Allowing Oneself to Write Badly

American poet, novelist and short story writer, Charles Bukowski (and Elvis Presley of American wild masculine, nakedly gritty, down-and-out, beer-drunk and still shining with true heart literature), dedicated his final completed work, Pulp, to bad writing.

Inspired by this, I wrote, Dedicated to Bad Writing . . . For Bad People on the outside of one of my old journal shelves.  It seemed like wild permission to write, come what may.  Wild permission to write, regardless of the outcome, regardless even of the quality of the work.  I cared about the quality of the work, of course.  But if I cared to the point of paralysis, I would never get any writing done at all.

It seems like this speaks to the two poles of the creative life.  There is the pole of wild play, flow and experimentation.  And there is the pole of deep, crypto-religious devotion, discipline, and the willingness to bleed, sweat and cry, over and over and over again, in order to take one’s craft to the next level of sophistication.  Think: write from the wild, superabundant oceans of inspiration and free association.  And then edit with the sickle of Lady Death.  The two poles at play.

If we are missing the first pole, we can become totally stuck.  A lot of times it’s a harsh superego (Did you know that harsh superegos are linked to depression?), a masochistic personality structure, self-loathing, or over-investment in the results-driven, manufacturing mentality of the culture.  We become all about product and we lose the joy, magic, mystery and presence of process.

No matter where you are in your development as a writer, artist, or creative of any kind, you are likely going to spend some time not being quite as good as you’d like to be.  Sometimes you have to be willing to be bad at something for a while until you get good at it.  On the other hand, you may be a rather sophisticated creator, and you still have off days.  In that case, if you’re not willing to have off days, at a certain point, you’re not willing to show up.  You will have off days.  And the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of an off day are time-bound and myopically limited constructs of the mind.  “Bad” days loosen you.  They make you less afraid.  In order to be an artist, you have to be unafraid to look like a total ass.  Or you have to at least find ways to chum it up with the fear of looking like a total ass.  The relationship with fear must be reworked.

The creator of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad, describes what he calls the creative gap as a period of devotion to a singular creative task, project or career, during which you are wading through it and very probably working your ass off (but it doesn’t feel like work to you, does it? *winks*), but you have not received any accolades, or any kind of positive response to the work or reception of the work at all.

In short, no one gets it.  But YOU get it!  You know your taste is killer, and you know you’re onto something, so you keep going.  You may catch glimmers of your more fully developed creative self and style during this phase, and you may also do what you would consider to be a lot of “bad writing,” “bad art,” or “bad whatever,” during this phase.  But if it hadn’t been for all that “bad whatever,” you would not get to the next phase of your actualization as a creative person, or the next phase of your career.  You would not have taken full responsibility for your talents and gifts in this rare and precious life.  And sometimes this takes a while.  For Jad, it took ten years.  Ten years of trudging through the no man’s land (or no woman’s land) of dim, slushy, crumby, scary creative gap.  But your best work will stand on all the foundational stones of crappy writing, creative gap-y writing.  And if you had not been willing to write badly, paint badly, play badly or sing badly for much of your gap phase, you may never actualize what you are here to actualize.

And if that doesn’t push your buttons enough, or push you over the cliff into your own creative life, maybe this will:

“The most regretful people on earth,” the poet Mary Oliver wrote in contemplating the artist’s task and the central commitment of the creative life, “are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

 

Click here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation call if this resonates, or if you’re battling it through some gap phase of the creatrix life 😉

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