Did you know that William Shakespeare wrote some really bad plays?
Yes, I realize that it’s quite a shocker. Go ahead. Reread that first sentence a few times if you need to, then take a deep breath and get your bearings before going on to read the rest of this post.
Ready to move on? Okay. Like I said, Shakespeare wrote some bad plays.
Of course, he wrote several excellent ones too. There are certainly very good reasons why this one man is commonly regarded as not only the greatest writer in our language, but also one who shaped and influenced the very direction of the language itself. There’s no question that Shakespeare was a literary genius.
But that genius was still human, and since he wrote close to forty plays that we know of, it just stands to reason that some would be better than others. That’s something I’ve been realizing this semester in the Shakespeare class I’ve been taking. Early on in his career, Shakespeare was still getting a feel for his writing, and he wrote some plays that haven’t been as enduring or were just plain not as good as the classics such as Hamlet and Macbeth that he’s most remembered for. The play commonly cited as his worst is Titus Andronicus, which I haven’t even read because my classes haven’t covered it and everyone says it’s so bad–but allegedly it’s disgusting and overly violent to the point of losing any literary quality it could have had. Additionally, he has some early comedies like Two Gentlemen of Verona that I read this semester. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great, and it seemed to lack depth compared to his later ones. And then there’s the “problem plays” like The Winter’s Tale and All’s Well That Ends Well that are so weird and mixed up that critics still aren’t sure just exactly what to do with them.
I’ve noticed similar things about other authors in the past couple of years too. In my classes on Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne, my professor keeps pointing out that it’s okay for us to criticize or even dislike the author at times. They’re great American authors whose work has endured for over a century, but they still wrote enough that not everything they did was an excellent literary masterpiece. In fact, sometime after his first novel Fanshawe was published, Hawthorne decided that he didn’t like it anymore, so much so that he tried to buy up all the copies he could find and have them destroyed. Even Hawthorne had an early first work that he wasn’t too proud of.
My point is this: if you’re a writer, then you’re going to write some bad stuff. If you’re a passionate and dedicated writer, if you’re serious enough about writing to write a lot and to stick with it over time, then you’re going to write some bad stuff. I’m a pretty good writer, and I’ve written some pretty bad stuff. If you’re a persistent writer, then you’re gonna write something that someone doesn’t like, whether it’s you who’s not proud of it or your audience who doesn’t get it or both. That’s just how it is, for all writers. From Shakespeare down to me down to you.
This fact shouldn’t discourage you, though. Rather, I mean it to make you aware and to encourage you to persevere. If you’ve written some bad stuff that you’re not proud of, then it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the next Shakespeare either, but still, it doesn’t mean you’re bad. Maybe you’ve heard the term “crappy first drafts” (or maybe you’ve heard it with a stronger word in place of “crappy”). The idea of “crappy first drafts” is that anything you write will likely be pretty horrible at first. But if you’re willing to put time and effort into honing your skill and writing more and more over time, then eventually you will get better. If you can accept that not everything you write will be brilliant right away, then you’ll be better able to persevere through the rough patches and come out with something good in the end.
If you write consistently, then you’ll have plenty of bad days and bad drafts that just seem like they’re really not coming together or not worth finishing. But if you write consistently, then you should also get better and better at finding what is good in your writing and honing that part too. Even Shakespeare had to do it, and you can do it too. So take heart, writers, and do not despair. Just keep writing!