Writing Crap

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I don’t generally like to think that what I write is substandard or “crap,” however, in one certain case I have finally given myself permission to write crap. This certain case or circumstance is the rough draft of any novel, novella, or short story I write. It’s taken me a long time (several years, in fact) to allow myself to do this. But the benefits, believe me, are worth it.

I’m not sure how many of you compose at your computer. I started doing that about two years into writing. My first several books I wrote out long-hand and then typed into the computer. Typing the first draft seemed, at the time, like it would save time. But now I see the error of my ways. Because I remember writing my second book in two months and the third book in about the same amount of time. I had the same job, had small children to deal with at home, and was still reading several books a week. My most recent WIP, To Woo a Wicked Widow took me a year to write. A freakin’ year. My first book was 187K and it only took me six months to write that. (Widow’s at about 90K.)

So what is the big difference? For me, apparently, typing a manuscript turns on my inner-editor. Some little voice in my head tells me the words must be as perfect as I can make M__Klein's_hands,_writing__Wellcome_L0018664them. Therefore, I sit and agonize over word choice, syntax, and sentence structure, rather than just getting the story down. Author K. M Weiland calls this being a first-draft over-thinker. “Instead of letting my words just pour out of me whenever I sat down to write these first drafts, I instead sat there and thought. And thought and thought.  Write a paragraph. Read it. Think about it. Obsess about word choice. Obsess about how the characters are coming across. Fuss about thematic implications. Drive self crazy.”

Sound familiar? It does to me.

Writing in longhand, however, gives me the ability to write crap and to write it quickly. My hand races over the page, and although I will sometimes go back and cross out or write overtop of lines or in the margins, for the most part I have permission to just let the words flow. Innately I know that I can fix this crappy stuff when I revise it into a typed second draft.

Dan J. Fiore, winner of the Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition says the same thing: “Remind yourself over and over again as you’re writing that you give yourself permission to write terribly. Tell that little voice in your head that keeps saying to you, This is awful, that it’s okay. Name an author, any author. Go ahead. Guess what? His or her first drafts suck, too. Keep reminding yourself of that.”

Judi McCoy

Judi McCoy

My mentor, the late, great romance writer Judi McCoy, in the first writing workshop I ever took with her, took a huge pad of paper and wrote “You can fix crap. You can’t fix nothing.” These words have stayed with me for the past six years, although I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowing myself to write crap. And therefore it took me longer and longer to write anything.

Now that I’ve given myself permission to turn off that inner-editor and to write crap, the words are flowing like wine again. And they are, for the most part, crappy. But when I start to revise that crappy first draft, I get all excited again about making the story better. And I have something tangible to fix. You can’t fix nothing. But you can make crappy writing shine.

Please, give yourself permission to write crap. You may just re-discover the joy of writing that first draft.

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20 Responses to Writing Crap

  1. Ugh. I only write scenes in a notebook if I can’t stand typing. I have horrible handwriting and I either end up finishing the “book” only to find out it’s 15k words or I can’t make out what I wrote when it comes time to transcribe it all! I am hoping one day Microsoft or Mac will come up with a way to download straight from my brain with no typing needed! >:)

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  2. I do the Nanowrimo (National Novel Writers Month) and it broke me of the habit of trying to write perfectly during the rough draft stage. I can write crap now and tell myself to fix it later. During the Nano, there is no time to go back and fix it. Just charge ahead and keep going.

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  3. I’m afraid I’d have something like: “Ib fas a drk amd stomy might.” And “The End.” And that would be all I could make sense of. My handwriting is terrible. I go a whole lot faster when I use a keyboard, even with the self-editor in place.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      I completely understand, Trish. I’ve have a couple of times when I’ve had to read a sentence over and over trying to figure out what that one squiggle might be. LOL I used to take copious notes in college so my penmanship isn’t bad, although if I hurry I have to squint to read it. I bet you’re the boss of your self-editor anyway. 🙂

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  4. Calisa Rhose says:

    My inner editor is always in a constant battle with my editor alias when I write anything. I used to write everything long hand (had to, no computers or tablets in the 80s lol) and I didn’t own a type writer. I have a box full of ‘stories I wrote for me and I’ve thought about treating one like that rough draft and see what comes of it. I’ve also considered going back to long hand for all first drafts and still might see what happens with that.

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  5. Melissa Keir says:

    I’m horrible about self editing with either so typing is faster for me. I think I have to write in bed, it seems like the ideas flow better there!

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  6. lizaoconnor says:

    I can type crap super fast. I leave out quite a few words, but my fingers type much faster than I write. There is no editor in my fingers.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Maybe that’s why handwriting turns my editor off–the fingers are holding a pen and don’t have time to comment. You go, Liza. Whatever you’re doing it seems to be working.

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  7. Daryl Devore says:

    This is fabulous, Jenna. I am stuck and have been stuck for a long time on a book. I can’t seem to “write” the next chapter – why – my internal critic. I just may have to go back to writing long hand and see if that breaks the problem. Just one question – do I have any pens in the house??? Hmmm?

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Write it in blood if you have to, Daryl. LOL Oh, that’s right, you don’t write suspense or paranormal. However, I refrain from suggesting what an erotic writer might use if a pen were unavailable. 🙂

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  8. My inner editor can be a real PIA at times. Whenever I’m stuck in my writing, I’ve found the best way to become unstuck is to switch to handwriting. Maybe I should try handwriting the whole darn thing.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      I’ve found mine pretty much shuts up when I switch to handwritten drafts. And writing’s become fun again. You could try handwriting the whole draft and see what happens.

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  9. I understand that. Unfortunately, my writing is almost unreadable. When I wrote my first 4 books, I did not have an inner editor. Then one arrived with suitcases, and we struggle daily. Shared.

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  10. Melissa Kendall says:

    I try so hard not to edit as I go with the first draft but the moment I see a red line under a word I have to correct it. I wish I had the dexterity to write long hand but I just can’t hold a pen that long. I have managed to find one way to stop self editing and that is to write on my tablet it auto corrects words so I don’t have those red lines constantly taunting me but because I only have a 7in at the moment it’s a little hard on my eyes but I’m hoping to get a 10in for Christmas

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Self-editing has been my biggest problem in a first-draft and it took me until now to diagnose it. I really didn’t realize how much it was slowing me down. I find I’m a much happier writer these day. Hope Santa puts that new tablet in your stocking. 🙂

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    • Calisa Rhose says:

      Melissa, have you tried turning off the auto correct feature in your computer? If you do that, there are no red or green squiggles to distract your writing (I keep the auto correct for grammar OFF all the time because those green lines kill me lol). You can easily turn it back on when it comes time to edit, and it might save some wear on your eyes, too. 🙂

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