Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Writer Ugly

Let yourself write ugly. You probably wouldn’t get up from a night’s sleep and go directly out on a date. You’d fix yourself up a bit first. But you don’t blame yourself for your morning face, morning hair, morning breath. Treat your writing the same way. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even presentable, when it first comes out of your head onto the screen. Get stuff down and then worry about making it look and sound good.

No one in the world has to see the first words you put down. You can try out anything you like, use any word that pleases you, make any argument you want to make, and no one can deny or contradict you. No one can tell you: “That sucks!” Who cares if what you put down is ugly? You can always fix it later.

25 comments:

miller580 said...

So true, my drafts are bad. In fact no one has ever seen a first or second draft of my writing.

In fact, this is good advice to those who lead workshops or creative writing classes as well. I was in a class once and was asked to bring in "early drafts" and have a mini workshop.

This would have been a great thing had I not received negative feedback on grammar and punctuation. Had the focus been on structure, plot, and the "concept" of the "early draft" maybe I would have gotten more from the workshop. But rather, I was left defending the fact that my "draft" was not run through spell check.

miller580 said...

Sorry, now that I read that I realize I was a bit off topic.

RichardS said...

I always seem to write ugly to begin with. It's whether it stays ugly that concerns me! I splash out writing great swathes of work hoping that when I get back to it later I can tidy it up and make it into something special. Whether I do or not is another matter.

I'm definitely one of the 'write loads and edit later' crowd.

Charles Gramlich said...

miller, anything about writing is pretty much on target, and yes, I think how new writers get their first criticism is important. It's not often done well.

Richards, thanks for dropping by. It's a step in the write direction if it even goes from ugly to presentable.

RichardS said...

I've been lurking for a while, Charles. Posted the odd message a while back. Always enjoy your blog.

I'm on one or two of the REH lists as well.

All the best

Steve Malley said...

Great advice, Charles. A lot of the creative blocks I see around me (and it catches me from time to time too) is where the artist or writer lets their inner critic have any kind of a say in that initial process. You start worrying the work's not good enough, and half-done is what it is.

Of course, that critic *needs* to come out later. The most godawful, narcissistic mistake a creator can make is to 'release the ugly' on the world.

It happened to Picasso. He was still a young fellah when he hit it big, and he lived a loooong time. He had to know he had off-years, even bad decades. But he and his agents and gallery owners all financed their *very* expensive lifestyles (at one point he had something like six houses - one of them a castle!) because no matter how bad a piece might be, it was still a Palbo-FREAKIN-Picasso.

I'm sure we can all think of an author or two who's done the same...

Shauna Roberts said...

When I first got a job at a magazine, I used to freak out after I finished the first draft of each article because it was such crap. It took a while to catch on that I always managed to revise articles into not-crap by the time I turned them in. Some people are natural writers; others, like me, are bad writers but good editors.

Even knowing that, though, I still sometimes catch myself fretting because what I am writing isn't very good. It's hard to turn off the internal judge.

Charles Gramlich said...

Gives Richards the secret Howard hand sign that only Howard heads know.

Steve, I heard a great Picasso joke from a female comedian one time. She was considering plastic surgery but while she's in the waiting room she notices all the Picasso's on the walls. She decides to leave, and the punch line is: "My nose may not be perfect but at least it's centered."

Shauna, I used to worry so much about the ugly draft that I would spin my wheels early in a piece by polishing and polishing the same paragraph over and over before moving on.

Will Kinshella said...

My first drafts scare me.

Sometimes I'm actually afraid to edit them, as just like that three month old bologna you find sitting in the back of your fridge, I worry they may have taken on a life of their own...

Best,

Will

Sidney said...

I'm the proverbial world's worst about getting bogged down or agonizing about the right approach. It can be crippling. Write ugly is a good notion.

Avery DeBow said...

It's good advice that I try in vain to follow. My first drafts haunt me, and I usually end up going back and trying to 'fix' everything right then and thre.

Avery DeBow said...

Sorry. I got twitchy. That was supposed to be, 'there.'

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

charles, i might have mentioned this before. i said something of similar effect at a convention back when dinosaurs still had my hairline--something like that--and mike arnzen, also on the panel, replied with something i have never forgotten. the first time i am writing it, the next time i look at it i am reading it. two different things. that said, i can't say that i write ugly, but i'm sure not as embarassed with what i find myself waking up to the next morning.

Erik Donald France said...

Charles, couldn't agree more. Anne Lamott calls it the "shitty first draft." And there's always Woody Allen's 80% of life [and progress] is showing up. Got start with something rather than fear failure and be too much of a perfectionist.

Danny Tagalog said...

A motivatory post, unexpected after the foray into grammar. I thought you were turning into a gramarrian (not exactly a bad thing).

Danny Tagalog said...

motivatory!!

that's a word not run throught a spell check...

Jack said...

I can use this advice. I've written some pretty ugly things. They're in the corner now, staring at me.

the walking man said...

Charles, most of what i write is put in the blog the same day, goes from word to post, with at the most a change of a word or phrase and that only some the time. But then everything up there(the only place I put things) is all less than 1000 words. I want the raw up there, that way when I archive it I have a sense of something not right about it or vice versa. and if I ever open up one of the shorter pieces again I may change it around or may not, depends on the perspective of the moment.

The longer pieces never see the light of day and those I edit and re-edit and re-edit a minimum of five times until I am satisfied.

Strange habits I guess left over from when I cared about feeding the corporation more material to reject or accept.

Bernita said...

That's why I hate those insta-exercises.

Rachel said...

I hear that! My first drafts these days aren't even on the screen. They're pen and paper, scratched out, scrawled, bulldozed through and what ends up on screen may not even look like what I scrawled on the page. But I got it out and that's what counts.

Charles Gramlich said...

Will, sounds like a story in that. I like the idea of the draft being like old bologne. Maybe things have been growing in it.

Sid, I don't always take my own advice either. It's so much easier to give than to receive.

But Avery, at least you waited until the paragraph was finished before correcting the twitch. Now you just have to apply that to a whole piece.

Wayne, I just figured your stuff came out perfect the first time.

Erik, didn't Lamott write "Bird by Bird?" Great advice that. I read it a couple of years back.

Danny, if by Grammarian you mean a Lovecraftian monster then I am surely slowly turning into one.

Jack, I hope you're armed. My bad first drafts can get as mean as a Hell's Angels bar on friday night.

Walking man, sometimes my raw stuff comes out pretty good. Most of the time it needs a serious massage.

Bernita, not sure what insta-exercises you're referring to.

rachel, I used to write with pen and paper but I have such horrible handwriting I can't make it out.

etain_lavena said...

I think thats where I go wrong I always want to fix everything to fit into the perfect boxes I create...not only with my writting but with my life....but I have given myself a wakeup call..so hopefully soon.....I am gonna try and buy your book....hihih...I hope they deliver in Scotland...toodels:)

Rachel said...

There's an old story about a violinist who heard a young prodigy play. The prodigy was astounding on his first "read" through a piece. The violinist shook his head and lamented that the prodigy would probably never anywhere because the playing came too easy. He would never practice to become excellent when his average was still good.

BTW - my handwriting is atrocious, too. And I write on the bus. Doesn't matter. Write it ugly and get it out. That's all that counts.

the walking man said...

Rachel, just a thought, isn't it true that ever time the violinist plays he perfects his art, even if he starts great every time he picks up the bow doesn't he learn more?

No handwritten journals for me anymore, I can read them but then it just seems so damn tedious to transport them from the handwriting to the keyboard because I can't type worth a tinkers damn.

Peace

TWM

Michelle's Spell said...

Couldn't agree more -- you have to be free to mess up totally before anything good can happen. Thank God for trashcans, real and virtual!