NBI: Write Your Worst Article

Bloggers, I want you to write an article that’s not your best. Then I want you to publish it.

As writers (and really, any creative person) we live in a culture where we’re always encouraged to put forth only our best, to show the world only our best faces ….and that’s usually accompanied by encouragement to hide our worst. I want to encourage you not to hide your worst writing. If writing is about communication, then you don’t have to be perfect any given day that you pen an article. Being self-aware is a key part of improving who you are, but we’re usually too careful to mask the creative process for fear of criticism; careful to try only to show the good and bury the bad. But this can lead to symbolic writing, to keep up appearances or maintain our image. It’s hard to be criticized. It’s hard to lay your self bare before an often unforgiving audience. But we must in the pursuit of better writing.

I accept that my best and worst articles come from the same person and I should never be ashamed of them or the things they create.  It’s taken years to get to this point, though and it hasn’t been without its scary moments. Just click on any article on this blog from 2009 or 2010 or, hell 2013 and hopefully you’ll see a collection of my worst and bests. More importantly though, I hope you can see my growth, my changing of ideas and a portrait of who I am as a person.

We should all strive to share our best, but we should also humbly share when we’re at our worst and not be afraid to put it to the rest of the world. It helps others to see your imperfections and shortcomings. It humanizes you like nothing else. It balances reader expectations and allows them to relate to you in ways perfect writing never can. It improves your writing through experience.

What I’m not saying here is to deliberately fail (by your own standards) or to go out with the intent to do your worst. I’m not saying do Kanye West (though he is perhaps something to aspire to when it comes to breathless 25 minute streams of consciousness mixed with bests and worsts).

What I am saying is that you’re not perfect. Neither are your readers. Neither are your articles. The availability our “best” shifts daily. On some days our best is full of inspiration and written with strong clarity and purpose. On others our best is barely coherent, uninspired, and a heap of tangled thoughts.

Writer’s block exists. You will have it. There will be dry spells of inspiration and motivation. There’ll be highly inspired ideas followed by completely incoherent babbling on the keyboard when you try to get them out. I try not to sit on those thoughts for too long, but they’ve been known to rest in the Drafts box for months. Long ago I decided that nothing which I had poured my best into should sit in the drafts for over a month (fact checking and long research notwithstanding). If you’ve ever seen incomplete thoughts, overly complex ideas, and/or difficult to follow articles on Red Skies (and I assure you, you probably have) these were the best I could do with my thoughts at that time and I surrendered them to the judgement of my audience. Sometimes just putting it out there is more liberating than struggling for ever more perfect words to publish the most perfect article. Often times putting it out there allows you to get the clarity from commenters and cross-bloggers that you couldn’t achieve on your own. Writing is as much a collaborative process as a personal one.

I’ve resigned myself to being myself. I’ve embraced the fact that my best is different depending on the weather and that I shouldn’t feel ashamed of my worst days. They say as much about me as my best days and are capable of speaking more honestly of me than perfect articles.

Don’t Fight It, Just Write It

Writer’s block isn’t pleasant so I do take measures to prevent it and to mitigate it’s effects while I’m having it. I use any and every tool I can, and I try to keep a few within arms reach throughout the day. Smartphones have drastically improved my ability to deal with writer’s block.

  • Keep a pen and pad handy: Inspirations ALWAYS hits me when I’m in the worst position to actually write something. These days my pen and pad is my smartphone. I can voice activate the voice recorder and start talking! I’m more capable of keeping all those wonderful ideas, complete with full descriptions of the precise flash of thought than I’ve ever been able to do. However, everyone doesn’t have such (expensive) tools. Keep a little notebook with you. There’s lots of small pads these days available at even dollar stores to help you keep those great ideas in a flash.
  • Seek feedback: If you’re struggling with some ideas, share them with someone you love and/or respect. That’s often the kind of conversation which can help you really explore the merits of ideas and even completely unblock your thoughts. Outsiders (people outside of your mind) can be the key to unlocking your own thoughts.
  • Read articles that have inspired you in the past: Sometimes I just go back to the writing of others which has been an important source of inspiration for my own. It’s kind of like being reminded of why you even write in the first place and re-grounding yourself in it. It can help to give you the clarity of mind to go forth with your new ideas.
  • Create an outline: I actually do this for almost every long article I ever write. I’ll jot down the essential points I want to make and fill in the details as I go. It helps organize thoughts and improve the flow of the article for readers. It doesn’t have to be really elaborate, but just enough to help you get your ideas in order.
  • Salvage: Sometimes I get to the keyboard with a Brilliant Idea and after I type it out I can’t figure out what I thought was so good about it. Salvage what you can while editing and move on. Don’t spend too much energy trying to perfect an imperfect idea, but rather pull from it what you believe to be essential and just move on.
  • Write. WRITE: This is the single best thing you can do to overcome writer’s block. Seeing what you’re thinking and being able to come back to those thoughts by just staring at them can help you gain an objective view of what’s missing. It’s sort of like being in the middle of the forest with all the trees — then leaving that forest on an airplane and seeing how it all comes together. Write. And then re-write later. You’re totally allowed to change your mind and your views.

So write to your hearts content! Continue to strive for more perfect articles! And don’t be afraid to do your worst while trying to do your best. It’s part of the process of becoming comfortable with your own voice and developing the kind of readership which is personally touched (and in-touch) by your words.

5 thoughts on “NBI: Write Your Worst Article

  1. Stubborn

    I love this post and the message that comes with it. I certainly have looked back and stuff and thought – man, that stunk, but I’m still glad I wrote it, but there are plenty of people out there who don’t experience as much truly BAD writing as I see on a daily basis (as a college developmental English professor), and seeing that low level of rhetorical skill certainly makes everything else seem that much better.

    The good news is I don’t need to do this. I do this weekly. I have a few really good ideas that I’m excited to write about, but at least once a week I struggle a bit with what to write and come up with something and put it out there.

    So I wholeheartedly agree with this advice. Great post!

  2. seth

    This is really good to read, and it’s an attitude I’ve tried to have writing short stories, too. Sometimes I get bogged down trying to perfect one longer story, so I’ll fire and submit a few shorter ones just to build momentum. It helps a lot sometimes to feel like you’ve just *finished* something.

    1. Doone Woodtac

      When I first learned this advice, I began to see just how relieved I was to just “finish”. That certainly helped me to just publish those imperfect thoughts and stop worrying it’s not perfect enough.

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