It’s okay to write badly? You bet. This probably seems counter-intuitive; after all, if you want to be published, you have to write well, yes?
True. But you also have to write.
You need 80,000 to 100,000 words of polished prose for a novel. And writing nothing because you’re afraid it won’t be good enough, or because you’re stuck, or because you can’t think of what to write next, gives you nothing to work with.
If you can’t write badly, you can’t write well, because we all start out with stuff that isn’t polished, groomed, or ready for external readers, and work from there.
Plot a little stuck? Write whatever comes into your head. Your characters will show you the path but you have to put them there. You can decide if they’re tall, short, or hairy later — but at least get them going.
Need a chapter but can’t think of how to flesh it out? Don’t worry about it. Write a one-line sentence that says what it is that’s missing in the plot (eg. Ramirez and Espinoza need to go the airport) and then write the next chapter instead. I often have several one line placeholders that take the place of chapters I’m not yet sure how to address. Once I’ve moved forward in the story, it’s much easier to go back to these and develop them then.
(That’s the great thing about writing: not only can you change the future, but you can change the past.)
When I’m really stuck, I will sometimes write a chapter that has only a few sentences of dialogue in it. Is that good writing? Of course not. I know I’ll have to go back at some point and figure out where the characters are, what they’re doing, what time of day it is, and so on. But just having that particular scene in the story helps me get to the next one, and the next one, until I know where I’m going.
Writing really well is hard. But to get there, you have to write something. And most often, your first cut isn’t all that great anyway, right?
So instead of getting stuck, try writing badly, and see where it takes you. Believe me, it can really help you get it right, and that’s something a blank page can’t.
Check out Penguin Canada’s book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera here! It’s pretty cool!