What I Learned From Writing Badly

What I Learned From Writing Badly

1. What I learned

Writing badly is something most people are scared of, and I am one of them. I am a trained English teacher with a literature degree and a history in script development. I am not allowed to make mistakes.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to say the right thing in the right way at the right time – to sound clever, professional and clear. And that’s often a scary position when faced with a blank page.

Helping others to write well – especially multilingual professionals – is actually much less intimidating than doing it yourself. As they say, those who can’t do, teach!

I have been spouting words of wisdom while encouraging others to let (or rather make) themselves ‘write badly’. Like much of my wisdom, I usually don’t take it – at least, originally. (I can hear my father saying, ‘do as I say, not as I do’. He was a humble, self-effacing man with an obsessive love of British humour.) But when you say something enough times, you start to believe yourself and so, I finally started to put my advice into practice.

Ironically, I found it hard to write badly. I had to get over myself first and my need to sound sophisticated and eloquent. But once I did, I found it incredibly liberating and useful in getting that Crappy First Draft down – what I like to now call the CFD.

2. Why it’s important

It might sound like I’d have no trouble stitching together a few coherent words to get a simple message across.

But writing is like a jig-saw puzzle.

Writing badly gives you the freedom to overcome all your anxieties about writing a perfectly crafted and influential piece that not only appeals to your reader, but takes them on a journey, makes them feel a certain way, so they take the desirable action.

Writing badly is a skill. Writing badly is freedom. Writing badly is an intentional act. Writing badly does not come naturally. Writing badly is the source of creativity. Writing badly taps into your subconscious. Writing badly is the answer to creating the valuable CFD.

3. How to do it

When I say, ‘writing badly’, I mean really going into the exercise to write as badly as you possibly can.

Hearing the little voice in your head that says,
‘…but where should I start?’
‘…so-and-so could say this better, maybe I’ll get them to write it…’
‘…I’ll just put the kettle on and make a cup of tea before I sit down to start.’

Step 1 – start right now
Step 2 – set a timer for 5 minutes
Step 3 – find a pen and paper, tablet or computer and write freely and as badly as you possibly can. Do not stop until you hear the alarm! If you can’t get started, open up your voice recorder and explain it as badly as you can. I’m being serious. Do it badly or don’t do it at all…
Step 4 – set a timer for 10 minutes
Step 5 – brainstorms 3 broad headings that will help structure your message. Then add any additional headings in amongst those to create better logical connection between them.

Here is an example – The bolded ones are my ‘3 broad headings’:

The problem

    • What will happen if this problem is left alone without action
    • Introduce yourself (if necessary) and why you are qualified to help your reader

The solution

    • Lay out the steps of the process
    • What will life look like once the solution has been successfully implemented
    • How you can help them implement the solution
    • How you’ve helped other people like them

The next step you’d like them to take

Step 6 – set a timer for 15 minutes
Step 7 – write a couple of sentences under each heading.
Step 8 – go make yourself that cup of tea now. You’ve done an amazing job. If time allows, leave it overnight…the writing, that is…reading it once before you head to bed and commit to writing the second draft first thing in the morning.


These steps will get you started which, in my opinion, is the hardest part of writing. The next step is how to pull it together into a second, third and final draft. And another challenge is to know when to stop writing, editing, redrafting and proofreading. “But I don’t have time”, I hear you say – “Well, you might just be stuck with never connecting with your reader “, I may respond. Wow! I’m meaner than I thought.

Writing is an art. Learn the conventions, textures and tones and then learn to play with them. Have fun! This is what I’m passionate about and this is what I’m excited to share with you.