Being a good writer… means having the courage to suck. Bad.

I wrote something this morning–something gratuitously pretentious and magnificently arrogant. Something so over-the-top I cringed while typing it. And now it’s going in someone else’s novel.

I couldn’t be prouder.

I belong to a writing group where people often post tidbits of their work, asking for critique. I don’t post much because I tend to fall into the rabbit hole of social media easily, but every so often something begs for attention. And commentary. And obsession. And I am compelled to reply.

The writer was asking for a critique of the first few paragraphs of her current work-in-progress.

It was dreadful.

Hear me out before you skewer me; the premise was good, and the writing was likely fine… it was hard to tell–and that was part of the problem. It had been written by someone clearly in possession of a thesaurus. I’m not one to bash another writer, so my comments were gentle and reiterated what most other people were pointing out; that the use of grandiose, and usually obscure, verbiage was mind-numbing at best and illegible at worst.


The original poster (OP) seemed a bit defensive (as we writers sometimes are–especially when we’re new) and was seemingly questioning another writer’s opinion. That’s where it got odd; the continued use, and misuse, of those “highfalutin” words. And that’s when it clicked;

“…English isn’t your first language, is it?”

“Nope.”

After some brief conversation with the OP, I learned that the story takes place in the future, and this character is grounded firmly in the distant past. Her speech is meant to be formal, intimidating, and somewhat obnoxious. It’s a trait the rest of the cast will find annoying, and it will be part of this character’s development. See? The premise isn’t awful. Thus, there began some discussion of more practical applications of language, tone, and grammar.

But let’s sit here for a moment, shall we, and contemplate the unmitigated chutzpah the OP has–and I mean that with the utmost admiration and respect. Most people have a difficult enough time writing in their native language. My attempts at writing in a foreign language would be pathetic. Spanish would result in “Hola. Adios.” -but considering the social constraints upon us right now, it could pass as an entire conversation. My French is limited to what I picked up from the song “Lady Marmalade,” but again, depending on what I’m writing, it might work. Except for that whole copyright infringement thing.

So, imagine deciding to tell a story, set in the future, with a character who is several steps out of the norm. Now imagine trying to write that story in a foreign language and feature a character who frequently uses vernacular that could be considered almost archaic. Now blend the two languages, and try to write an entire freaking book, weaving them artfully and seamlessly together.

That takes some courage, now–I’m telling you. She makes me question whether I have it.

I took the liberty of rewriting the first paragraph of her work to illustrate the examples I’d been giving. It sounded like Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey with a thesaurus lodged squarely in his rectum (Squarely? Rectangularly? Hmmm…) For those not familiar with Downton Abbey, Mr. Carson is a loyalty-to-the-royalty kind of man. He is butler in the house of a WWI-era Lord, and enjoys formality and regulations. He fancies his station to be somewhere above the servants he leads and just below the aristocrats he serves. It’s not a voice I typically use, but it was deliciously fun (and apparently, I’m stuck with it the rest of the day–I’ve read this entire passage in Mr. Carson’s voice. Golly.).

I posted the paragraph I’d written within the thread and offered my apologies if it seemed rude. The OP loved it.

Loved. It. She asked if she could use the example in her book, and I humbly gave my blessing. I’d be honored to be part of such an awe-inspiring undertaking.

I am certain I’m going to spend a good portion of the day thinking about this writer from somewhere on the other side of the world. I’m going to think about the guts it takes to do what she’s doing, the imagination and determination. I’m going to compare it to my own, and I’m probably going to feel a smidge inadequate. And then I’m going to let her inspire me to try something new in my writing, something gutsy and audacious.

It’s probably going to be dreadful–and I will be incredibly proud of it.

Published by Michelle

Mom. Writer. Mmmm... that's about it.

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