Writing Tips: “The Importance of Writing Twaddle” by Jennifer Niven

Katherine Mansfield once said, “Looking back, I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But far better to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.”
Photo of Alice B. Sheldon from Julie-Phillips.com
Photo of Alice B. Sheldon from Julie-Phillips.com

I have good friends who are good writers, but some of them are so terrified of writing anything bad or imperfect that they just don’t write. Ever. One of the greatest things I’ve learned about writing is that you have to let yourself write garbage because even garbage is better than a blank page– at least it gives you something to edit and work from. And, almost always, when I allow myself to just fill up a page with any old kind of writing– not stopping to edit and fuss and tweak it to death in that precious, early stage– I will work myself into the flow of it so that suddenly the writing will become better and smoother and more natural as I go along. Eventually I’ll hit my stride.

Before I went to the American Film Institute for screenwriting, I wasn’t so fond of writing twaddle. Oh, I would do it, but I didn’t want to do it. I was more reluctant, back then, to let the words fall on the page however they might without running along behind and fixing them. But I learned at AFI that the important thing is to get the words onto paper (or computer screen) and not edit yourself until it’s time (i.e. after all the words are there and you’ve written your way to the end of the project). In the years that have since followed, this has only gotten easier and easier to do.

Right now I’m simultaneously researching, outlining, and writing (a little) of my next YA novel. Ideally I would research for a long time, and then I would take my time outlining, and then I would begin writing, but my deadline demands a different sort of very rushed schedule, with everything needing to be done at once. You can imagine the twaddle I’m writing now. But it’s necessary twaddle because I cannot get to that polished, finished manuscript without it. As Bernard Malamud once said, “You write by sitting down and writing.”

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