Writing is Finger-Painting with Words

by Jim Denney

A few years ago, I taught a workshop at a writer’s conference. After one session, a young woman came up to me and said, “My problem is that I never finish anything. I’m so afraid that someone will see a flaw in my story that I keep reworking it until I can’t tell if it’s good or not. I finally get sick of it and put my story away unfinished. Sometimes, I can’t even get started. I know what I want to write about — it all seems so perfect in my head. But when I try to write the perfect opening line, nothing comes. Without a brilliant first sentence, I can’t write the rest of the story.”

My advice to her: “Give yourself permission to write badly. Obsessive perfectionism destroys good writing. If you’re obsessed with writing the perfect opening line, you’ll end up with no story at all. When you permit yourself to write badly, you allow the words to flow.”


Image: Public Domain

John Steinbeck put it this way: “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.” And novelist Jodi Picoult said, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

When you create a world of imagination out of words, you reflect the joyful, exuberant creativity of the One who created you. Just ask God for a touch of inspiration — then take a leap of faith and start creating.

Writing is finger-painting with words. Creativity is fun, joyful, exciting — and messy. Don’t stop to clean up the mess. Don’t do research. Don’t edit. Write.

Imagine standing over a kindergartner who is finger-painting, and telling that child, “Stop! Look at your messy fingers. Go wash your hands.” That would be cruel. The whole point of finger painting is for the child to be uninhibited, creative, and spattered with paint.

In the same way, the point of writing in first draft is to make a vivid, uninhibited, creative mess with words. You want to get your page or computer screen covered with a profusion of swirling, colorful, emotion-drenched word-pictures. It’s not your intellect that creates those beautiful word-pictures — it’s your uninhibited self, your inner child. 

Don’t tell yourself, “Go clean up that sentence.” Instead, tell yourself, “Have fun! Enjoy! Make a beautiful mess!” Write what you feel, write what you see in your imagination, write your passions and convictions.

Your first draft doesn’t have to be word-perfect. In fact, perfection is the last thing you want when you are fast-drafting. Exuberance, passion, emotional intensity, exhilaration, surprise, astonishment, honesty, truth — these are your priorities when writing your first, fast draft. Perfection comes later — much, much later — in the rewrite and editing stages.

If you’ve been feeling stuck or inhibited as a writer, I hope this message encourages you to set yourself free to write freely, quickly, and brilliantly. Try it — and let me know if these thoughts have been helpful to you.

God bless and inspire you as you write for Him.




Note: Battle Before Time, the first book in my newly revised and updated Timebenders series for young readers, has just been released in paperback. Click this link to learn more.

And if you’d like to learn more about how to write faster, more freely, and more brilliantly than you ever thought possible, read my book Writing In Overdrive, available in paperback and ebook editions at Amazon.com. —J.D.


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