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We all want to be the best we can be.
I mean, no one sets out to mediocre, right?
But that drive to be the best can lead us down the rabbit hole of perfectionism.
Never Good Enough … for You
Have you ever fiddled around with the ordering of words in a sentence for more than a few minutes or spent an hour tweaking the RGB values of the accent colors on your website trying to get them “just right”? I know I have, and it’s maddening.
It’s also not productive.
No one is going to care whether your visited links show up in candy apple red or in fire engine red, so all that time you spent making your decision was just wasted.
It’s tough to break free from perfectionism because you can always fool yourself into thinking that you’re just dedicated to improvement. It’s also a very comfortable place to be because, if you spend all your time twiddling font knobs, you’ll never have to tackle the tough part of your job as a writer — writing.
Getting Bad to Get Better
Just as with every other condition you can imagine, humans have come up with all sorts of ways to overcome perfectionism and move on from the paralysis it engenders. But there is one technique that you may not have tried, and it’s a fun one …
I don’t mean yell-at-your-kids or burn-a-book terrible. No, I’m talking about picking a writing “assignment” and approaching it in such a way that you know the results are going to be just awful.
Here are some ideas about how you might tackle this:
- Write a short story using sentences with five words or less.
- Write a story using only passive verbs.
- Write a story with your eyes closed.
- Design a book cover using a box of crayons.
- Write a blog post on a topic about which you know very little, and don’t do any research first.
- Enter a Bulwer-Lytton contest.
You get the idea.
But why would you want to do this?
Well, there are a couple of reasons.
Keep Churning While You Chill
First, if you’ve been beating your head against the wall of perfectionism for awhile, you need a mental break. You could just walk away from writing for awhile entirely, but that’s a fate worse than liver and onions for most of us. It also comes with the risk that you won’t ever find your way back to the keyboard in any meaningful way.
But if you just keep slogging away, you’ll burn out for sure, and then you’ll have to step away.
Being intentionally bad gives you an avenue to keep writing but to not worry about all the details that usually trip you up. After all, your goal is write something rotten, so why let a few missing commas or inconsistent spacing slow you down?
The second way this exercise can be valuable is in showing you that you don’t have to get everything right the first time you write it.
Try as you might to be awful, the truth is that you’re probably going to like at least some of your woeful words. You might find them to be so funny that you’ll publish them as-is. Or maybe you’ll discover the seed of a really good story hiding among the monsters of your madness.
Regardless of whether you uncover a nugget in your throwaway writing or just … well, throw it away … being really bad sometimes can be really good for you in the long run.
Have you ever intentionally written something awful? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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