On writing badly

man walking beside grafitti wall with word 'courage'
Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

I’m trying to summon the courage to write badly enough to start my first book.
I’m in fear of the first draft. I know it will be bad, bad, bad.  
First drafts are always bad. They’ve got too much here and not enough there; the writing is lumpy and the conclusions are hasty.

Editing is where the magic happens and as I lean more towards editor than writer, I usually do that on the go.
But I can’t edit as I go with a book – I’d never get past the first chapter.

I have to let go of fear and let the writing be bad.
It’s going to take courage and stamina. I need to maintain my focus on the book’s potential and its rough first version (Ann Handley calls it the Ugly First Draft – spot on). 
Choosing courage

You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both. Brené Brown.
It takes courage to take on projects beyond our comfort zone. When I first committed to publishing consistently, I struggled with having to write an ugly first draft every week.

But I get to the stage where I accepted that most of my writing looks ugly to me at the start.

Now I just write it and fix it.

I’m feeling pretty comfortable so I know it’s time to stretch out.
To write a book, I need to develop my stamina.

As young children learn to write, good teachers focus on more than just skills development: they help them to build writing stamina.

And what they have their students do is what successful writers recommend:

  • Write every day
  • Use a timer and work for a set period
  • Write without judgement
  • At this stage, celebrate the quantity not the quality.

Stamina gives writers the strength to push through when writing is hard work – and it is always hard work. 
Driven by vision

Courage can get us moving, stamina can keep us going but only the vision of a better future can truly make it worth doing the hard work of writing.
The vision of the finished work can make it easier to ignore that ugly first draft and keep going. The vision of what our work might mean to others, what difference it could make, is reason enough to try.

As Michelle Obama said, History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.
Damn the fear and bring on courage. 


  1. I love this article. My perfectionism stops me from starting my writing. When I take the pressure off getting it right, I can enjoy the process. I was listening to something today which said creativity requires risk and failure. Not letting fear stop you allows you to grow and learn.

    • Hi Lisa, we are so on the same page with perfectionism being a barrier to even getting started! Does it make it easier to know we’re not the only ones struggling with this burden? I just read an article in the British Medical Journal about the debilitating effects of perfectionism in medicine, with a long-term study showing the pressure for perfect had increased over recent years. The good news is that if we can talk about it, we can call it out and move forward – whether we’re doctors or writers.

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