“Give yourself permission to write a bad sentence”
I’ve been doing this thing lately where I start the day free-writing for an hour and a half or so -- sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, just whatever the day allows.
I have been surprised by this exercise in a number of ways, any number of them I could elaborate on. One thing that has surprised me is how easily things to write about have come to me. I worried -- and fully expected -- that all I’d be able to come up with would be stuff about the weather, or how I feel or what I’m doing in the moment. I feared this because all of that is incredibly boring; so boring I don’t even want to write it down much less come back around to re-read it...or know that someone else might.
During this time of free-writing I have mainly been processing through things I’m reading or listening to of late; things I’ve learned from books or in church or from friends or podcasts.
A couple of times, now, I’ve inadvertently assigned myself a prompt to write about. I generally try not to wander the internet during the time I’m supposed to be writing (I keep a timer for myself with this handy little guy) but if it’s going to be brief or fuel my writing in some way, I let it happen. Otherwise I just jot down ‘google Duffer brothers’ or ‘order that book for John’ as I go -- because I’ve learned that things invariably come up, and the best thing to do is to capture it in writing without following the thought immediately.
Today, I didn’t want to do my writing. It’s just been one of those mornings where I feel like the day is already over (a great feeling to find yourself in on a Monday at 7 a.m.) even though I woke up early and did some things that I needed to do. So I let myself procrastinate by reading my email a little sheepishly, and I stumbled upon this quote, from author Tananarive Due: “Give yourself permission to write a bad sentence”. Immediately, I felt the need to respond.
This is one thing I think I already feel a good deal of freedom toward; at least in this free-writing space. Because that’s exactly what it is for. But I wonder how it works to give permission to write bad sentences when they have a higher likelihood of being read. I tend to imagine that is what editors are for. And besides, there will be plenty of people in the world who would read all of my sentences as though they are bad, and I need to be okay with that. It’s like the phrase about the peach, but I think it works better with cake: you can be the most delicious chocolate cake in all the world and still there is someone who does not like, cannot, or will not eat chocolate cake. A profound mystery, but a truth nevertheless. (I cannot refuse chocolate cake, and to me it is hard to imagine how anyone else could. But I know these people. They are my friends, some of them.)
It’s impossible to write any good sentences without also writing bad ones. I write mostly bad ones now, and I know the ones I love are the ones I must kill -- those darlings, you know. Sentences are like days -- you have to take the good with the bad, the bad define the good. Different from life, though, sentences we have more control over. And as someone who would like to learn how to write mostly good sentences, I think in order to become that, I have to let all the bad ones out. I also think none of this can be done in confinement, which is why I’m sharing it here -- not because I expect anyone to read it, but because it’s possible that someone might.
I’m giving myself the permission, in the ways I know how.