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Lessons from Bad Writing

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computers, once said, “If you're not embarrassed by your first product, you're not advancing and you're not learning.”

This applies to writing. And writing "badly" offers you an opportunity to learn and advance as a writer.

Much of the time, when we read our own writing and think, “Gosh, that’s terrible writing!” we are reading an early draft. So when you go back and read something you feel demonstrates “bad writing,” it’s showing you where the weaknesses are so you can work on them in subsequent drafts.

It’s your Inner Critic, who we don't want talking to us during the first draft, doing her job and helping you by saying, "Something ain’t right."

Remember, your first draft of anything is your artist taking an idea and throwing it out into the world. It will not come out fully formed and ready for publication.

Early drafts are meant to get the ideas from your head and onto the page, to help your creativity flow. I like to think about bad writing as part of this equation:

Good writing = Bad writing + Revision

Using this equation helps because it shows me that my bad writing is part of getting to good writing.

Put another way, if you don’t start with bad writing, you won't achieve good writing.

What about writing that you’ve already revised one hundred times? If you’re reading a polished draft, bad writing shows you where your writing struggles are. Are they mechanical? Stylistic? Are there plot holes? Too cliche? Do you have a penchant for line breaks that don’t deliver?

To see this, however, it’s important for writers to open their minds, let down the many shields and fortifications we put up to protect our fragile psyches, and allow ourselves to accept feedback and constructive criticism — without throwing up our defenses, sticking our fingers in our ears, and singing loudly to avoid having to hear that our writing needs work.

If bad writing is a gift, how do we unwrap it and put it to use?

By becoming its student. By approaching writing with a growth mindset. Instead of thinking, My writing is what it is, think, I shape my writing by learning.

That ... and actively seeking opportunities to learn about the craft of writing. Reading books, reading books about writing, going to workshops, taking a class, and putting ourselves out there.

Let's write badly together so we can write well together.

Peace and plenty,

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