Thursday, May 19, 2011

WRITE CRAP




I have a post-it on my computer monitor saying WRITE CRAP. It's one of the most valuable pieces of writing advice I know.

I told that once to a reporter and they happily printed the fact that I believed I was publishing foecal matter, so let me explain what I really do mean.

I'm not saying my books are crap. Well, they might be, but I'm sort of attached to them so I wouldn't abuse them so soundly. What I'm saying is that at the composition stage, it's actively useful for me to allow myself to write badly. If I felt that I needed to fill each and every page, every little sentence, with exactly the right words—if I tried to produce a final draft when I was really creating a first one—I would be paralysed. I would be depressed. I would never write anything at all.

I realised, quite early on in this game, that my first drafts are rubbish. They're full of bad words, or good words put the wrong way. Dodgy motivations, two-dimensional characters, sketchy settings, large chunks where nothing happens, things that basically any four-year-old with a pencil could write better than me. They have big gaps where I'm not sure what should happen. They have XXXs where I haven't been bothered to find the correct word or do a bit of research.

They are so bad, that nobody should ever be forced to read them, ever.

The thing though, is this. First drafts are MEANT to be rubbish. First drafts are written to benefit the writer. Some people call them "discovery drafts", which is a useful way of thinking: a first draft exists so that the author can discover the story, making lots of mistakes along the way.

At the beginning of a story, I need to allow myself to write crap. Depressing as it can be, I need to write words knowing I'll be deleting them later. Because the wrong words lead to the right ones. And making mistakes—writing crap—means that when it comes to doing a second draft, I'll have learned the right thing to do to make the second draft NOT crap.

You write crap so that you can fix it later.

I'm reminding myself of this right now, because I've just finished copy edits on a lovely, finished, polished manuscript which is as perfect as is humanly possible for me to make it right now, and I've plunged immediately into writing a new first draft for a new story. And boy, is it bad, especially compared to the coherent thing I just sent off to my editor. It jumps around all over the place. I can't get a grip on the heroine, or her friends. I'm not really sure that the plot makes sense. In fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't.

But I need to give myself permission to write crap, or else the crows of doubt will be pecking my eyes out with a vengeance. I need to remember: it's okay to make mistakes. It's NECESSARY to make mistakes. We all do it, because we all need to.

I might need some more post-it reminders, though.

Please come back on Sunday, when Anna Louise Lucia will be posting something possibly less crap-focused.

28 comments:

  1. I have read your advice on writing crap a lot of times now, and I keep it in my head whenever I'm writing, so thank you! You're very wise :)

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  2. Truer words...and so important. I call my first draft a RAW draft which could mean Really Awful Rubbish :-)

    I don't what your first drafts are like ...as a reader i love the end result so whatever it takes to get that result - please keep doing it.
    lx

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  3. Because the wrong words lead to the right ones.

    I love you , Julie Cohen. :)

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  4. That should be Really Awful Words...blame it on the party last night.
    lx

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  5. I love this advice. For ages I wanted to make it all so perfect at the beginning, that I never wrote very much at all - all my time was spent re-writing!Now I'm happy to WC! Thanks Julie!!

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  6. Julie told me about the 'crap draft' about three years ago and I've used and passed on this advice ever since! Thanks, my lovely.

    R x

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  7. Phillipa already quoted my favourite sentence from this post, and I love it (and you) too, Julie!

    Wonderful post. And exactly what I needed to read this morning, when I'm staring at my computer screen thinking miserably how what I'm now writing doesn't half measure up to the perfect book I had envisioned when I began..

    Off to write crap, then. And if my crap leads me to find words as lovely as yours, I'll be happy.

    Thanks for this.

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  8. Absolutely, brilliant post, Julie! You always make so much sense, no wonder you're a great author!

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  9. Thanks a lot, Julie. I feel much better.

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  10. Clare, I'm sorry you've heard the same bit of advice from me several times. I don't actually know that much, but the few things I do know, I tend to REALLY know. And I do write a lot of crap, so...

    Very glad it is helpful to you.

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  11. Liz, you're totally right...the reader can't see the crap that was the first draft. They just see the final draft, the polished result. So it doesn't matter how rubbish it is at first. You can have all the RAW that you want. (Love that acronym, whatever it stands for!)

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  12. I love you too, Philippa Ashley. :-)

    And thanks for asking me to post about this. I needed it.

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  13. Lori, I'm very glad to see a former nitpicker and polisher turn into a Writer of Crap. :-D I'm really glad the process works for you too.

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  14. LOL Rachel, further proof that I've been banging on about crap for quite a long time now...

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  15. Susanna, I'm EXACTLY at that point with my own wip, too. Fortunately both you and I know it will pass...but not before some quite painful wallowing in crapness.

    Yours will be great. Always is. All the hard work is worth it.

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  16. Hee hee Christina, you might be able to tell I've done rather a lot of thinking on this subject...?

    I needed the reminder myself at this point, so I make all of you guys listen!

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  17. You're very welcome, Susie. Though I refuse to believe that your drafts are as crap as mine.

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  18. Julie, great post! I need to be reminded of this pretty much daily while writing a first draft. Like right now. It takes a lot of faith to just dive into it, trusting all the pieces will fall into place... with a lot of hard work!

    One thing I like to do is design a "pretend" cover for my WIP. Then I have a visual goal I'm working toward. I don't know if any other writers do this, but it's a great motivation for me.

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  19. THANK YOU -- I'm agonizing over a first draft right now and I needed to be reminded it's SUPPOSED to be a piece of garbage, LOL. This was a timely reminder to adjust my perspective. Great blog.

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  20. Julie, you gave that advice when you talked to my writers' group and Oh, how often have I drawn strength from it. Because crap is too delicate and dainty to describe my first drafts.

    THANK YOU. xx

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  21. I still can't believe that, years ago, I sent my first draft out to agents. D'oh!

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  22. What a great piece of writing - and wonderful advice. The permission to make mistakes is a powerful medicine to ennui, inertia and self-doubt (not that any of us ever suffer from those!). Love it. Henny

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  23. Thanks, Lori.

    I think that anything that motivates you—making a book cover, promising yourself a treat, getting friends to nag you—is a very good thing.

    I can recommend putting a WRITE CRAP post-it on your computer; it does help to see it every day. Good luck with your draft.

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  24. Dani...yup. It's supposed to be garbage. It's supposed to be worse than garbage. You're doing the right thing. Keep on going.

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  25. LOL Beth, I like to spread the crap around! :-D

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  26. Ahhh well Karen, we all do these things when we're starting out...or at east I really really hope we all do because I've sent out some awful rubbish.

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  27. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Henny. Your sentence about "the permission to make mistakes" is much more eloquent than my more Anglo-Saxon post-it!

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  28. This is great advice at the perfect time for me, since I'm trying to finish up my current first draft. I'm gonna link to you on my blog :)

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