American poet William Stafford had a controversial approach to writing. He instructed his students to “lower your standards and keep going. When it gets hard, don't stop - it is hard because you are doing something original.” After the writing flow is staunched, then it is time to raise the standard during the rewrite process. William’s son, Kim Stafford, wrote of this in his father’s biography, Early Mornings: Remembering My Father, William Stafford.
Me, I’m afraid to write junk. It doesn’t mean I haven’t done it – just not intentionally. My inner critic whispers to me that my worth is tied to performance. It is communicated from birth at home, church and school, and especially in college. Writing junk is unacceptable – a product of laziness. A waste of time. So says my subconscious.
There is nothing wrong with writing good prose from the get-go, but unless you know how to disengage from perfectionism, you can ruin your ability to tap into that place where true creativity happens. Starting out with high, insurmountable standards creates thresholds impossible to cross which throws your abilities and creativity into shadow.
In order to create a safe place for this lowering of standards to occur, I must first lay the ground rules. Most importantly, I promise that no one else will ever see it and I keep that promise. Next, I have permission to toss it if it truly stinks like a rotten fish.
Not long after the death of his father, a friend of Kim Stafford’s pointed out that in medieval warfare, lowering one’s standard meant offering truce. When you offer truce to your opponent (the blank page) you are open to what may come and you disarm your inner critic.
Are you afraid to write junk? Do you trust yourself enough to lower your standard in truce? We’d love to hear.