{by guest blogger:  Marcia Zina Mager, The Write Coach}

{Flickr photo by aptmetaphor}
{Flickr photo by aptmetaphor}

One of my all time favorite quotes about the writing process comes from one of the world’s greatest painters, Vincent Van Gogh.

“Mediocre I do not despise at all. And one does not rise above that mark by despising what is mediocre. In my opinion one must begin by at least having some respect for the mediocre and know that it already means something and that it is only reached through great difficulty.”

Whether you’ve written for decades or are just beginning, Van Gogh’s insightful wisdom can take you far in your writing life. To be able to write badly – to be able to give yourself the freedom, the authentic permission to spit out words, sentences, and ideas that fall short of your expectations is an ability that will ultimately nourish your creative spirit.

Over the many years that I’ve worked with writers, one of the most common myths they believe is this idea that “other writers” must write really great first drafts – these blessed “others” sit down and the words just flow – brilliant ideas tumble easily onto the page – everything somehow comes out ordered and whole.

Well, as we say in Brooklyn, that’s a whole lotta horse @&$!!!

The process of finding the perfect words, expressing that great idea, sculpting that magnificent paragraph is just that – a process. The bottom line is that we must be willing to initially (and maybe for a while!) write badly. We must be willing to put down on paper the mediocre stuff.  But even more importantly, as Van Gogh urges, we must be willing to honor our own tender, imperfect efforts. If we don’t, we will ultimately undermine the entire discovery process. Writing a first draft is never about being an editor; it’s never about what your audience thinks or what your mother thinks or what the publisher thinks. Writing a first draft takes enormous courage because it is about leaping in, picking up the paints, and tossing them wildly on the canvas to see what colors stick. Writing the first draft is about listening to that nagging impulse, that gut feeling. It’s about breaking rules, not following them.

Did Michelangelo start chiseling away at the marble in search of David, only to throw his hands up after a few sweaty hours to lament, “This crappy lump doesn’t look anything at all like a man’s hand! I suck as a sculptor!”  No, he worked tirelessly, draft after draft, willing to form “bad” lumps and bumps in that impossible stone, until one day something glorious emerged.

So it is with all creative processes. We must be willing to trudge through the slush of our terrible ideas, our clumsy words and awkward transitions. We must be willing to follow that goofy impulse down that dead end. We must be willing to explore that crazy idea no matter where it leads. In other words, we must be willing to give ourselves the spaciousness to write badly so we can discover what we’re looking for, even when we have no idea what that might actually be.

If we’re brave enough to honor our own mediocre attempts, here’s what Van Gogh promises:

“Your work is unbeautiful, alright let it be unbeautiful.  It will grieve you but it must not discourage you… It is the experience and hard work of every day which alone will ripen in the long run and allow one to do something truer and more complete. You will not always do well, but the days you least expect it, you will do that which holds its own with the work of those that have gone before.”



Mother's chickenMarcia Zina Mager is an author, journalist, performer, award-winning poet & mixed-media artist. Her fiction and non-fiction books have been translated into ten languages. Her international best-seller, BELEIVING IN FAERIES: A Manual for Grown-ups, is now available as an e-book, along with the trendy 31 Words to Create an Organized Life. Listen to an excerpt from her latest book THE HIDDEN KINGDOM: Discovering the Divine Presence in Nature. Marcia is the founder of the original Write From The Heart, a national seminar series on creativity taught all across North America. She studied improvisation with  Academy award-winning actor, Alan Arkin which brought new energy to her writing career. This past November Marcia guest starred on Hawaii Five-O. She brings her diverse creative skills as The Write Coach to anyone with a desire to express themselves.            Find out more at www.321write.com.



3 Replies to “The Power of Writing Badly”

  1. I find Marcia’s words so inspiring and so “right on”. She speaks not only of the process in writing but the entire creative process of living, and that is what I so appreciate about her wisdom and I find that her words continue to move me forward and support my growth, whether it be in writing down my thoughts, creating a new painting or living my day to day life.

  2. Thank you for your comment Marilyn! I agree. She exposes a myth that most of us creatives have-that everything we produce must be perfect. Sounds like you’ve worked with her before and was inspired by the experience. Good to hear! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts here!

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