Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly.

This week on the Lucky 13's, we're discussing the best publishing advice we've ever received.  I can't remember where I garnered this gem, but here it is: Give yourself permission to write badly.

Simply nod yes wherever you are in the vast cyberspace if you've ever experienced this scenario:

You've thought of a lovely story and you just know you have to write it.  The first scene may have already taken shape in your mind.  It's a lovely scene, profound.  You can picture it with such utter clarity -- every line of dialogue, everything your characters feel, their every thought.  It's all so vivid; the only thing you need to do is let it play out as you type.

So you go to your computer, you sit down, and you open your word processor.  And you stare at the blank screen.

You stare longer.  Your fingers hover above the keyboard as you try to coax out that first perfect sentence.  Like a bout of stage fright, the words simply don't come.  Your mind is locked up.  You type a mediocre first sentence, because surely that will get you going.  It doesn't.  You work that first sentence over again, adding words, taking them away, adding more.

You type the first paragraph.  God, it's so horrible -- so you edit it.  You chip away at what you wrote because the words aren't good enough.  They're not encapsulating the feelings you want to get across for this scene.  The words aren't right.  And you find it to be a struggle to write past the first chapter, or sometimes even the first page.

If this is you, let me assure you that you're not alone.  A lot of writers have this anxiety, and part of that comes from comparing our work to the published books we read.  "I'll never write like this," you might think.  Or, perhaps, "I wish I could write like this."

Some books are so beautifully written, the scenes so enviable, that it's hard to believe that, at one point, the books you love so much were once probably quite dreadful.  Because, you see, many first drafts are.  They are full of incomplete scenes, or unnecessary characters, or place-holder sentences that sit there until the author comes up with something better.

Give yourself permission to write badly, because no first draft will be perfect.  Because you need to get the story out of you.  Because you can go back and fix everything that is wrong with your manuscript. Because the important thing is that you write and pour that first draft out of you, so it exists on paper.

Give yourself permission to write badly, because those beautiful, profound words that are somewhere inside you will never, ever go away -- and you can always add them later.


Elizabeth May is an occasional book cover photographer, a fantasy novelist, a lazy PhD student, and an accomplished coffee drinker. She resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she can frequently be spotted skulking about dark wynds with a camera in hand.  She spends far too much time on Twitter and her blog.

Her début novel THE FALCONER will be released in 2013 by Gollancz (UK/Commonwealth) and Chronicle Children's Books (US/Canada).


  1. So true. I am in the middle of a writing a bad first draft right now, and I keep assuring myself that I'm just getting down some rough ideas, plots, characters now, and then I can go back and rework it to death later. You have to start with raw clay to make a statue. In my case, bad first draft=raw clay.

  2. This. All the way. Although a caveat is to make sure you've fixed those incomplete scenes before you send it out to a reader - I had the embarassing case of sending out a manuscript with an "INSERT MORE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT HERE" note before - oops!

  3. You know, I've never used the, "INSERT THIS THING," kind of sentences. But if I'm not feeling as poetic, I'll put in something awful like, "She felt sad," just to get the sentence out there.