writing inspiration

Permission to write “badly”

April 23, 2015

Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, shares her take on how to write. Does it make sense to you? I’ll post another perspective tomorrow…

Writing doesn’t alway have to know where it’s going. Yes, yes, in school we are taught to march our thoughts in nice orderly rows–as though that’s the way they occur to us. As if that’s the way we really think. The writing we learn in school–in most schools–is a stripped down, chromeless, noncustomized prose…

Writing like that–“good” writing–is like watching a movie we’ve seen before. We can admire the craft, but none of the outcome chills us to the marrow, moves us to tears, or causes us to gasp with recognition. Sometimes it takes “bad” writing to do that. Bad writing–when it’s good–is like New York street pizza. Sometimes it’s a little too crusty. Sometimes it’s a little soggy, but the tang is undeniable. It has flavor. Spice. Juice.

And so, in order to be a good writer, I have to be willing to be a bad writer. I have to be willing to let my thoughts and images be as contradictory as the evening firing its fireworks outside my window. In other words, let it all in–every little detail that catches your fancy. You can sort it out later–if it needs any sorting…

Prose can benefit from a little lurid frippery. The understated, carefully modified, exclamation-points-only-with-papal-permission prose that we learn in school that actually bores a lot of us out of writing. “If you can’t say anything nice–or nicely–don’t say anything at all,” we are taught, and we learn the lesson well. If only we could give ourselves permission to write “badly,” so many of us would write very well indeed.

–Julia Cameron, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life

photo courtesy of JuliaCameronLive.com
photo courtesy of JuliaCameronLive.com

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  1. I’m not sure students learn to write in an “orderly ” way any more. As long ago as when I was teaching composition at a UC (the late 1980’s) my students were dismayed that I wanted them to spell correctly –this was before PCs and spellcheck– and write complete, grammatically correct sentences. Their high school teachers had not required that. It may be that a lot of kids are never encountering the kind of teaching that Julia Cameron denigrates.
    The writing that can “chill us to the bone” can sometimes use a good editor–see Maxwell Perkins and his list of authors.

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