Dare to be bad

Dare to be bad…

This was one of the most freeing pieces of writing advice I’d learned from my first professional writing mentor and it’s stuck with me over the years.  What it means, more clearly, is dare to write badly.

Not that it’s condoning poor work, not at all.   Here’s the premise.
Very often in the creative arts, you’ll find people who have worked on something for years and never completed it.  If they have, they might never have worked up the nerve to share it with anyone, much less someone who could pay them for their work.  This isn’t just about writers, it can apply to anyone who works in the creative arts.

Our biggest fear? Rejection.

I’m not talking about a rejection letter from an editor, though some fear those like death.  I’m talking about the fear of disapproval, that someone will state that they don’t love what you’ve created.  As though that opinion will utterly prove that you are worthless and should never have even tried to write that story, paint that picture, record that song you wrote and sang.

We often fear that we won’t be able to handle the embarrassment or pain of such a reaction from others that we get stuck on that first page (or first 100 pages) and think, “This stinks! I can’t write another word, it’s all garbage!”  Can I get a witness, anyone?  Say “Uh-huh!” if you can relate.  The rest of you, I recommend counseling for being honest with yourselves.

For the most part, we’re all our own worst critics.  And because that inner critic keeps assailing our work, we fear completing our work.  We fear putting in all that effort only to come up with something that’s not the next New York Times #1 Bestseller. 

But I’d like to propose that the worst enemy of the creative process is not rejection or failure.  It’s stagnation.  For this reason, a person will work on again, off again for 15 years on “the great American novel” he’s got within himself, but never complete.  It will never see the light of day until it’s “good enough.”

I respect putting one’s best foot forward, and in some cases I wish it would happen more often.  But at the same time.  I see people who will never improve themselves because they’re waiting to have the perfect story or novel before they take the next step of completing it and doing something with it (be it publishing, querying, or offering for feedback from a trusted and competent reader/writer.)


If you fear making a mistake, you’ll make the worst mistake of all.  Inaction.
I used to teach music performance, and the biggest enemy of all music students is fear.  Fear of missing a note, fear of making a scratch, fear, fear, fear.  Inevitably, the fear of such things acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It the fear of mistakes actually causes those very mistakes because of nervousness.

In writing, the fear of writing badly causes something far worse.  Not writing.
The best way to improve a blank page is to type and put words on it.

If you sit there staring at the screen because the perfect first sentence doesn’t leap out at you, you have something worse than a bad sentence.  You have nothing.  Nothing to work on, nothing to improve.  Oftentimes, if you just trust that you’ve learned enough about writing to start, that you’ve read enough to know what you enjoy, and just do it, you’ll find that what you write isn’t all that bad.  In fact, many of the things writers judge in their own work as terrible, are seen as brilliant by others. 

We are the worst judges of our own work.

So how can we trust ourselves when that inner critic tells us, don’t type yet!  Wait until you have that perfect opening sentence?  I’d like to suggests that this inner critic has only one goal:  To sabotage you and make you believe you’re not cut out to do this.

If this were an evil spirit, I’d say “Exorcize it!”  BEGONE, FOUL SPIRIT OF SELF-SABOTAGE!  Just start.  The beautiful thing about writing, compared to performing on stage, is that you can always fix the obvious mistakes.  But the same principles apply.  Don’t let fear hold you back.  Your best work will come when you are relaxed, enjoying the moment, and not letting imperfection stop you from taking that first step.  Or second. Or third.

I used to tell my nervous cello students, go ahead.  Play as badly as you possibly can.  Make a hundred mistakes, I dare you!  I bet you can’t!  Invariably, they would laugh (good start) and they would either make some mistakes on purpose so we could laugh about it, or they’d just relax and play (getting the point) and suddenly do a lot better.

Once you get in motion, you’ll learn how good a writer or musician or painter you actually are.  And you’ll have a much more accurate picture of what you need to do to improve.  But until then, you have no idea just how great you are, or can be!

Purchase Links: 
Joshua Graham is the the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author  of Beyond Justice, Terminus, and Darkroom, the winner of the International Book Award, Forward National Literature Award, USA Book News Best Books Award, and host of Thriller Radio. His award-winning novel DARKROOM hit 3 bestseller lists on Amazon the night of its release.

CBS NEWS described DARKROOM as a book with “action, political intrigue and well-rounded characters…a novel that thriller fans will devour.”

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY described BEYOND JUSTICE as: “A riveting legal thriller…breaking new ground with a vengeance…demonically entertaining and surprisingly inspiring.”

Suspense Magazine listed BEYOND JUSTICE in its BEST OF 2010, alongside titles by Scott Turrow, Ted Dekker, Steven James and Brad Thor.

Connect with Josh at the following:


  1. What a terrific article by your guest author today. Lots of sound advice here for all of us!


I love to hear from you. So feel free to comment, but keep in mind the basics of blog etiquette — no spam, no profanity, no slander, etc.

Thanks for being an active part of the Writers and Authors community.