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Newsletter Tip (Oct 05):
Allow Yourself to
Write Garbage

by Jeff Bollow


In various email correspondences over the past month, I've given this tip to six different people, and it seemed to be an epiphany for each one.

So just in case you've forgotten it recently, I'd like to remind you, too.

The human mind is a wonderful little blob. It's like one big machine that does nothing but connect the dots.

Not only is it capable of connecting and assembling stray and random ideas in ways that those ideas have never been connected before (imagination)... it's also capable of connecting related ideas to create a pattern, or to make sense of an otherwise confusing situation (logic).

But for all its strengths, that blob gets us into a reasonable amount of trouble, too.

Take, for example, your writing.

How many times have you sat down and started to write (or worse, found yourself halfway through a major project), when you decided that your work was terrible, you ought to be caned for your heresy, and that it wouldn't be totally unreasonable if you just never wrote anything ever again?

What's happening is simple: As your brain connects your ideas -- assembling random thoughts into something that makes sense -- it's judging the words you've written against completed, finely-polished material. And that's not fair! Your words aren't completed or finely polished yet, so it's comparing apples and oranges!

Stop it. Just stop. First of all, there's nothing wrong with you, and there's nothing wrong with your brain. Holding "in-progress" work to "completed" standards is actually one of the most powerful abilities of the human mind. But if you don't shut it off while you're on the first draft, it'll shut off your creativity before it's had a chance to start.

One of the greatest writing tips I can give you is this one, which is why I've called it #1: Allow yourself to write garbage.

When you give yourself permission to write terrible stuff, you free yourself up. You don't hold yourself to "completed" standards, and the words begin flowing out of you much more fluidly.

The greatest thing about being a writer is that you can always go back and fix it later. So why do you keep beating yourself up over the quality of your writing? You're not done yet. How can you judge your quality yet?

We can't do this in daily life. If you walk into a shop and the woman behind the counter is wearing a hideous green dress, and you blurt out "A green dress?!?", you can't take it back. You can't change it. It's there -- part of the history of human civilization.

And since the experiences of our daily life work that way, it's understandable that we tend to treat our writing this same way.

You're afraid that by writing something on the page, it's like blurting out "stupid green dress!". But when it comes to writing, we want to blurt out "green dress". Because only when we see how wrong the green dress is can we discover which color will be more appropriate.

If only we could do that in life.

Don't give up the most valuable tool you've got. Go out and write some garbage -- now! And let it show you what you really want to write.

Keep on writing!

Jeff Bollow

Jeff Bollow, founder of, is an award-winning filmmaker, acclaimed screenwriting teacher, creator of FAST Screenplay, co-founder of New Zealand's Big Mountain Short Film Festival, and author of two best-selling books.

This article is copyright © 2005 by Jeff Bollow, and may not be reprinted without permission. You are free to link to this page, provided it is not within a frame on an external site.







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