Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Worst Thing I've Ever Written

No excuses. Naked and embarrassed. I'm about to show you something I wrote. Not twenty-five years ago. Not five years ago. I'm about to show you something I wrote THIS MONTH.

A writer/editor/teacher once imparted the advice that it is impossible to write over the top. If you think it's maudlin or overly dramatic, it's probably just perfect. I'm here to tell you (and then show you) that not all advice is good advice. At least not 100% of the time.

Two questions come to mind: What was I thinking? and Why in the world would I admit writing such drivel?

Before I answer those questions, here are the uglies (if you happen to be an agent or a publisher, please stop reading now and move on to that long list of queries you're considering):

"Tonight, the FBI agent fell to his knees in front of the fire. He fought to breathe. Pulled in tortuous, nail-filled air. His lungs could hold no more and he expelled the gaseous oxygen."

If that wasn't bad enough, the following was a mere two short paragraphs later:

"Nick rolled onto his stomach and crawled to the phone, the pain casting around in his back. Fire and ice battled for victory and his body was the battlefield."

What was I thinking? I adore deep POV. Strike that. I adore deep POV that's done well. This was an emotional moment. Emotional moments often call for deep POV. But clearly, this would have been better written almost any other way. Or not written at all. Maybe I was tired. Or desperate. Or distracted. Whatever I was, I was not on top of my game.

Why in the world would I admit writing such drivel? To make two points. The first one is that it is possible to grind out over-the-top garbage even after having written for years. And the second one is . . . (this is important) . . . I now have something to fix.

Several people have said, "You can't fix a blank page." I don't know who said it first, but they got it right.

The words are awful. But the idea is there. I have something to work with. Something to move forward with. I've already changed those words, and will probably change them again before I'm done.

It's a process.

What's the worst thing you've ever written? Dare to share?

CR: The Fourth Watcher by Timothy Hallinan.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I know I shouldn't love adjectives and adverbs. But I adore them, especially in a first draft. Knowing that's a weakness of mine, I'm going to share a piece of my wip that's populated with, um, darlings.

    She manipulated the sheet of parasite-skin fabric. It billowed translucent against the darkening sky, stretching in the center and bowing along the edges until it formed a diaphanous vessel that hovered overhead.

    For the record, I want you to keep the bit about the air being made of nails. In some form, anyway. : )

  2. I absolutely love the word 'diaphanous'. It reminds me of gossamer wings. I picture a beautiful dragonfly. Making it into a vessel is just pure magic. So, I vote to keep that somehow.

    My nails switched to needles. I'm still not sure I'll keep it, but here's the first re-write:

    Raw emotion filled the air around him with needles. When he finally pulled in a tortuous breath, it felt as if he drug in those needles, their vacated space filled with dense cotton.

    And of course, now that I'm reading it for public consumption, I can tell it isn't right yet.


  3. Oh, yeah. *raises hand* Been there, am still there a lot. :) My weakness? I over-explain stuff. It's like 2x4 writing: bang the reader over the head with a 2x4 enough times and they're sure to get it, right? *cough*

    Fun post, Peg.

    Karen Duvall

  4. There's an acronym for that, but it escapes me at the moment. Probably because MY problem is that I under-explain stuff and just think the reader ought to know where I'm going. Poor reader. And, btw, poor husband.

    Thanks, Karen. And congratulations again.

  5. Take heart! I too am going through a drivel phase! But it is so much worse than yours, I am embarrassed to share it.

    I notice your CR is by Tim Hallinan - he and I and 4 other international writers blog daily at In today's blog, I mention a way ease the pain of drivel writing!!

    Always enjoy your blog!


  6. I mean, I agree it could use some polishing/re-working, but it's far from the worst thing I've seen--and I mean in published books. "Pain casting about" is close to brilliant--it anthropomorphizes (sp?) pain so well.

    My worsts are not usually the writing itself, but the enormous plot holes I leave behind, or the leaps of assumption I take in terms of characters' motivation.

    Some of those are pretty cringe-worthy.

  7. Stan and Jenny, thanks for stopping by and for posting a comment.

    I'm coming to you 'live' from Greensboro, North Carolina tonight. Here for the Writer's Police Academy conference. Don't think I'll get much writing done for the next few days, good or bad.

    And since it took me all day to get here, the 'live' part is really stretching it at this point.

    Thanks again, you two!

  8. Fun post, Peg. Goodness, I wouldn't know where to start with my own purple prose. Sometimes I think I channel an overly dramatic Victorian gothic novelist (see :-)). I'm amazed when I look back--it makes me wonder if my orange juice has fermented.

  9. Peg, you're so good for me. :-) I went back and got rid of my beloved modifiers. Kept diaphanous though.

    Jenny, I leave plot holes too. I make a note when I notice them and keep on writing, or I'd never reach the end of the MS.