Saturday, June 29, 2013

Feel free to write crap? No. Never.

Possibly one of the worst pieces of advice I see writers telling beginners is to "feel free to write crap."

This is intended to encourage beginners to turn off their internal editors and internal censors, freeing them to put something--anything!--on the page. The belief is that something on the page can be edited later; a blank page can't be fixed.

This leads to sloppy writing and far too much time spent at the back end of the creative process, trying to turn all that crap into usable compost and then to grow something worthwhile in the compost.

In no other profession is it advisable to do bad work on purpose. Imagine if my cardiac surgeon had approached my bypass surgery with this attitude: "I'll make a couple of cuts and toss in a few stitches. It's only a first draft. I can go back later and clean it up."

I believe writers should always strive to write the best they can when they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Always striving to produce the best writing means more time spent creating and less time wasted polishing turds.

Do I sometimes write crap? Absolutely, but never on purpose.

When I sit down to write I produce the best work I can at that time on that day. If it turns out to be crap, I deal with it.

But I never "feel free" to write crap.


Charles Gramlich said...

I never tell people to write crap on purpose. I do tell them, when they're starting out, not to worry too soon about trying to make it perfect. That rough drafts are for their eyes only and no one else has to see the crap.

Manuel Royal said...

Michael, I always took that bit of advice to mean "Don't worry much about style in the first draft." If the premise, characters, and plot don't work, it's truly crap and thus a goner, but if those are worthwhile, I use the second draft to try and get the style right; to find the right narrative voice for the piece.

The final draft is the live patient on the table. The rough draft is the cadaver I do early work on in my personal medical school. (Come to think of it, surgery is a more apt metaphor for editing than for composition. Sculpting might be a better analogy: rough clay form showing the basic compositional shape, then a carefully-shaped refinement, and finally polished bronze.)

Great blog, by the way. I'm currently making my first attempt since 1976 at a novel, and appreciate any advice I can get. I particularly liked your entry "Show your work". Reminds me of James MacDonald's description of a writing technique he likens to "positional chess".

Michael Bracken said...

Too often at conferences and conventions, and in how-to-write articles and blog posts, writers repeat certain truisms that have had all the truth distilled out of them or which directly contradict my experience.

"Feel free to write crap" is one of those truisms.

The kind of in-depth discussions Charles alludes to, wherein a more experienced writer takes the time to explain to a less experienced writer the value of rough drafts and how, as Manuel suggests, second drafts can resolve problems that crop up in first drafts, are far more valuable to a beginning writer than spouting truisms from on high.