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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

I field a lot of questions about writing. When people read my blog, or see the other ways I write for audiences through my work, they are quick to explain why they can’t do it. In the same sentence they ask about my writing, they also explain “I am not a writer” or “I just don’t have the time” or “I don’t have the patience” or some similar justification for why writing is not for them. And OK, I get it, I have never thought writing for a public audience needs to be for everyone.

But if the conversation goes a little further, I share my number one piece of advice I give to those who write, give yourself permission to write badly.  I have always found the hardest part of writing is to just start.  It is easy to waste away time thinking up ideas.  When we have papers due, all of the sudden we prioritize rearranging the garage because we want to prepare to write well (and procrastinate), and not just start.

I have written previously about my doctoral dissertation.  I just started writing and my first draft of my first three chapters, all 80 pages, was not very good.  But writing badly gave me a starting point and allowed me to write better.  In that case, on the advice of my advisor, I actually started over.  But writing badly, later allowed me to write well.

With my blog, I have hundreds of posts in draft.  I come back to some from time to time, and some will be published at some point.  Having something written down, gives me something to work with.  And even those that make it to publish are often still a work in progress.  This is the beauty of the digital age is that we can go back and still improve already published work.  I have taken a number of these posts and re-purposed them for traditional media – often the AASA School Administrator Magazine.  My version for the magazine is always better than what I publish here.

On a similar vain, I was so interested in Paul Simon’s 2018 album In the Blue Light where he took many of his previously songs and reimagined them.  At the time, I shared more details in My Paul Simon Post, but this is a similar notion that the creative process whether it is written or musical does not need to have a strict end point (though it is hard to argue Bridge Over Troubled Water was not brilliant in its original version).  

I was thinking of this advice on writing badly recently in reading an opinion piece from David Brooks from the New York Times on the Greatest Life Hacks in the World (for now) which included, “When you’re beginning a writing project, give yourself permission to write badly. You can’t fix it until it’s down on paper.”  All of a sudden I feel like I am in really good company!  There are many things from David’s list that I would like to adopt – “If you’re giving a speech, be vulnerable. Fall on the audience and let them catch you. They will.”  Or what was probably my favourite, “If you meet a jerk once a month, you’ve met a jerk. If you meet jerks every day, you’re a jerk.”

So for everyone thinking they can’t start writing because they don’t have the ability to write well, go ahead and write badly and then make it better.  This really works.

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