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 them. 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.”
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.