Permission to Be Bad

Recently, I took part in a literary salon where published writers gave advice to aspiring writers. One of the tips I offered was to give yourself permission to write like crap.

It’s really easy to get down on yourself when you’re writing, especially while working your way through a first draft. Your scenes meander, your characters are wooden, your dialogue sucks and let’s not even talk about that stinker of a sunset description. Could you be any less original?

“I’m the worst writer ever,” you might think before throwing everything into the recycling bin.


Your first draft is for your eyes only. No one else needs to – or should – read it. A first draft is about you telling the story to you. It’s the big picture stuff. Plots and scenes and characters. It’s about feeling your way through. You can get around to polishing the rough spots in subsequent drafts.

Allowing yourself to write horribly takes the burden of perfection off your shoulders. You don’t have to create a masterpiece right out the gate. It means that you, like every other writer in the history of the world, need time to reflect, explore and revise. Great sunset descriptions aren’t written overnight. (By the way, no reader has ever bought a novel because of the way a writer described a sunset. So don’t get too hung up on the small stuff.)

Allowing yourself to write horribly means you can actually enjoy the process of writing. If nothing else, it will prevent you from taking yourself too seriously. At the heart of it, writing should be play. It should give you pleasure. If it doesn’t, if it makes you feel like you’ve failed even before you’ve started, maybe it’s time to ask yourself why you’re doing it in the first place.