I want to become more comfortable with publishing bad writing.
What is bad writing? I’m not just talking about writing that falls short of the most stringent perfectionist standards. I’ve already been publishing pieces on this blog that fall way short of that. By “bad writing” I really mean writing that’s bad. Writing with typos, sloppy word choice, meandering tangents, weak concluding sentences. The kind of writing that, upon re-reading it a month later, you cringe a little (or a lot) on the inside. I want to become more comfortable with publishing that kind of writing, especially on my Substack.
Why do I write? I write to be useful to others. Over the past year and a half I’ve swung between several different “purposes” for my writing (e.g. “build an audience”, “become better at writing”, “share about my life to connect with others”, “find new friends”, and so on) but I really like this newfound purpose of being useful. This doesn’t have to mean writing all the time about productivity hacks (though I will occasionally do that); “useful writing” can also include writing for emotional catharsis or entertainment.
So I write because I want to be useful, but I don’t like it when I write poorly. I actually hate when I write poorly. So I hesitate to publish, and I hesitate even more with my Substack. Because with Substack, you’re not just putting something on the web for any curious wanderers to peruse, you’re literally plopping your writing directly into someone’s inbox. That’s a lot of pressure—doubly so when you’ve proactively reached out to old friends and coworkers and people you respect asking them all to subscribe (you can bet I won’t be doing that again anytime soon!).
Although I don’t think of myself as a stellar writer (yet), I do have a rough sense of what it takes to make a piece really good. Basically: effort. You have to be willing to write and re-write, to put together a scaffold of all your thoughts and then discard that scaffold and start all over and do that again three or four times. And also, you need feedback, lots and lots of feedback at multiple stages of the process. On top of that, it can’t hurt to read more about writing, and read more generally, and attend workshops and other random things that people are selling on the internet that teach you how to get better. You should do all of those things to write a really good piece, but unfortunately at this point in my life I have time for none of them. I have many other things to do in addition to writing, like working a full-time job, cooking food for myself, exercising, doing social things, sleeping, reading, and cleaning my room, among others.
But I still want to be useful to people. And something I’ve grown to believe over the past while is that good ideas and good writing are separate things. I can share good ideas and be useful to readers even if my writing is mediocre.
So for the time being, I’m going to write about the things I find most interesting (or helpful or insightful), and I’m going to write about them poorly. Of course, I’ll always accept feedback and try get better over time, and maybe I’ll even scaffold and proofread now and then. But the first thing I need to do is get past the fear of writing poorly and having people know that I write poorly. To develop have the audacity to say: even though this piece is poorly written, I still think the content within it has a shot at being worth your time, so I’m going to hit publish and stop giving a shit. Until the day that I have the time to write better—assuming that day ever arrives—I’m going to write poorly.