by Cat "Probably Adele" Wahl, Creative Nonfiction team and Poetry team member
I personally believe that there are no “bad writers.” No one can really be bad at putting words on a page or a screen or a napkin or your hand.
What does require skill is writing for an audience. Any audience will do. After hours of drowning in self-doubt, perfecting every sentence/word/syllable, tearing up and starting over for the thousandth time, nothing is more satisfying than for someone to understand what you have been so desperately trying to communicate. And sometimes they understand it, but understand it wrong, and that is still okay.
But some people may never be able to fully achieve this. To me, the value of a person’s writing isn’t determined by another’s comprehension of it. Writing does so much more than communicate.
Writing is the story you wrote in eighth grade that your teacher hated. Writing is the text you sent your fiend about the old man’s weird hat at the grocery store. Writing is that story of that horrible, awkward first date that you had that no one will believe. Writing is the little song you sing while you’re cleaning your room. Writing is that conversation you overheard in the restaurant booth next to yours. Writing is the scribbles you make on a page while you’re crying on the bathroom floor. Writing is all those angsty letters you wrote to yourself as a teenager. Writing is your memory of the dream you had last night.
Everyone can and should write, even if it’s something they keep to themselves.
Writing has helped me to understand myself. Through writing I can put myself on a page and read it over and over again, reminding myself of who I am, separating myself from everything and everyone because the only thing on that page is me.
So when I read “bad writing,” I don’t say that it’s bad because what I have read is a glimpse into a person. I’ll offer criticism that might improve the communication, the message, the rhythm, or the structure. All of this, may be bad, but this does not make that person a “bad writer.” When offering criticism in workshop, it is key to not just tear apart a person’s work. Being unnecessarily aggressive/negative shuts down a person’s ability to be receptive to what you’re saying.
So how do you get good at writing? I encourage everyone to keep a journal, to jot down all the thoughts they have throughout the day, no matter how serious or silly. There’s not enough space in our heads to hold all those thoughts. Often we clog our headspace with meaningless things. Often the brain is not very good at deciding what has meaning and what does not, so many of the serious/silly thoughts that you would like to remember, you forget, unless you write them down. Maybe one day, you’ll be better at twisting those thoughts into things that people can understand. Maybe not, but even if no one else knows you, at least you know you. And now you have a book of you. Leave a piece of yourself on every page, and by the end you’ll have your whole life story.
Journaling is a personal, almost spiritual experience. To come to understand oneself by flipping through the pages of a book gives a feeling that I can’t put into words. Whenever I’m looking for writing inspiration, I go to my journal. Nothing is more inspiring than life.
Grub Street is Towson University's award-winning literary journal, run by undergraduates enrolled in "Editing the Literary Magazine."