Sadly for me, a certain percentage* of my bad writing made it into some journals and one of my early (quiet, you) books, so there’s no going back ironically to ridicule it from the safety of not having it published and being able to chose among the worst of the worst. And yes, I thought I was great at the time. But no one told me different, the bastards. It was like everyone just let me walk around with mustard on my face during a dinner party. If you’re actually friends with someone, you either make the international signal for “wipe your face, pig” or you come up with a napkin and do it for them. Godammit. Still, if there’s one thing the publication of my bad writing has done for me today, it’s to galvanize my determination to eradicate it from all future books. So yes, bad writing has a place in this world. And that place is to shame me.
Sadly, if bad writers have one thing in common it’s that they’re all firmly convinced that they’re good writers. Really good writers.
Bad writing can serve as a lesson of one kind or another, but can it ever be recycled into something approximating art? That appears to be what Vernon Lott tried to do with “Bad Writing,” a documentary inspired by the discovery of a cache of his old poems. Like Almond, he soon understood that you don’t necessarily need more than one person to have a disagreement about what constitutes bad writing. The novel, poem or essay you write today, in full confidence of its genius, may be regarded by some later version of yourself as soul-witheringly dreadful. But was Lott able to spin the straw of poems like “Sketches of Despair” into the gold of a nifty short film featuring interviews with the likes of George Saunders and Margaret Atwood? Hard to say, as “Bad Writing” has yet to find distribution.
*I survive day to day by assuring myself it’s a relatively small percentage, but still…