To Get Good You Have to Write Dirty

Have you ever taken some time off writing? Maybe it was six months or maybe it was…six years? I’ve gone through unhappy periods in my life when I wasn’t writing at all, and every time I tried to start again it seemed impossible. Even if I only wrote two sentences they were the worst two sentences I had ever seen. And what if you’ve never even really started writing?

How do you begin?

It’s helpful to think about the beginning of any writing practice like you would think about turning the water on after the pipes have been shut down. At first the water will spurt out, then stop, then spurt again. The pipes groan with awful noises. The water has a weird color and flecks of rust in it, or dirt. It might even smell funny.

It’s definitely not something you should drink.

Too many writers see these first spurts of rusty water coming out them and give up right then and there. Part of this comes from the fact that since we’re writers, we read a lot. So even if our writing skill isn’t at a certain level yet, we still have the discerning eye that can easily identify good writing from bad. That means we look at our own first efforts and immediately judge it as bad. And then approximately two seconds later we fall into the intense drama pit of despair that only the highly creative can fall into with such tortured grace.

Wait—back up. Get out of the pit! All is not lost.

If you haven’t written in a long time, or ever, when you start writing it is going to suck at first. It just is. Your sentences will be clumsy, your adjectives will be overblown, and your story will be utterly confusing. When you read over your pages you will cringe. You might even consider taking a vow to put everything you write in a locked safety deposit box so that no one will ever see it.

The important thing is that you realize this phase is perfectly natural.

The essential thing is that you keep writing through it.

One of my favorite writers and idols, Brenda Ueland, wrote about how the creative muscle is like a fountain. If you’ve let it go dry for a while, the first gushes of water have to clear away all the debris that has collected at the mouth of the fountain before the stream can run clear again. Whether you choose to imagine your writing as a set of pipes or a fountain, it’s all the same thing.

Give yourself patience to write through the gunk because it’s the only way you’ll get to the good stuff.

And the only way to write through the gunk is to keep on writing as much as you can. The more regularly you write, the clearer and cleaner your stream will be.

If you liked this article you might be interested in:

Beginning Your Book

Writing Your First Novel? Watch What You Consume.

Want to Be a Better Writer? Watch More Movies.

How to (Finally) Finish Your Novel

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