Be Brave Enough to Write Badly

You might think that the greats – whose books are on bestseller lists, or at the top of book prize lists—just sit down and write perfect or even acceptable manuscripts.


Like the rest of us, they write crummy first, and often second, third, and fourth drafts. Many admit that each time they start on something new, it’s as if they’ve never written anything before, never sold a book, never won a prize. They feel like they have to learn everything all over again.

Edward P. Jones, whose novel The Known World, received enormous critical acclaim and won the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award, said in an interview, “ . . . [Y]ou take a week and you write a good story perhaps. And then you get up the next Monday, and all the effort and knowledge that went into writing that first story – you can’t transfer it over to the second story. You are always starting at the bottom again.”

By the way, The Known World – which was Jones’s first novel – won a Pulitzer Prize!

It took Thoreau about nine (that’s right—9) years to write his book about his sojourn at Walden Pond.

Arthur Golden’s novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, took 15 years to write.

I tell my writing students that it takes persistence, not just skill, to write a good book. And it starts with writing a lousy first draft.

Being critical of your work too early in the process of writing suppresses your creativity. Be creative first. Then during editing and revising, be critical.

How crappy are your first drafts?

Recommended Resource

“Shitty First Drafts”

6 thoughts on “Be Brave Enough to Write Badly

  1. Hi Lynette,

    I often refer to them as “shitty first drafts” second, third, etc. There are two “me’s” the 4th grader who is critiquing all the grammer, hence letting go of spark and creativity, and then the adult me, who goes with the inspired flow of words. When I can do the latter, and then bring out the 4th grader, that seems to work well 🙂

  2. “Many admit that each time they start on something new, it’s as if they’ve never written anything before..” I am in love with this post. Thanks, Lynette!

  3. I can completely relate to this. And it makes me feel a little better about having been working on the same MS for 2 yrs – hopefully, in the long run, that extra time spent on it will make it that much better. I just need to work on not being so critical during the 1st draft and just letting myself be creative.
    Thnx! great post.

  4. You’re welcome—and you’re not alone. I just completed a manuscript I’d been working on for 3 years (along with another one that’s almost done). So, I’d say it’s just just the shitty first drafts, but the need for persistence we have to accept!

    Thanks for your comment.

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