Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 19, 2012

The Fear of Writing Badly

I have heard many writers say that part of writer’s block may be the subconscious fear of writing poorly. Of turning out dreck. And this is also the reason some people never start writing in the first place—if it’s not going to come out perfectly the first time, it’s too much work.

I can honestly say I have never been plagued by this particular writing demon (which is rather shocking given the plethora of anxieties I DO have). My key to freedom is twofold:

1) I cannot help but write poorly.
2) Anything I write can be fixed.

Number one is important because nothing we write will ever be perfect. There are some days the writing flows, but then there are the days when every word is a struggle and what comes out is utter blech. It is unavoidable that you will write poorly sometimes. Worrying about it is rather like worrying that the sun might come up in the morning. It’s going to happen no matter what you do.

And that’s okay.

Did you hear me? It’s okay to write crap. We all do it. And why is it okay? Because of statement number two: Anything I write can be fixed.

I am learning and growing as a writer all the time, but there are still things I need to work on. There are still facets of the writing craft I don’t fully understand. And much of my poor writing comes from these gaps in my continuing education. I make mistakes I don’t know I’m making, or even mistakes I know I am making but do not know how to fix.

Sometimes I learn what I need to know and can fix the poor writing myself. More often I need crit partners or editors to point out to me just what went wrong with the writing. By the time I have finished taking all of the feedback from my readers, crit partners, and editors and put it into practice, a wonderful thing occurs: My poor writing improves! And the more I work—the more I learn—the more it improves!

So don’t let fear of writing poorly hold you back. Write. Write well, write poorly, but just write. Because once the words are on the page, even the worst writing can be fixed. But if the words stay in your head, you can’t improve them. You can’t learn from them. You can’t transcend them.

Don’t fear bad writing—embrace it as a necessary step toward excellence.

Bad writing is never a failure—unless you don’t learn from it.

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Responses

  1. What you say, Kerry, is so true, as ever. You can never improve if you don’t at first falter.

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  2. Nice post, Kerry. I think the emotions of the writer are every bit as important as the talent. For a fascinating look at the fear, not of writing badly, but of not writing successfully, read the book by Steven Pressfield called the War of Art.

    Jerry

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  3. Thanks. Sometimes we need to be reminded not to get frustrated when we write crap and that it can be fixed later. Don’t sweat the small stuff, just get on with the story.

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  4. Very well said. If it wasn’t for revisions – where would we be. I find that my first draft of a chapter is little more than an expanded outline. The second time through is to clear up the poor expressions. The third time might do it.

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  5. Wonderful advice! Recently, a friend of mine told me of a great idea she had for a children’s book but, she said, “I can’t get started because I’m not very good with punctuation, etc.” I told her to “just write it” and that she could always go back to fix any problems.

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  6. Thanks, everyone! Yes, revision is key. My first draft is always underwritten, my second usually over-written. It’s not until the 3rd that things start to settle down!

    Jerry – sounds like a great book.

    Patricia – I hope your friend took your very sound advice.

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  7. Great comments. I tell beginning writers what Natalie Goldberg stresses in “First Thoughts” from Writing Down the Bones: 1. Keep your hand moving; 2. Don’t cross out (no editing); 3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar; 4. Lose control; 5. Don’t think, don’t get logical. As Patricia says, “Just write it.” There are aways problems; they can be fixed later.

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    • That “Don’t Think” is good advice. Overthinking paralyzes you when trying to be creative. The time for logic is in the revision stage.

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  8. Remember that advice that you should dance like no one is looking? Maybe it’s also true about writing!

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  9. Kerry, great advice. We all write poorly until we are criticue and then we can become better writers. I know many publishers hate the ly words, but sometimes there is a need. Thank you for speaking for many of us. augie

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