomplish this task you most likely already have. It is called the Flesch-Kincaid reading score (learn more about it here in this great article by Michael Masterson).
That means the “big” words are out. Never use a three-syllable word when a two-syllable one will do.
Don’t use disseminate when issue or send works better. And resist the temptation to turn use into leverage. Keep your writing straightforward. There’s no need to be sesquipedalian, now is there?
Should you really aim low when writing? No, but these principles will help to take the initial pressure off so that you can do your best writing from a creative place and at a relaxed pace.
Do you "write bad" too? I welcome your feedback. I would love to hear how your bad writing has been your best writing.
Join me tomorrow for another edition of The Writer’s Life when we talk about getting physical with our writing. We’ll learn how our best writing often comes from not writing at all!
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