Mastering the Art of Writing Badly

I normally don’t like to toot my own horn, but I can totally own up to one of my talents—I can write really badly.

WHOOT, HOORAY, GO ME! I’ve totally got bragging rights on this one.

Why in all that is iced with frosting would I feel proud that I cannot write positively goodly? Well, quite honestly, it helps me get things done.

Let it go, let it goooo

The truth is I want to be an excellent writer. The truthier thing is that writing well takes a lot of time. My experience in high-tech taught me how important it is to release a perfect product to the world. Technical writing was much easier because I learned how to write with standard phrases, according to a set style guide, and within an template-oriented methodology. Creative writing, however, is not as linear as technical writing. Getting to that same goal of perfection while writing a book can really bog a person down.

The solution? Let go of the desire to produce an immaculate first draft.

Make your first draft abysmal

When I re-read the draft of my first book, which I’ve recently submitted to a publisher, I was working on my second book. I thought, Wow, the second book’s not as polished as book one. Then I smacked myself with my pillow and realized that the second book is such a rough draft, it’s barely a first draft yet. It’s only a baby book just forming. An embryo book? Yeah, maybe!

I’d quickly forgotten that for my first book, I took so much joy in the writing, I simply kept writing. It didn’t matter to me that some of my chapters were thin, I overused words, my dialogue needed to be tighter, and so on. I was mapping out the story. That was what was important. Just get ‘er written.

Make your beta reader draft sorta ok

In tech writing we had peer reviews of our work. Everyone knew the documentation was not customer-ready, but we wanted to make sure it was developing correctly and nothing was missing or confusing. These were normally second drafts. As comments came in, we gathered and incorporated them, and went on to improve the work.

I had my first beta review this past summer. I knew my book was in no shape to be seen by anyone, really, but figured I should get comments before trying to make a submission draft. I’m glad I went with that, because the feedback I received helped me immensely. Letting go of fear and pride and tossing your writing into the ring of beta readers can be nail-bitey but also rewarding, and just like that, you’ve passed another milestone in the writing process.

Then, be as ruthless as someone without ruth

After the beta-reader comments have come back, you can go to town on the editing. Roll up your sleeves, get your coffee or tea (and maybe a couple hundred cupcakes), and prepare to tear your manuscript a new one.

I not only took the advice from beta-readers, but also from other writers and editors. I went through my manuscript (see also 10 things I did to get my manuscript ready for submission) and came out several weeks later, feeling like the Monty Python guy who washes upon the shore to say, “It’s,” before collapsing.

This is the time to be hyper-critical, when you’re done, and not a moment before. If you overthink your writing at the beginning, you might never finish your sentence or paragraph, or even your book. Better to get the story down and then be The Reaper of Useless Words, The Mender of Plot Holes, and the, um, Thingy of Something.

Whatever you do, just wait until this point to be tough on yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

And finally…

Pat yourself on the back after you’ve submitted, because you gave it your level best and reached this point. I felt insecure many times about not being published until an author friend of mine who is published said, “But Cait, you wrote a book!” Oh yeah, that’s an accomplishment in itself, isn’t it?

So, to all of you who have completed writing projects and have gone through this process, I toast you with a cupcake. Cheers! You rock, truly.

Because writing badly got you to where you are today. GO YOU!


CGAuthorCait Gordon has been a senior technical writer for high tech and government organizations. Her first novel is being sent to the universe. She hopes the universe likes it. (The second book has begun and a third will happen, too!)


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