I could go into a lot of detail about the reasons your writing will never be perfect, the pros and cons of striving for that perfection. There’s a whole post or series of articles I could dedicate to that topic. But I’m going to put that to one side for now and say what I’m thinking.
I want you to write a bad story, I don’t want you to write a perfect story.
Note that I haven’t said you shouldn’t try to write the perfect novel, story, poem or blog post. I’m talking about what I want. It’s entirely selfish on my part and I’m not ashamed to admit it. You’re thinking “What the hell? You never seemed like a sociopath before!”
Here’s the thing. We like to imagine our work is unique. We’re aware that there are snippets and influences borrowed from elsewhere, but the world or characters we created are our own.
That’s not how writing works. You can’t think about any piece of writing as being a thing on its own. Each book, poem, story or article is part of a literary tradition stretching back to the birth of humanity.
It begins with storytelling.
Imagine the grey-haired sage sitting at the campfire with the young hunters of his tribe. He tells them a story, a tale of a fierce lion that was killed by a noble warrior. It’s the timeless epic of good against evil, but his story isn’t very good. He’s forgotten parts of it and he mumbles through the descriptive elements. The young bucks wonder “Where did this happen?” “Was there sunshine or snow?”
By the time their own hair turns grey the story has become something entirely different, other than the central theme of good vs evil.
Where does your story come in?
You’re the next link in the chain. Throughout your life your mind has absorbed the grey-haired sage’s story and every variation to it since. Now you’re adding your own creativity to it, changing it just enough that it isn’t immediately recognisable. That’s what authors, journalists, poets and bloggers are. They’re people who try to add a new spin, a new flavour to old campfire tales.
Think about a shockingly bad writer, the sort you find festering in the darker depths of the internet (I’m tempted to mention fanfiction forums, but I’m well aware there are hidden gems in even obscure places). What was so off-putting about reading that writer’s work? Let’s move away from fiction to get a better perspective.
The most repulsive news articles are those that trot out 1900s political theories (hardline Marxism and fascism), superimposing them on present-day events. That’s bad storytelling, writing the same story again with the names changed. If I wrote Harry Potter over, replacing his name with my own, I’d have the angry village mob at my door, pitchforks and all.
So, why do I want you to write a bad story?
I’m being selfish because I don’t want you to be selfish. You could keep your story on the back shelf for decades. You might write, tweak, re-write and edit until we’re all on our deathbeds. Maybe you’ll have missed an opportunity to see your work published, but we’re not talking about you right now. Think about all the people who’ll have missed the opportunity to read it!
That sounds foolish. Like I’m assuming we’ve all already got an army of potential readers lining up for the next release. Well, just remember that we’re not talking about your work as an individual book, poem, etc. That piece you allowed to ferment to perfection represents a blank space, a hole in the accumulated stories of good vs evil.
Throw your story onto the pile as soon as it’s presentable. You can always start another and hope that one’s perfect. But each story out there gets us closer to something that really is perfect. I think 50 Shades is appallingly written and more, worse things besides. What made it so incredibly popular? I don’t know exactly, but something that’s been missing from the grey-haired sage’s story until now.
It brought us a bit closer to finishing his tale of the lion and the warrior. If the author had waited, learnt how to write well before sharing 50 Shades, we’d still be that much further from wherever it is we’re going.
So go ahead, write your imperfect story. Don’t keep us waiting too long!
Let me know in the comments if any of this was useful. Do you have any writing tips to share?
- Tip #1: The Prologue
- Tip #2: The Process
- Tip #3: Writing Faux Pas – Debunked
- Tip #4: A Useful App For Writers
- Tip #5: Writing The Main Plot