While there is something liberating about writing “shitty first drafts”, as Anne Lamott famously called them, perhaps there is something more so about writing shitty first drafts on purpose. You know, the type of stuff you come across when you finally remember your old LiveJournal password from when you were thirteen. Write like that on purpose?!?!? you may ask. Well, ok, as long as I can burn them afterwards. But to that I say, nope! A little shameful writing is good to have around for posterity. And not just so that your children, children’s children and maybe even their children after them have something to laugh themselves sick over.
For one, writing is essentially a snooty act. Didion has said it, Orwell has said it, and Deborah Brandt (“Literacy and Learning”) says it all when she describes a lawyer whose work was “supported by a flotilla of helpers” (148). Writing is treated as a specialized task – as Brandt says, reading is nothing special but writing can not only earn you money but make you filthy rich, to boot. (Stephen King, are you listening?) Mentioning you’ve written a novel over the summer will earn you adoring members of the opposite sex. Mentioning you’ve read a novel over the summer will earn you nothing much but sarcastic slow-claps.
Because of this uppitiness that surrounds the “craft of writing”, writers tend to take themselves too seriously. What better way to lighten up than to demonstrate that you’re still capable of turning out prose that would make your former thirteen-year-old self jeer? What better way to express your artistic side by thumbing your nose at conventional dictums and refusing to outline your potboiler short story heavily (heavily) featuring fratboy catchphrases?
OK, so I may as well be honest. This rant owes a lot to my new favorite blog. You can find it at http://writebadlywell.blogspot.com/ (Shameless plug, I know. And I’m not even getting paid). This is an excerpt from one of my favorite posts.
Write When You’re Hungry
Bertha looked up. The building in front of her was the shape of a baguette standing on its end and the colour of mushroom soup. She walked towards the imposing front door and raised her ham-coloured hand to knock on the frosted (translucent, not frosted like a cake is frosted) glass. It made a noise like dropping a can of baked beans on a tiled floor.
‘Hello?’ she said. The building was as silent as refrigerated milk.
You know a funny thing, though? I read that particular passage two months ago and I still can’t get it out of my head (“silent as refrigerated milk”! Genius!). Words can be like songs: even when they’re bad they can get stuck in your head. Writing badly (although not necessarily doing it well) allows you to relax, kick back, and let the words take control. And the words that come out of your pen (or come out of your banging furiously on a keyboard) can tell you a lot about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. For example, the following passage that I’ve written tells me that I am prone to long and verbose sentences. Enjoy. Nah, just kidding. I would never share my horrible, horrible writing in a public setting. Says the girl with a blog…