This piece follows yesterday's post, The First Writing: Ten Minutes
After ten minutes of just writing without stopping, what have you got? It’s okay to say it’s a load of crap. Mine often is. Or at least it seems that way in the moment. Then I quit worrying so much and get over myself. That may not be as easy to do when just starting out.
The big questions new writers ask are what should I write and what if it’s not good? These are natural things to wonder. How can a person write if they don’t know what they are writing about and why write at all if it isn’t going to be any good?
Here’s the thing: neither question matters much, especially at the beginning. Write whatever comes to mind so long as you write and don’t stop. As for quality, at this stage and even later on, it’s best to intend to write crap.
“Just write crap” sounds like terrible advice, but bear with me. How things sound and what they really are often turns out to be two different things. As I said, I often think that I’ve written crap but learn that it’s better than I thought. And even if after reflection I find that I’ve written total crap, at least I’ve practiced writing.
Also, if I find that I’ve got something good on the page, I still have to go back and make it better, removing the crap, creating more good stuff. I’m a very good first draft writer (in part because I'm content to write crap), but nothing is done after one pass, so I might as well give myself permission to write crap. I can fix it all later or set it aside and write something new.
The big challenge of writing is to write, to sit in the chair and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. We find other stuff to do, like thinking. That sounds productive. How can I write without thinking? But the truth is that thinking is just a way to avoid writing. Staring into space looks like thinking, but it sure isn’t writing. If I tell myself I’ll start writing just as soon as I think of a good idea, three days goes by without any words. I have to put the first word on the page.
That can be tough. Sometimes it feels like pure hell. What if it's the wrong word? What if it’s crap? Trying not to crap binds us up. Sorry, but it’s true. Loosen up. Give yourself permission to write the crappiest crap of all time. That’s what I do. That’s how I wrote this.
Once I have permission, I stop worrying and start writing. I do the work. If you want permission, I’m giving it to you now. Go forth and write crappity-crap-crap. Stink the page up. Waste page after page on it. And keep going. It won’t really be any waste. It's a way to open the door and get writing on the page. Writing nothing is always worse than writing crap.
Think of it this way: there’s a really attractive person in class, sitting by the window, and you can’t stop looking at how the light catches their hair. Class ends. You’re the last two in the room. That beautiful person says hi and smiles at you. You don’t know what to say and worry you’re going to mess it up. Saying nothing is saying no to opportunity. Saying something, anything, even if it's crap, opens up possibilities. Don't say nothing. You’ll never fall in love that way.
The first draft of this (in the image above) took ten minutes to write. Some of it was crap. I've gone back and remodeled significantly. It still might be crappy, but it’s far better than nothing. When I began, I didn’t know what to say beyond “just write crap.” It turns out that I had a lot more to say. I’ll bet at least one person reading this feels better about their crappy writing. Maybe it’s you. At least one person thinks I’m a genius. Whoever you are, write back and be my friend.
Maybe I am a genius, but I stole most of these ideas. Natalie Goldberg says to give yourself permission to write the worst junk in America. Anne Lamott suggests shitty first drafts. Their advice has gotten me over the first terrible words and into several million others. I just needed permission to write crap.
I gave myself that permission and look where it has gotten me. Now I’m giving it to you. Set a timer for ten minutes. Set your intention to just write crap. Go.