Writing Badly

Tonight in class I had students write the worst fiction they could. It’s a common exercise, the idea being that it gives us a way to talk about what we value in creative writing and what we abhor. And the writing always ends up surprising and good in complicated ways. I wrote alongside my students, for the first time. Here’s what I came up with.

He hit her. “That’s what you like, right?” It was a thing he felt. It made him feel good. “Ha ha!” he cackled loudly and maniacally.

Suddenly, she took out a gun.

“That’s the last time you hit me, you son of a bitch!” she yelled angrily, like a person who had taken a lot of stuff for a long time and was not going to take it anymore, due to her strength as a person, and her belief in Jesus Christ.

“Any last words?” she sneered cruelly.

“You don’t have the guts!” he exclaimed.

“You wanna make a bet, you sonuvabitch?!” She pulled the trigger and fired the gun at his head. It exploded with a loud BANG and the bullet shot out of the barrel of the gun really fast. It flew like a rocket through the air and crashed into his eyeball. Blood poured out like a bloody river. It was red and wet.

“Aaah!” he screamed dyingly then fell to the ground in a puddle of his own blood.

The woman grinned wryly. “We can do it!” she said, thinking of the poster she saw in history class of a woman with a hammer in her hands.

“I knew you could do it, baby!” A man came out of the closet just then and kissed her. Their tongues moved like slugs fucking.

It’s so hard to do. It’s so hard to write badly and not like performatively bad. I think there’s something in writers (or maybe just something in this writer) that wants to please and delight at all costs. And so look at how preciously I dropped cleverly “bad” adverbs and similes throughout the thing. My students like totally guffawed at that last line and it was satisfying. And here I am gloating about it and posting it to my blog.

But to write poorly, like identifiably and unconscionably poorly, is very very hard to do. You have to unlearn every single thing you’ve learned over timeā€”not just about writing, but about the way people are. I see in it a kind of mastery I’ll never master. It’s like riding a bike and trying suddenly to forget how to make it move.

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