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5 Things You Learn from Writing “Bad” Books

by Kelsie Engen (originally posted on

Every author has a “bad” book to their name.

Come on, admit it. It’s that book you wrote back in your early writing days, the one where you thought it was magical. Then, for one reason or another, you set it aside, and when you dusted it off a year later, you cannot read a word of it without wincing.

Yeah. It’s that one.

I’ve got one (or several) too, books that I’d like to forget I ever wrote.

But hold on–don’t destroy all memory of them yet. I’m going to give you five things you can learn from writing a bad book. So buckle in, delve deep into your memory for your own “bad book” and keep reading.

1) Moments of genius.

Even a bad book has something redeemable, so I’m going to start there. If your “bad book” is a book you wrote in fifth grade, perhaps there’s an amazing amount of creativity in it. Or perhaps it’s your most authentic writing voice that you have ever found. Perhaps it’s the childish way you described your teacher in the pages, or else the way you didn’t see a need to describe any character at all. Perhaps it’s that slightly stream-of-consciousness feel your story has about it that speaks to you.

Whatever it is, it’s there. It’s a glimmer of the future writer in you. Hold onto that. And scour your current WIPs for that glimmer too.

2) Joy of writing.

When writers begin their writing journey, they almost always begin with a joy that makes the words flow from their fingers to the pages in an achingly slow format. Your thoughts are racing ahead with the “perfect plot” or “perfect scene” or “perfect dialogue” or whatever. But you can only be slowed by your hands–and they just won’t type or write fast enough!

It is here in the midst of that urgency to write that you find your joy.

But overall, what that first book of yours most likely has is this: a joy for writing that you may have lost since then. Go back to it. Dig deep. Find it.

3) How to take chances.

Chances are, if you began writing at a young age, you weren’t doing it for the sake of an audience. Or if you were, you were probably writing for close friends and family, not worrying about something that fit a genre or fit a perceived standard.

Instead, you took chances with your characters or plot, putting things to the page that were undisciplined, unexpected, even unnecessary. Most likely, you didn’t revise it much, and you probably didn’t see a reason for revising it at all. Why bother, right? It’s the story that’s going to line the bottom of your drawer in your closet until you graduate high school and have to clean it out before leaving for college.

But that story was probably the first (and maybe the last) time you took big chances in your writing–without even considering them chances. You might have created an unlikable but honest character, or a wildly unbelievable plot that was so much fun to write it’s probably still fun to read.

Rediscover that passion–go take a chance in your new WIP.

4) Why you write.

When you’re an adult, the reasons you write are probably entirely different from why you began writing in the first place.

My first story was a writing assignment, but it may not have been for you. In fact, it might have been that you just had to tell the story burning inside you, so you picked up a pen and paper and began to write, forgoing all ideas of having a perfect first draft and all that adult stuff we worry about when we write for others.

It may have been with relief you set down the pen, or with glee or disappointment. Whatever it was, it taught you something important about yourself.

It may have taught you that you don’t have to write for others, like my writing assignment taught me, or it may have taught you that you enjoy the process of writing unfettered. It may have given  you insight into your own life and passions. It may have given you a joy that you cannot replicate elsewhere. It may have started an addiction.

But ultimately, it taught you why you write.

5) How you write best.

Sometimes it takes writing a bad book to determine the best method for you to write. This could mean that you don’t outline a book, resulting in a tangled mess that you must unweave before you begin draft 2.

This could mean that your plot didn’t have enough to power an entire novel. Or it could mean that your idea isn’t unique enough (note that a plot doesn’t have to be–and rarely if ever is–unique. But instead you must have something special that makes your story different from others on the market already.).

Or you could find that having an outline stifled you from creating your best work, and that you work best without an outline, or with something in between and outline and freeform.

Maybe you wrote in pen and paper the whole time. Like the results? Maybe you should try that again.

What do you do with this knowledge?

That’s up to you.

But I challenge you: If you’re struggling with your writing right now, maybe look back at what got you into writing in the first place.

What could you return to in order to try and recapture that joy? Is it letting go of your plot? Or outlining it so that you’re not scrambling for what to write next? Is it curling up under a blanket with your notebook and pen? Or is it writing whatever you want–no thoughts of accuracy and research?

Guest post contributed by Kelsie Engen. Kelsie loves to read and started her blog to share that passion with others of like mind.

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