Let It Be Terrible

Right now I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which means I’m aiming to write 50,000 words in a month. For the uninitiated, that’s a novel the length of The Great Gatsby. It’s approximately 75 pages single spaced in a word processing document. I’m pretty sure this new novel I’m working on is the worst piece of writing in the known universe, but I’m pressing forward.

The advice for those writing during NaNoWriMo is to tame your inner editor. Instead of hitting the “delete” key when you think something sounds awful, just keep putting words on the page. Let the writing be bad. There’s something liberating in indulging in that mentality. To revel in it. To acknowledge, “I know this can be said better but I don’t care.”

As someone with a history of perfectionism, it’s difficult for me to stop judging end results, but that’s what I’m encouraging myself to do right now. I’m acknowledging the new novel is bad, that it will likely change a lot before I’m finished, but I’m letting that be OK. I’m not nitpicking myself in the moment and instead giving myself freedom to relax, to explore, to try new things on the page. It’s fun!


Some things will cause you to shake your head they’re so bad. Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

I notice this principle, “Let it be terrible,” applies not only to creative projects, but also to the physical body (sometimes). Headline, I’m fine, but on Saturday night I was in a car accident. While driving through an intersection, a car ran a red light and hit the driver’s side of my friend’s car. We swerved to the right and the impact jostled me so I banged up my elbow and knees against the console very, very minorly. It’s my right shoulder blade that hurts this morning from the whiplash.

I took out a tennis ball and massaged the shoulder blade but it still hurts. I don’t think anything is dislocated; it just hurts. Because I was in a car accident. And instead of rushing to fix it, change it, solve it, I said to the pain, “I’m here. I’m listening, body.” I’m letting the pain be here, I’m letting things be terrible because sometimes that’s all we can do. The body heals on its own timeframe and that doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong.

It reminds me of this NY Times article I read a few years ago where an American woman had a hysterectomy in Germany. When she asked about painkillers post-surgery, her medical team said she’d be given ibuprofen and that’s it. When she talked to one of her doctors about it, he said, “Pain is a part of life. We cannot eliminate it nor do we want to. The pain will guide you. You will know when to rest more; you will know when you are healing. If I give you Vicodin, you will no longer feel the pain, yes, but you will no longer know what your body is telling you. You might overexert yourself because you are no longer feeling the pain signals. All you need is rest.”

It confounded her, but it turned out her doctors were right. She didn’t need painkillers – she needed rest and patience. She let things be terrible, she let her body feel terrible, and that was her wisest course of action. For this month I, too, am letting things be terrible in more ways than I anticipated, and that perhaps is a greater accomplishment than writing the worst novel the world has ever seen in the course of 30 days.

I dream of a world where we let things be terrible sometimes. A world where we let our creativity flow without any hindrance. A world where we check our self-editors at the door. A world where we let ourselves feel pain when it arises because it provides us with important information to guide our lives and direct our attention.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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