Words on a Page Writings about writing

Getting the bad writing out of your system

A photo of an old manual typewriter

Every would-be writer has a million words of s**t clogging up his system, so it behooves him to get it out as soon as possible. To get to the good stuff.

Mike Baron

I’m going back to that quote again. Why? I think there’s a valuable and powerful lesson in there for new and aspiring writers. It’s a lesson that I suspect more than a few of them overlook.

That lesson? Except in rare instances, you’re not going to be a great (or even good) writer out of the box. You might not suck, but you’ll definitely be rough around the edges. Often more than just around the edges.

You might have tools and knowledge, but you don’t know how to apply them or to build on them. You still have a lot of bad writing in you. And, has Mike Baron wrote, it behooves you to get it out of you as soon as possible.

Here’s some advice that can help you do that.

Write

And do it every day. Sit yourself in front of a keyboard and a screen. Grab pen and paper. Whatever it takes.

Before you can improve as a writer, you need to learn the disciple of writing. To do that, set aside at least 30 minutes a day to write. Those 30 minutes should be dedicated to writing and nothing else. No social media, no checking Wikipedia, no reading and responding to emails. Just writing.

Set aside time to edit and rewrite

As I keep saying, the secret to good writing is editing and rewriting. Little, if anything, you write comes out the way you want it on the first pass.

That’s where editing and rewriting come in. They help you hone and refine what you’ve written — everything from your choice of words to your structure. The changes you make to your writing could be small. Or you might do a complete rewrite.

Edit and rewrite with a critical eye. If you have to, kill your darlings (as the old saying goes. Just don’t spend an inordinate amount of time editing and rewriting. If you do that, there’s a chance you’ll wind up with something that doesn’t look like your original conception. Your writing will be broken and blunted, lacking the power and personality you intended.

Forget perfection

You have to beat back that demon. Why? While perfection is a laudable goal, if you’re starting out you’re about as far away from perfection as I am from the city of my birth.

Getting into a perfectionist mindset won’t drive you forward. It won’t help you improve. It will, however, knock you back and make you second guess your writing. Perfectionism will blunt your abilities, it will hinder your growth.

Share your work

There are two ways you can do that: you can press the Publish button or put your writing in front of other eyes (say, a friend or colleague or teacher).

While you may get some harsh criticism, some of it might even be mean. Ignore the haters and naysayer. Focus on the criticism that will help you improve. Act on that criticism. Don’t be defensive. Instead be humble.

Then do it all again

Over and over and over.

Getting all that bad writing out of your system won’t happen overnight. It won’t take a few weeks. It’ll take months and years. Months and years of hard, often frustrating work.

As the bad writing leaves your system, you’ll see improvement. You’ll develop a distinct voice. You’ll be able to see your progress. You will, as Mike Baron wrote, finally get to the good stuff.

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