Write badly

One of the things that’s been joyously freeing about my writing program is that we’re given permission to do something important: Write badly.

In order to create a sculpture, you have to start with a big block of clay, or a stone, or a chunk of wood. At first, you’re just hacking pieces away and getting it into the general shape. Over time, you add more details and then begin to polish it up.

In the beginning… Make a colossal, unapologetic mess. Write disconnected chunks of text and snippets of conversation. Let characters emerge without worrying too much about how they fit. Write cringe-inducing dialogue and scenes dripping with cliches. Just let the story emerge.

Once it’s emerged… Put it into some sort of order, know your characters and why they exist, but let the mistakes and gaps and bad dialogue and cliches stand. Just make a thing that has a beginning, middle, and end.

Then! Then you start cleaning it up. Then you start polishing. Then you pull out the sharper tools in your box and make your rough thing into something more artful.

For me, a first draft is an emergence. I have a pretty good grasp on my story, but it’s still revealing things to me. It’s still whispering its small confessions, and I’m still exploring all the different pieces of it.

Free yourself from expectations and pressures. Give yourself permission to be messy, and most importantly – write badly. Write badly as hard and painfully and truthfully as you can.

The mess comes first. The art comes later.

On writing programs and pen names…

A little confession… Because I like to keep my identity private, I’m sometimes cagey about the details of my life, but I need to share this: The writing program I’m in is the Book Project through Lighthouse Writers in Denver. You don’t need to live in Denver to participate.

The Book Project isn’t an MFA program. You don’t get any sort of degree or certification. It’s a 2-year intensive that gives you the support you need to finish a book. There are classes, both in-person and online, three weekend intensives a year, an optional retreat, and an annual literary festival where you get to talk to agents. Through the process, you get a mentor who’s a published author who will work with you 1-1 and give you constructive feedback on your work-in-progress.

My mentor is the amazing New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Brown, best known for her book The Weird Sisters. The other mentors are equally distinguished and all awesome.

Eleanor’s fantastic debut novel.

You don’t need to be an aspiring novelist, by the way – we’ve got people working on poetry, short story collections, and non-fiction. It’s a really nice variety.

Why this feels a bit like a confession? My name isn’t really Leah Kent. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. I decided to use a variation of my legal name for two reasons:
1. I have a day job, and likely always will even if I do get published, because most writers, even bestselling authors, have day jobs or side hustles, and…
2. What I’m writing could get me in a bit of trouble professionally and, you know, I like being able to pay my mortgage.

How would you get in trouble? My novel-in-progress explores several major issues in the United States that are very political. My job requires me to not be openly political. We’re actually told to politely excuse ourselves and walk away if anyone tries to engage us in a political conversation during one of our meetings or events.

If I publish a book that takes a strong stance on the particular issue that impacts the industry I work in, it would be a huge headache for my employer. Therefore, I blog and tweet and will (hopefully!) publish under a pen name.

A note on pen names… The Lighthouse has a former literary agent on staff, who is amazing and supportive and will answer all of your questions. I asked her about using pen names, and if that’s something that’s off-putting to agents. She says no, it’s not. It’s no big deal. So if anyone else out there is considering whether to pen name or not to pen name…I have it from someone with experience that it’s totally fine.

In fact, she said that the possibility of me getting in a bit of trouble professionally and using a pen name for that reason could be intriguing to potential agents.

Keep writing, all you writers who quietly follow me. Keep going.

Layers

Yesterday, I spent some time outside just before a storm. It felt like dusk, even though it was actually mid-afternoon. It’s a eerie feeling, to know it’s day but feel like it’s evening. I have a lot of nightmares about the sky suddenly going dark in the middle of the day – apocalyptic sorts of dreams.

We don’t get a lot of humidity in Colorado. Humidity is a reminder that there’s something that surrounds us, something that holds us down, something that works over and beyond any human intervention. It reminds me that there are so many layers that exist around us, of air and atmosphere that we normally don’t notice or think about.

There are things that surround us that we can’t control.

Continue reading “Layers”

Dripping faucets, velvet sounds

In my line of work, I think a lot about depth. The phrase ‘deep dive’ comes up a lot, and I always imagine myself in a submarine, exploring strange coral and old shipwrecks.

But this isn’t about what I do for a living. This is about what I do to live. I think music is where I find the most depth. Music is where I live out all the feelings I normally bury. It’s where I can go when I need to have a conversation with myself.

When I first heard this song ‘My Old Green Shirt, Coffee, and Cigarettes’, I felt rather breathless after listening to it. It’s by a pianist named Sergio Díaz de Rojas from Valencia, Spain, and there’s a video for it…

Continue reading “Dripping faucets, velvet sounds”