On Bad Writing

This week I’ve added some words to This Novel. It is not a tremendous amount, but considering I’d set the project aside for several months and had to get back into it, I feel all right about it. The key to producing material is accepting that early drafts are UGLY and BAD. The key is revision: four-fold, five-fold, however long it takes, however many times a writer has to see (vision) things again.

I share Anne Lamott‘s essay “Shitty First Drafts,” from Bird by Bird, with my composition students, but I’m considering teaching it at the beginning of my literature classes as well. Too many students have the erroneous assumption that they can simply sit down and think for a minute and then type a three page literary analysis paper and be “done.” I try and build tasks of serious revision into our course schedule, but ultimately it is up to the student to give a shit or not. Lamott’s essay explains the necessity of bad first (and second) drafts and clearly articulates one of my most overused teacher phrases, “Writing IS thinking.” Lamott also examines the anxiety that surrounds writing, the anxiety to produce, to be good enough. So, is bad writing okay? Yes, it is a means to better writing, to revision. Is it okay to present it as a final product?–not so much, unless the purpose of said final product is to examine ‘badness,’ as does Steve Almond in his Bad Poetry Corner.

I read an article at Salon by Laura Miller, “Bad Writing: What is it Good for?” I appreciate Miller’s discussion of the abundance of crappy prose. The internet provides the perfect showcase. Miller takes various angles in discussing crappy prose, referencing a list of bad books and Steve Almond’s Bad Poetry Corner. The list of bad books from the American Book Review is tenuous, but I can get behind Almond’s pursuit. The key for the success of Almond’s site is that he already has a marked fan base; he has more than established himself, he is almost an ethos, a cause within cyberspace. One can either praise such self-promotion, which I do because I like his work, or one can find it trite and audacious. I find it fun. I, lacking a ‘platform’ and prurient exposure, should certainly shy away from trying to create any sort of medium out of the horrendous song lyrics and poems that my fifteen year old mind may have birthed. THAT needs to stay in the past. I will never claim to be a poet, probably because I am scarred from reading my teenage endeavors. No need to inflict that adolescent angst on my friends in cyberspace.

Bad writing is a necessary precursor to the good stuff. So, get thee bad writing down. And then, work it up again and again.

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