Menu Close

Having the courage to write badly

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Lamott talks about the necessity of what she famously terms “shitty first drafts.” Novelist Michael Chabon has also said that his first drafts are as bad as the writing he did in high school. I pass on this advice in my writing classes constantly: have the courage to write badly. However, in practice, I find that writing badly takes even more courage than the kind I espouse to students. The blank page terrifies me, and what terrifies me even more is the way my first attempts to fill the page with words come out as complete garbage. After years of reading, writing, and teaching writing, the flaws of what I’m producing are all the more glaring, I’m all the more aware of how much work will be necessary to transform these first drafts into anything resembling a story, a work of creative non-fiction, anything that anyone else would like to read. That kind of recognition is very humbling, and humility is not a popular personality trait these days. Maybe it’s one worth cultivating, not just for ourselves as writers but also for our selves.

Whatever You’re Trying to Hide is What Makes You an Interesting Writer

I’ve been working on a personal essay for Tin House magazine that made me think of a quote from Gordon Lish (paraphrased by Dana Spiotta), “Whatever you’re trying to hide is what makes you an interesting writer.” I’ve used elements of my life in fiction and non-fiction all throughout my writing career, but I’ve often skirted certain aspects of my life because I found them too painful and even embarrassing. I feared what people might think if they knew these things about me. Instead, what I’ve found is that my work has become all the more rich and vital by sharing the most vulnerable part of myself with others. Now I’m wondering, why didn’t I do this sooner? Maybe I just wasn’t ready until now…