Except that it’s not. The most valuable skill for a writer is the ability to write without caring about what you have written.
You can’t edit what isn’t written. You can’t improve what isn’t there. You can’t learn from things you haven’t done (well, you can, but it’s a slow, painful process that commonly includes tons of face-palming, tear jerking and blame storming). It’s the whole “shitty first draft” thing.
Check this. Your first goal as a writer is to write. Everything else is just a qualifier: “to write the next Great American Novel”, “to write the next Harry Potter”, “to write the next 10 pages”. And here’s the kicker. If you accept that all you need to do right now is to write you will write. But if you start to care about the quality of what you’ve written then you will start to censor yourself.
You will backtrack, edit on the fly, haw and hum over individual words. Your writing speed will plummet. Your ability to complete your work will vanish. You will care, and your caring will block your ability to create.
Shitty first draft, remember?
And you’ll need to practice writing that shitty first draft. Not the writing, not the draft but the shitty. Here’s how:
Story Destruction Time – RAAAH!
This is one of my favorite exercises for when I’m stuck. I write a line of stars (like *****) and start a fresh paragraph. Then I set out to deliberately destroy everything I’ve written up to this point. Ops, John slips on a puddle of butter and knocks his head off on the credenza. Blood spurt! Main Character Dead! Weeeooo, weeeooo, giant locust paramedics come by to sew his brain up. Giant locust romances Sally. Hot, steaming giant locust sex!
Hot-diggety-damn, I’ve filled three pages up with this crap. Gee, how much fun this story became. What if it really was about giant locusts instead of the dishwasher repairman love story I’d envisaged?
OK, that last part is a bit too optimistic. Normally I just type out a bunch of crap, get the energy I need to continue, write another row of stars and down the white page I tread, filling in and filling up as I go.
But sometimes that’s not enough and it’s time to pull out the big guns.
The Happy Crappy exercise
When I’m truly stuck, so stuck that I can’t even sit down at the computer desk and open up the word processor, I pull out the No Brainer. This is a real No-Brainer. It’s not freewriting, it’s not destroying my work, it’s typing “this is crap” over and over and over again.
Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well, it allows me to start typing. And after I’ve written this is crap ten times in a row one of two things happens:
A) I get really, really mad. So mad that I start to punch the keyboard, sometimes for real. I get so mad that I’ll simmer and boil and boil over and I’ll whack out meaningless strings of syllables just ölkasjd föwöpioj2efkasj lsdöfwölekjw fl you fucing balstard shit pis crap loser.
And after about five minutes of this I start to feel a bit embarrassed. Here I am, grown man, writing poopy words on the screen (yeah, I’ve actually thought the words “poopy words”). I start to mellow out and before I know it the negative emotions are gone and I either get on with my shitty first draft or I decide that the story is broken beyond repair and put it in my “snippets” folder as inspiration for later.
But sometimes the exact opposite happens and I:
B) start to get the giggles. I type “this is crap” and I’m starting to sing along in my head “this is crap, this is crap, this is crappy, crappy, crap”. And weird stuff starts to flow from my fingers, little jingles and rhymes and bad, bad poetry and before I know it I’m shifting over to my work in progress and writing funny hats on people and I’m all euphoric and laughing and bubbly.
Yeah, I’m insane. You’ve got to be a bit insane to be a writer. In the normal world there’s a name for when people are stuck alone in a room for long periods of time: isolation cell.
But sometimes I don’t have the energy for Happy Crappy. Then the problem may not be with my writing but rather with my energy levels. Sometimes it’s because I haven’t taken care of myself enough but it might be that I’m too down to create. And that’s where Mr. Music comes in.
I dig through my collection of soundtracks, military marches, classical music, folk rock and industry metal and pull up the song that matches the mood I need to have. I put on my headphones to spare my family and I blast my brain with the Soviet Army Choir rendition of “It’s a long, long way to Tipperary”. And I live it. I march in place (to activate my muscle memory), breathe heavily (forced oxygenation of the brain – heightens your ability to think and makes you a little tipsy), and daydream about guts, glory and personal loss (getting at those emotions) until the tears make splatter marks on the floor.
That either wrings me out entirely, letting me rest up and then start fresh, or it fills me with such an emotional overload that I have to write or else wring my own neck like Frankenstein’s chicken. Either way the block’s gone.
And that’s the crazy writer’s top three tools for crappy writing.
Good luck, you keyboard cowboys. Now go write!
(Like I totally didn’t steal that last line.)