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Lower Your Standards

Lower Your Standards

Just off the phone with fellow writer Michelle Hamilton who said she was talking with a superstar writer who said that the best writing tip she had heard in a long time–and one that was making the difference in her getting work done–was simply: Lower Your Standards.

It doesn’t need to be perfect, it doesn’t need to win awards, it needs to get done. It needs to get published, it needs to exist, it needs to be born.

It’s an interesting viewpoint as recently I’ve been leaning towards the other end of the spectrum: Write Epic Shit. It needs to be your best work, it needs to turn heads, raise awareness, lead the pack … blah blah blah. But it’s not going to happen if you don’t get started. You might not start if the blank page is screaming at you, taunting you, “Go ahead, make my day.” Waiting for that epicness to drain from your blood vessels and spill onto the page. It’s not going to happen until you write something mediocre or–God forbid–bad and then guess what? You can improve on it.

But you did it. You hit publish.

Something to be said for this approach. Hell, there’s something to be said for any approach that brings you that much closer to doing something. I got off the phone with Michelle now about 7 minutes ago. Now I’m hitting publish.

Crazy, I know.

Broken Glass & Goo

Photo: broken snowman glass ball at Empire State Building gift shop. If you don’t pick up the ball, it won’t break, but if you don’t pick up the ball, it won’t go anywhere either. There’s a risk involved, but you have to be ready to take it. This one no work out so good …


  1. John Muldoon

    I like this post, Bradley. It reminds me of something Hemingway wrote in his fantastic 1934 letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald:

    “For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket. You feel you have to publish crap to make money to live and let live. All write but if you write enough and as well as you can there will be the same amount of masterpiece material (as we say at Yale). You can’t think well enough to sit down and write a deliberate masterpiece…”

    The full letter here is worth reading:

    • Bradley

      I like how he writes “one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit.” That adds up to 92. Not 100 like you’d guess.

      Thanks for the note and link, John. Wow, I’m so guilty of the masterpiece philosophy. It’s also about Practice, Practice, Practice of course. How can anyone expect to sit down and make it perfect? Sure, might happen occasionally, but not 91% of the time. But if you’re only going to be writing (or doing anything) 1% or 8% of the time, put those percentages onto those numbers: now only 1% of that 1% is going to be a masterpiece. You’re down to a sentence that’s going to be worth anything because you’re only writing a page every ninety-two days.

      Just like practicing free throws. In the beginning, you might be shooting 40%, but you’ll get better. If you don’t practice, chances are pretty good that you won’t improve. If you keep practicing, you’ll (probably) get better. Or if you don’t, maybe you should take up baseball.


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