I just wrote a bad story. A 26-page disaster of a story, to be specific.
Now that I’ve come to the end of it, now that it’s all been punched out—I’ve come to realize that the whole thing is one enormous, colossal piece of crap.
In the story, “Parade,” two couples—four vapid and awful people—wander around Mardi Gras for one debauched weekend, each of them struggling to gain some semblance of power over their respective partner. In the end the whole thing is not even about their trite and tedious power dynamics, but instead about their perception of “reality” vs. the reality of a violent, poverty-stricken post-Katrina New Orleans. The problem is, to reach the didactic and melodramatic conclusion about poverty in New Orleans, the reader has to first follow four idiotic, indulged, ego-maniacal college students for 25 pages—only to realize on the final page that not even the author gives a damn about their petty tiffs. Sounds fun, right? “Parade” was, essentially, the definition of a failed story.
Then again, I needed to write it, and now that it’s out of my system, I’m free to move on to better things. Whenever I look back on a god-awful story, and consider all of the time I wasted on said swampland of prose, I think of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and regain a sense of my former optimism.
Gladwell argues in Outliers that all of the “greats” of history—Mozart, The Beatles, Bill Gates—have achieved the extraordinary not as much through some innate “genius,” but rather through the old theory of “practice makes perfect.” If a person practices his or her skill intensely and with focus for 10,000 hours, that individual should, by the end of it, be an expert in his or her field. To be fair, Gladwell points out that not all people who make tremendous efforts (10,000 hours of tremendous efforts) meet with success in the end. Environment and circumstance are important, too, but let’s not worry about that for now—let’s worry about what we can change.
Let’s say I worked 30 hours (roughly an hour a page) on “Parade.” With all of those long hours typing in little dark coffee shops, sipping on caramel lattes, I’d still only be 0.3% of the way to reaching the extraordinary, unbelievable genius of literary greats like Joyce, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald.
Ten thousand hours is a lot of time—and maybe that’s a good thing. As a beginning writer, there’s only so much I can possibly achieve at this point—which isn’t a very satisfactory consolation, but a true one. If I want to be a better writer, I can’t waste time getting hung up on one lengthy piece of drivel.
There are so many more stories to write! Thirty hours on one bad story—who cares?
8 thoughts on “On Writing Bad Fiction”
In all fairness, if you’re talking about Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald, then you might be 0.4% of the way if you drank booze instead of caramel lattes. Keep scribbling.
Good point. Addiction and depression worked wonders in the past, didn’t they?
Yes, there are many other stories that could be written in the time that it takes to write a single crappy story. The question to be asked, though, is: Would writing the other not-so-crappy stories offer you the same lessons learned from first beginning with something unworthy? — Doubtful.
You could drop a deuce on a scrap of paper and it would still be at least as good as Hemingway.
Well, we only have your word for it that it was so terrible. Good fiction, bad fiction – it’s all writing. Has to be done, sometimes even the bad stuff. Sometimes stories are not yours to tell, but you don’t know until you finished kicking them around.
And somewhere in there you learned something, or exorcised something, that maybe you will discover later, maybe you will never learn why you had to write it.
But as you said, it’s done now, you can move on.
And if someone would give me a pound for every piece of bad fiction I had written… well, now, where would I like to holiday this year?
All wise words. Bad writing always leads to good writing, even if it takes awhile.
Great post! I think we all have to work out the stories that even in our eyes are…er, not so good. They plague us until we’re done. But, thankfully when we’ve purged the bad out , we’re able to move on and create something to be proud of . Thanks for sharing 🙂