The Good Thing About Bad Writing, by Lish McBride
As much as we hate to admit it, not every word we write is gold. Some of them wouldn’t even qualify as a precious metal. We all have off days and no matter where you are on the publishing spectrum, you’re still learning. One day you’ll write twenty pages of what you’re sure is the Best Thing Anyone Has Written, Ever, only to read it the next day and realize it’s total drivel.
Sometimes the “total drivel” response is just that little critic voice in your head. Ignore that voice. There are plenty of people on the planet ready to line up and tear apart what you’re doing. I see no reason why you should actively help them. Other times, though, it’s not the voice. Some pages just don’t live up to their potential and they have to be cut.
Don’t cry over this. Editing, cutting, slashing and burning are natural parts of the process. As a writer you are like a sculptor, cutting away at the blank marble until something wonderful emerges. But I want you to listen, my writer friends. The next thing I’m going to say is very important. Don’t throw everything away. Even bad writing has its purpose.
This is especially true for you young writers out there. You might never do anything with that heart-felt poem about your feelings. You might never do anything with that ‘zine you made with your friends, or the Harry Potter fan-fiction you just wrote. That’s okay. Keep them anyway, because you’re going to grow up and get old and maybe grow a moustache and learn how to play bridge. It’s a natural part of the cycle.
You’re going to forget some things about being young. Not everything. The big things stand out. Some of you, like me, will actively try to forget some of them. This is why keeping your writing is so important – it’s a snapshot of the teenage you. (I can’t take credit for this idea. I read it in Gail Cason Levine’s writing book and honestly it’s some of the best advice ever.)
There are other good reasons to keep snippets around. Sometimes you can salvage things. It’s like a mechanic having a yard of junker cars. Sure, the engine is shot, and it won’t move, but the carburetor is almost brand new. So you pull that sucker out and put it in something else. You can salvage your stories, too. Maybe you have a good line in there or a great character. Yank them and put them in something better. I have a history of stealing characters out of short stories and putting them into other works. My character Ashley is an example of this at work.
There are times, too, when you look back on a dud story and realize that you suddenly know how to make it work. One good overhaul and that sucker will shine like gold. I have a few duds in my pile that I have hopes for.
Lastly, they’re good benchmarks for you. I don’t like competing with other authors. I think it can create a toxic environment and honestly, it’s just not a good thing to do to yourself. I could go crazy trying to battle some of my writer heroes with words. Especially since some of them have had whole lifetimes to become awesome and I’m just getting going. I do, however, compete against myself. I don’t need to write a short story better than Mark Twain. I just need to write a short story better than the last one I wrote. There are days when I look at old stories that I’ve written and I think, “Okay, so I’m not great, but I’m better than that. My writing is so much clearer than it used to be. If I work hard, it will be even better tomorrow.”
It’s fun to watch yourself grow as a writer.
Homework: Dig something out of your pile. What element sticks out as a keeper? What can you do with it? If you don’t have a pile, start one.
Lish McBride’s author website: www.lishmcbride.com
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