Why I gave myself ‘permission to be crap’

 

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Image: Pixabay

 

When is a novel like an old jumper?  

Well, let’s start off by getting this straight – I’m a rubbish knitter. I know the theory of combining lengths of wool, needles and fingers, but have got no further than small strips of uneven textile, with even my best examples resembling something a box of frenzied kittens have been let loose on.

Anyway, in my experience, a novel resembles my attempts at knitting a jumper.

Both can be big, baggy – out of shape and slightly out of control. And full of holes. Where I want my text to be neat and controlled, where I want to create fantastic patterns and spin wonderful colours, there is instead a saggy, loose ‘something’ that resembles a novel as closely as a jumper does.

Well, alright, novels are not made from wool. They have chapters instead of rows and words instead of stitches … In fact, let’s drop the jumper simile now as I’m actually starting to feel like one of those aforementioned kittens – all tangled up and irritated enough to eat a nest full of sparrow chicks.

You get my point, I hope.

Writing a novel of 80,000 words or so is tough. Not only do you have to have an idea that will sustain you through what could be a year – several years? – of writing, you have to ‘juggle’ so many things.

There’s a ‘ball’ for character, one for plot, setting, sub-plot, theme, pace That’s six ‘balls’ on top of juggling the skills a writer hopefuly already possesses- the ability to write clear, interesting, cliche free prose. Surely, too many ‘balls’ and not enough hands.

You can see how easy it would be to find yourself empty-handed, surrounded by balls.

Now, I’ve written three of these unwieldy creations, all unpublished, of course and varying greatly in quality. At least two are unpublishable at the moment. The most ‘finished’ one is the YA fantasy novel. I’ve spent so long with this book, these characters – writing and re-writing – that I’ve written nothing else ‘big’ in the past two or three years.

But now I’m at the stage where I want professionals to consider the book, it’s time to crack on with the sequel, right? I have a reasonably coherent plot . I’ve given my characters plenty of opportunities to do some interesting, upsetting, dangerous, thrilling things. No one’s gonna come out of this one unscathed and in fiction, that’s a good thing. So far so great.

Thing is, the more I developed the plot, the more confident I felt in which direction my beloved Edie and her pals would go – the more unable I felt to write.

You see, the first book just spilled out. I plunged into the story like  a poodle BASE jumping off Niagara Falls – unaware I was doing anything wrong. I did it without a thought and with enough enthusiasm to power a rocket. And that helped me to just write.

Eight years after I started the first book, I’ve learned a lot – I’m better at this writing lark than I was back then. Problem is, I now know how hard it is to get it right.

The weight of this knowledge has been paralysing. I’ve stared at the screen, genuinely wondering how on earth I’d written a book before. I couldn’t imagine how any of my characters think or speak, what they would do in any given circumstance. I read and reread the opening chapters of the first book, trying to absorb the tone, the voice. I even started writing a few, faltering paragraphs. But still – I didn’t feel right.

And then I did something idiotic. I renamed the file I was working on. It’s now called

PERMISSION TO BE CRAP.

And the first line? The line that greets me everytime I open that file?

PERMISSION TO BE CRAP, SUH? PERMISSION GRANTED.

It’s worked. Instead of being hung up on creating something wonderful from the start, I’ve allowed myself to just write. I’m officially allowed to be rubbish.

Not everything I’ve written is good. The opening chapter at least will be deleted. But there’s a section or two where my characters have emerged, recognisable, with the same voices and speech patterns, the same attitudes.

So, next time you stare at a laptop screen, and the pressure is too much – give yourself permission to write execrable nonsense.

It might just help.

 

 

 

35 thoughts on “Why I gave myself ‘permission to be crap’

  1. I think this is very good advice. I didn’t write much of anything for about ten years because I couldn’t give myself permission to be the writer I was. I have completed the draft of a novel, my first, and it is a stunning success simply because it is completed. I didn’t walk away. And I’ve learned so much I would never have learned without going through the process, and doing so without any expectations as to outcome, quality, critical acclaim, etc. So I think this is very good advice, probably no matter how accomplished one becomes…

    Peace
    Michael

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Firstly, well done for completing your novel. You’ve come so much further than 90% of people who say they want to write – you should be very pleased with yourself.
      And you’re right, you just have to sit down and write. As I said in my post, much of what I’ve written will be deleted (maybe all) but I’ve started and it’s getting easier all the time.
      All the best with your writing and thanks very much for dropping by 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good post, Lynn. I am a knitter, and the thing about knitting is that you can’t go back later – every mistake has to be undone there and then. So in my mind I’ve always thought that writing was more like patchwork – you can keep adding and changing pieces, and you end up with something more beautiful and the frayed and faded material you started out with…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A much better analogy, Cymbeline! Or maybe even crochet would work, because you can crochet in squares and sew each section together only when it’s as you want it. Anyway, knitting’s tough. Let’s hope I’m better at writing than I am at knitting 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Back in the the days when I still had a desktop computer, the sides of my monitor were littered with sticky notes. The one that had pride of place and never changed said: “official permission to write crap granted”. I don’t think I would have written anything without it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And I think it might have been John Irving who said he’s a terrible writer, but a good editor. For what it’s worth, I’ve been thinking about a blogging vs. writing chat you and I had a while back Walt, and think I’ve come around to your corner: blogging isn’t the same as writing because writing it seems is so much blinking harder.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree, blogging is its own thing. It’s a different sort of craft. I’ve been thinking about this too, and I’ve decided I am not, and never was, a blogger. Neither are you, I think. Now our host, here, the lovely Ms Lynn, is both!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, I take that as a grand compliment. I think I know what you mean – yours and Bill’s work is not ‘typical’, throw away blog fare. Your writing styles are quality, slow-burn that happen to be viewed online.
        I love blogging, but if I had to choose – I’d write novels.

        Like

      3. Slow burn, I like that. I’m not quite sure I know what it means, but I like it!

        I feel the same about blogging v. novel writing. My bloggy thingy will likely be changing/mutating for that very reason.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ooh, sounds intriguing, Walt. I’ll look forward to watching developments. I do love the blogging, but I started it to ‘build an audience’ – the fact it now takes up so much of my time is a bit of a surprise. Must write more, must write more 🙂

        Like

      5. I like both, though – writing long form is fantastic, amazing, but I find structure tough, so it is hard work. Blogging is a short, sharp burst and instant return.
        So blogging is eating a pound of chocolate and feeling the sugar rush, where a novel is a jacket potato – a long, slow release of satisfaction. Maybe.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I guess I knew it to be true all along, but there was something about the act of retitling the file that made it official. I don’t have to take anything I write there seriously – I can see it as writing practice or the start of a new novel … Depending on how good I think it is 🙂

      Like

  4. Lynn,
    Whether you create a novel or are published for your work, I think you have a magical way with words and you do not use slang or “bad words”- so I say you are a successful writer. Who says one needs to be published to be a writer ? These are just narrow walls created by society to gauge people.
    Susie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Susie, it’s a very interesting point and one that is debated a lot. Can you call yourself a writer because you write every day, when you earn your first paycheck, or when it’s your main source of income? Opinions vary.
      If I call myself anything, I say ‘aspiring writer’ – sounds nicer than ‘wannabe’.
      And I don’t like to use bad language on the blog as I like it to be as accessible as possible. Thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Whatever works, it’s a fickle, funny thing the mind, the ego, the muse, the process, the desire, the fears and all that you’ve written about late last year. I’m getting up early and sitting in the dark with a candle and my coffee, and doing a kind of meditation thing before I start and oddly, that’s working: has for about seven days in a row now, here in Stratford — and it’s like (this will sound Shirley Maclaine) I’m “receiving” pieces of character and dialogue that I can write out by hand, then take a walk to distill it further in mind, come back, write more, and read it at day’s end, then repeat the next day. I did that 50,000 word exercise without an outline last year and this time, I’m trying to work it all out in my mind first, do all the notes and outline by hand, and not start the typing on the computer until I feel I have the structure of it in place. So, that’s my plan for what it’s worth…I think I’d chant and dance and paint my face with chicken blood too if it worked, serious.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. In the words of a Stephen King character in rural Vermont, ‘ayup.’ Thanks for the ‘couragement mister, means a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Love the idea of the chicken blood dancing – not good for the chicken, though, obviously.
      There’s something to be said about the early morning ramble – not something I’ve been able to try as my lot are very light sleepers and I get complaints if I set my alarm too early. And my other half has been trying meditation for a while and swears by it for relaxation, so it must be great for freeing the mind. Never tried the long hand approach.I make lots of notes long hand – character, plot, ideas – but basically type everything. As you say, whatever works.
      Can I try a vegetarian version of the chicken idea – perhaps a beetroot jus?

      Like

      1. Beetroot is a bitch to get out, like turmeric. I’m a fan of long hand, forces you to slow down (me at least) and I think little sparks fire in my little brain more so when I write by hand like that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, beetroot is a bugger. Cherries, weirdly, are awful too. We have a cherry tree in the back garden and usually pick several pounds in the summer – stoning them leaves my hands looking as though I’ve dipped them in brown ink.
        I do like the long hand for notes – I’ve worked out whole plots in my notebooks. I know some people like to write everything long hand then type up after. But I love writing straight into the laptop – it just feels right.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Good points, Lynn! Giving yourself permission to occasionally write stuff below your expected standard means you can get on with writing and not be that rabbit caught in the headlights of your internal critic. Redrafting and restructuring can always take place after that of course!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you’re right. I think it was the internal critic that was trying to scupper me. I’ve become reasonably happy with the first book, so expect to be able to write something just as good. Though why I expect to be able to create something decent in a first draft, I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This whole principal is basically why my writing is as good as it is now. I gave myself permissions to write crap and at the end of my second novel I looked back to my first and discovered the most amazing thing. Just by letting myself relax and write crap my writing has gotten tons better.
    Of course the first sucked but now I’m editing my third one and it is actually really fun to see how far I’ve come in the past two years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a great approach, Ennette and seems to work for many writers. Weirdly, it was only after I renamed the file that my mind could let go. I’m not in full flow with the writing yet, but getting there.
      Sounds as if you’ve had a really productive couple of years. Well done. I wish you every success.

      Liked by 1 person

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