Why Writing Rubbish Matters

Yesterday I started to edit the first ‘Kirkwood Scott’ chapter I ever wrote, over ten months ago. At the time I thought it was award winning and revolutionary. Turns out I was wrong. It was, in fact, unadulterated rubbish. A bloated, meandering mess with no structure or flow. Just a muddled melee of thoughts and ideas which lurched from sentence to sentence. A bit like this paragraph really.

Deep down I knew this, so had been putting off sitting down and reading it again. It had become the elephant in my literary room. But I knew I would have to eventually. So, yesterday I seized the bull by the horns (because everyone knows elephants don’t have horns) and sat down to re-read the chapter through half closed eyes. Please, Please, Please don’t make it as bad as I recalled it was.

It was. I refer you to my first paragraph. I sighed, for I knew it was a rewrite. Bar the setting. I really liked the setting which was based upon a most unpleasant morning I once spent in a toilet cubicle at Newcastle International Airport. Long story but it goes down as one of the most horrific hangover experiences of my life. And, believe me, there have been a few.

An hour later and I had effectively rewritten the chapter. In one go. Bam! I sat back and scratched my head. I read over it again. It was slick. It flowed. It wasn’t half bad actually. What was all the fuss about? Why had I been so worried about peering under this particular rock again? I had hurdled it effortlessly and was now galloping on towards the next chapter. Wee buns as they say in Northern Ireland.

Producing rubbish is part of the writing process. It’s that first coat of paint on the wall. It’s patchy and streaky. It will never see the light of day when painted over. But it is essential in order to ensure the next layer is of better quality. And the later after that. Until eventually you are staring at the finished product which will last you the rest of your life. Every precious stone needs to be polished and refined, otherwise it is just a stone.

I had to endure two terrible experiences in order to produce a decent end product. The first one involved sticking my head down a public toilet and being violently ill. Classy, I know. The second was a form of verbal vomiting which was no more edifying. They were necessary evils but they forged the way for the finished article. Without them I would still be staring at a blank computer screen.

Rubbish living and rubbish writing can result in something worthwhile if you put your head down and power on through. As a dog returns to its own vomit so a writer returns to their early drafts. We sigh, we cringe, we roll our eyes; but we also roll up our sleeves and begin to sift the corn from the chaff, the golden flakes from the grimy silt. If we dig deep enough, we will strike the untapped creative spring.

Write, write and then write some more. Just don’t give up. For you are laying the groundwork, pouring in the foundations and erecting the scaffolding. Every architectural masterpiece resembles a monumental monstrosity at some point in the building process. Just ask Kirkwood Scott. He’s seen it all. Life from the inside of a toilet bowl ain’t a pretty sight. But it’s still life.

How do you feel when you write rubbish?

Where are you at in your writing process?

Have you ever been sick in a public place? Care to share? I’ll hold your hair.

79 thoughts on “Why Writing Rubbish Matters

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  1. shit man. this stuff is good. I love the first alinea 🙂 haha as well as you bashing it. I have the strange life philosophy that everything i do is first draft anyways. So it doesn’t have perfect. It can just be. and i can return to it if i want to. but it is the idea that is captured in crappy words that is gold.

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  2. Writing rubbish only serves to illuminate the good. I’m a huge believer that you can only truly master something when you know all the ways it can go wrong. You learn little when everything is going swimmingly, it’s only when it’s on the floor in pieces that you actually start to learn your chosen craft. Cat’s know this instinctively, hence their love of pushing glasses off of counters, the little “£$!%!, it was the last of the orange juice!

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  3. I love this. Yes, we all must be fine with writing rubbish, and mining for the beauty beneath it, which can emerge as we shape and edit. Thanks for sharing your experience. It helps us get through some hard days when we feel we are generating nothing of value, but we must keep going.

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  4. I’m still in the early stages of writing my book. But I can’t wait to see how it evolves. You’re right about rubberish, just write and edit later. I just go for it. That’s all apart of creativity, right?

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  5. Thank you for this today. I have been avoiding writing anything lately as far as non-blogging writing because I think everything I write is rubbish. But I guess you have to sift through the rubbish to get to the gems.

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  6. I prefer to edit as I write (Stephen King said Kurt Vonnegut did that, too, so there’s a precedent). As each new day of writing begins, my looking critically at what I’ve written before helps me get back into the flow of the work: after fixing a few things, I’m ready to move forward. I think that’s one reason why I never suffered from writer’s block when I was writing my first novel. I still had many months’ worth of polishing to do at the end, but at least I wasn’t confronted with a steaming mountain of manure to shovel.

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  7. Yes! I have trashed so many rubbishy first drafts. But it always gets the juices flowing. Never been sick in a public place per se, but have had my hair held by a kindly nurse at the hospital whom I will never forget. And I have done my share of hair-holding for my kiddos. 😕 All part of being a mom.

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  8. I’m glad the dreaded task turned out to be a good one! Funny how that happens. I’ve mostly written rubbish and I just post it because at the time I thought it was good. I read it again and think what a terrible writer I am and wonder why I thought I should post that!

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      1. I hope not. 😀 But you did give me the idea of improving my writing by watching some Youtube videos and possibly paying for a writing course. It has been a long time since college. 🙂 AND, I am excited about an idea I just got to make my kids write a blog as part of school this year.

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  9. I think writing rubbish is what helps you find your own voice as a writer. Yes, it’s utterly ghastly when you look back on it, but look at how far you’ve come!

    I’m – very slowly – plotting out a “sleepy time” book for my grandson. So, not actually writing, but feeling the shape and rhythm of it, seeing the images, and starting the research. I know what I want it to be – the tricky bit is compiling where the bits are.

    And, thankfully – no!

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  10. I have written many sermons ( I am not a pastor but have been called to preach from time to time). I always have to write a first draft…let it sit for a day and then tackle it again. The first is always rubbish and most thoughts are in the wrong place. Takes much rewrite.

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  11. Thanks for the chuckle (guffaw, actually), and some insightful food for thought.
    I tend to write the way I talk. People tell me they can hear my voice as they read my works, and it’s like having me in their kitchen talking to them over a cup of coffee. Now I’m wondering if I was spewing rubbish when I actually WAS in their kitchens chatting …

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  12. I’m going to borrow a few phrases from you and this delightful piece to incorporate into my own life. “Like a dog returns to its own vomit” is one I think I will use a lot! And not just for writing. Sound advice served with humor is the the most delicious! Thank you for this!

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  13. Agree to the max! An article or story going from “oh God why did I write this” to “this turned out great” is one of the reasons I became a writer. Actually being able to see my writing skills evolve and improve made me proud and encouraged me.

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  14. I do not know how you writers can write through and not look back till the overall story is written. I’ve never been able to. And it is true so many pieces need work then when they first appear. But what a wonderful story that can be told!!

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  15. I love your clear, honest sharings here and your analogy to coats of paint. Get the primer down, return, paint your color, return, paint, return. A writing teacher I had at a conference calls it “bum glue.” Stick your bum to the chair. Write (and maybe don’t care if the chair sticks to you as you walk around?). Where I have issues is I need to keep MOVING. The old chestnut: how perfection can be the enemy of the good. Evict the censor muse. Throw caution to the winds. As far as public vomiting goes: when I was a “wee one” I felt the urge to hurl while at Aunt’s Thanksgiving table. Loved my Aunt, loved her food and the wax candle turkeys…but ran to the bathroom and met the porcelain. SO glad I didn’t let it out. But boy oh boy it DOES feel good once it’s all out. BTW: read Part I of Catfish and enjoyed!

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  16. So funny. Everything I write is either rubbish or gold depending on my mood. Both in the same day really. And vomiting? I have many very undignified stories from my youth. 😳. Food for thought or barf for toilet tho: I’ve read that agents do not want to read about protagonists bodily functions in he first paragraph/ page. Many feel it is either amateurish or just bad taste. My first page used to include blood, for no real reason other than being flashy. That got cut.

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          1. Like I said, there are always exceptions. Writing is so subjective. I personally don’t mind prologues at all. It’s just what I’ve heard from others shopping their books. Do those beta reads and see what happens. And eventually… You may have to “kill your darlings”. Or maybe not. I’ll hope for the later 😀

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  17. It’s hard for me when I write rubbish. I know it’s part of the process (see Ann lammott’s Shitty First Drafts), but I’m an impatient person. Sometimes I feel like it’s meaningless to continue if no one will read it and I cannot connect to others via my work. I get very up in my head and bogged down with doubt. I am just getting back into the writing process and it has been a struggle.

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  18. Great post! I’m kind of a perfectionist so when trying to write a novel I easily get caught up in the writing more than the story per se. Right now I’m working on a Star Trek novel, on page 21 and I’ve read over my work around 21 times.

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  19. Rubbish? I don’t really know. Sometimes I feel as though I can’t string two sentences together… A lot of the time I spend in reading back over old scripts – and I’m talking years, nay decades here – is a quest to find bits I can use. My worst drinking episode? In my callow youth I went to a cellar party at the Gaumont cinema in Taunton. I went by motor scooter. I remember nothing of the evening, just waking up in the home of a total stranger half a mile from the venue. When I returned to pick up my scooter, I found it parked neatly on somebody’s front path fifty yards away. I don’t know how it got there, although friends subsequently told me I left the party announcing I was going to ride home.

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  20. I enjoyed your blog, and your web site. Rubbish does matter! I have often thought the same thing. I also liked how you asked questions at the end. I am new to blogging, and have decided for more engagement, asking some questions might be the way to go. Thanks again!

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