Permission to Write Something That Sucks

Screenshot-2017-10-25 Bethany ( heartforhugs) • Instagram photos and videos
Photo by Bethany Popkes. She’s a good friend and an excellent portrait photographer. Find her on Instagram.

It’s been one month since I’ve looked at my novel draft. Despite setting myself a lofty goal of completing a first draft by the end of the year, I stalled out. As much as I would like (and have tried) to blame my characters or my word count goals or the ergonomics of my keyboard, I can’t.

I’ve been purposely avoiding it, worried that I’ll mess it up if I write another word. Several times this year, I considered throwing it all out and starting over. Starting is easy. But soon after those well thought-out, well-polished early chapters, the novel started to morph into something else and it wasn’t pretty. It was clunky.

This is hard for me. I’m a perfectionist. I don’t want to commit to paper words that I may have to scrap later. My instinct is to edit as I go — and it’s killing my novel. I can’t go on expecting amazing words to flow from my brain to my fingers. That expectation is suffocating my inspiration and strangling my productivity. Perfection requires iteration; it doesn’t happen on the first try and anyone who thinks so isn’t likely to be a success at writing novels.

So, I’m giving myself permission to write something that sucks.

I’m giving myself the go-ahead to write cheesy dialogue when necessary and sloppy exposition for the sake of continuing the story. Now is not the time to fuss over the language or to worry about continuity. Now is the time to write wildly. I’m going to completely alter my protagonist’s backstory and motivation mid-draft, and that’s okay. Logic is for second drafts.

For the next nine weeks, I’m giving myself carte blanche to do what it takes to finish this draft of my novel, because the alternative is not writing at all and that’s just not who I am. If you’re like me and stuck in perfectionism paralysis, I give you permission to write something that sucks, too.

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Jonny Eberle is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker who is trying to be better about taking Anne Lamott’s tried and true advice. Follow me on the Twitter machine and subscribe to my monthly newsletter for exclusive content and recommended reads.

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