If you’re anything like me—and every other writer in the world—you’ve written your fair share of garbage. Stuff that makes you cringe. Stuff that no reputable or even halfway-reputable publication would even think about publishing. So let’s talk about what you’re supposed to do with all that junk.
Wait, before we do that, let’s talk about why we write so much garbage.
There are a lot of reasons for it. Maybe we feel compelled to write every day, even when we don’t feel like writing. Maybe we get a great idea in our head and sit on it for awhile and by the time we start writing it we find out it stinks. Maybe we get interrupted or lose interest or have a bad day or lose our mojo or a million other excuses. The fact is, sometimes we write crap. It shouldn’t really be a surprise:
- The best songwriters write bad songs.
- The best artists don’t create a masterpiece every time.
- The best basketball players miss a lot of shots.
- The best scientists occasionally fuck up an experiment.
- The best doctors misdiagnose patients.
So it would make sense that even the best writers sometimes write junk. And if the best writers do it, then the average writer probably does it a lot.
Doesn’t that make you feel better? You’re not the only writer out there who writes bad stories. We all do it. And most of us do it a lot. Heck, for every great story I’ve written, I have at least a half dozen that I’ve abandoned or that just plain stink.
So what to do with it?
Well, the simplest thing would be to throw it away. When you’ve written 2,000 words of junk, instead of saving that document, just throw caution to the wind and close it. But what’s the fun in that? I say you should save everything you write, even the worst garbage imaginable. Even if it barely qualifies as writing.
The case for keeping your bad stories and poems
You may think there’s no point in even keeping your bad stories and poems. But there are some advantages to saving all of your work no matter what:
- You can learn from your mistakes
- You can see what ideas haven’t worked in the past
- You can try to salvage something
- Even if you do nothing with it, it doesn’t hurt you to have all that bad writing sit around collecting virtual dust
Seems like an easy decision, right? I’m glad you agree. Let’s keep all that junk. But let’s make sure we separate it from the good stuff.
How to organize your bad writing
You probably have all your writing organized into folders on your computer or cloud or wherever the hell you store all your stuff. One of those folders is probably for your published work. Another is probably for your yet-to-be-published stuff. And then there’s probably a folder for your in-progress writing. You probably have subfolders for each one. Could be by word count or genre or by a thousand other methods. Whatever works for you, that’s fine. I’m not here to tell you how to organize your work. That’s your job.
Then there’s the biggest folder of all—the one that contains all the abandoned writing and terrible failures. This is a really important folder, so let’s make sure you don’t mess it up.
I have my bad stuff separated into several subfolders:
- Abandoned stories
- Finished but unpublishable
- What the hell was I thinking
- I really should quit writing forever
- I would be thoroughly embarrassed if anyone ever read this
- This isn’t really that bad but I don’t like it for one reason or another
- I thought this one was okay, but it’s been rejected so many times that I’m now convinced it’s garbage
Okay, I don’t really have all those folders. But I could. And maybe some others as well. I just have one folder for all my junk, and it’s a pretty chaotic collection of tons of files ranging from one sentence to dozens of pages. I could try to organize it more carefully, but at the end of the day it’s all the same—a bunch of bad writing.
Many of those stories started out as sincere attempts at greatness. Others were written on a whim. And some of them I could tell I was forcing it from the get-go. But sometimes I stupidly stuck it out to the end anyway. And sometimes I was even stupid enough to send them out for publication.
Worst of all, I’ve even had a couple of those awful stories published. Sending out stories you aren’t proud of is the biggest mistake you can make as a writer.
What not to do with those bad stories and poems
Regardless of how you organize your bad writing, here are two things you definitely should never do with those crappy stories:
- Submit them anywhere
- Post them on your blog or social media
It may seem obvious, but the worst thing you can do with your bad writing is try to get it published. There’s nothing to win from that. Even just posting a bad story on Facebook can send the message to everyone that you are a bad writer. That’s true even if you qualify your post with “I found this terrible story I once wrote and it’s so bad that I had to share it.” In fact, especially if you qualify it with such a statement. Nothing says that you’re an amateur like this type of attention-seeking action that has no redeemable worth for anyone.
Learn from your mistakes and move on
Bad writing is inevitable. Are there lessons in your bad stories? Maybe, but I wouldn’t spend much time studying them. Instead of reading your bad writing, go out and read good writing. Try to perfect your craft by studying what others do well, and then write more stuff that works well.
When you’re in the middle of a story and you realize it’s not good because of this or that, figure out what that thing is, and then determine if you think the story is salvageable. If you don’t have strong feelings for it, let it go right away. Don’t force yourself to write bad stuff. Nothing good will come of it, I promise.