The other day I watched Bad Writing, an independent documentary film (streaming free through January!) in which a thirtysomething creative writing student revisits the poetry he wrote in his I’m-God’s-gift-to-literature phase in his twenties, and it’s TERRIBLE. He uses this as an opportunity to explore what makes writing bad or good, how people learn and/or are taught to write, and other interesting questions about writing and an author’s relationship with his/her own work. Some of the movie wanders – there’s a section about books vs. ebooks that doesn’t really seem to fit – but mostly I really enjoyed it. If you also think way too much about words, you might too. Here it is:
Like the filmmaker, I too had a grandiose writing phase, but mine was a bit different. He was in his teens and twenties and filled boxes and boxes and boxes with depressing booze-fueled poetry in an attempt to become our generation’s version of the Beatniks. I was eleven or twelve and decided I would write the Great American Novel. I planned this as a fantasy trilogy featuring a spunky girl heroine who discovers a gift for magic, gets drunk on her own power, betrays her mentor, and becomes an evil sorceress/empress. She’s eventually captured by the forces of good and trapped in a crystal castle in the middle of a deep dark forest for 1000 years, when some bumbling but good-hearted adventurers free her by accident and have to teach her how to be a decent human being before she destroys the world. There was a talking pig.
As much as I would love to share this masterpiece with you (and cash in on the inevitable flood of royalties), it no longer exists. I’m pretty sure. Unless my parents have an incriminating 3 1/2″ floppy disk somewhere in their vault of daughters’ childhood memorabilia. But there was never much of it anyway. Unlike Mr. Lott, I only pecked out a chapter or two before deciding that writing was HARD and running off to play with my Legos and think about maybe being an archeologist instead. Or an astronaut. I did also have a mopey poetry phase in college, but I was under no illusions as to the quality of those poems and mostly destroyed them once they had served their cathartic purpose and the Emotional Maelstrom of the Week was over.
But even if I still had those things lying around, I doubt I’d have the stones to share them with the world. It takes a brave man to put his first attempts on display, even if they were written a long time ago. My hat is off to you sir!