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What is the worst thing you’ve written?

When I heard the Grotto was doing a fundraiser for Litquake called Regreturature, I signed up without even thinking about what I would read. I figured all I had to do was look through the 3x2x2-foot box full of journals I’d written over the years, and I’d find all kinds of jewels. I remembered, for instance, recently coming across a letter I’d written to an ex many years ago, a letter so wretchedly cruel that I tore it into shreds and scattered them between three different waste baskets, so some meth addict couldn’t piece it back together and post it on his blog. (I once read an article that said meth addicts were committing identity theft by piecing together shreds of paper with people’s bank information, and therefore only a cross-cut shredder could safeguard you against fraud.)

I put the task off until two nights before the rehearsal because I dreaded the thought of revealing A) Embarrassing details about my personal life or B) My horrible writing. Then I reminded myself that we have ALL committed bad writing. Every one of us. Even bestselling authors. I also remembered a line a journalist friend once quoted: “There are no good or bad writers; only good and bad writing.”

So I lugged my box up from the basement and dug in. I regretted (appropriately) having thrown out the ex-boyfriend letter, but I was sure there were other regrettable gems waiting to be discovered. Like this one:

Recipe for a fucked-up relationship (marriage)

2 calls per day in town; 1 call per day out of town
2 I loves yous each day
Make love two times per week, once in morning, once at night
I cook on pasta, fish, casserole, and leftover nights. You cook on BBQ’d hotdogs, BBQ’d hamburgers and BBQ’d steak nights. I do the dishes, you take out the trash. I pay the rent, you pay telephone and utilities. You drop the kids off at daycare. I pick them up.

Recipe for a good marriage
Make love six times this week, none the next
Call when it’s in your heart to talk to the other person
Say I love you whenever you feel it.
Cook when you can, as often as you find time.

Or perhaps this “poem”:

It’s okay to be sad—cry, cry, cry
It’s okay to be mad—talk, talk, talk
It’s okay to be happy—smile, smile, smile

None of these were long enough, though, or funny enough, to read in front of an audience. I needed something really bad, something I had worked hard at to make good. And then I saw it. Lying in the corner of my box was a blue card stock cover poked through with bronze fasteners—my screenplay. When I was 22, I wrote a feature-length screenplay about what happened to supermodels when they retired. They went to Supermodel Planet, where they flew around in capes (à la Superman), rescuing Earthlings from fashion disasters. The story is much more complex than that, of course, involving lots of sex with the only man on the planet—the gardener—drugs, poker-playing, and a plot culminating in a fashion show. It was meant to be a farce, a Zoolander of the early 90s. Instead, it was a disaster worse than any visible panty line. But I’m old enough now to look back on it and laugh. In fact, I laughed so hard reading it tonight that I had mascara smeared all over my face.

And the best part is how nice the teacher of the screenwriting class I took at UCLA extension was. She circled the best lines and wrote “Great line!” and otherwise marked up the faulty screenplay formatting. She did provide advice about my character and plot in her typed critique, but nowhere did she tell me that my writing sucked. Nowhere did she make me feel bad. Nowhere did she make me want to quit writing. So remember when critiquing other people’s work—a person who submits a poorly written story isn’t a bad writer; she’s a beginning writer. And her writing isn’t bad; it just needs work. You were a beginner once, too. Just take a look through that box in the basement, and I’m sure you’ll find something regrettable.

Meanwhile, come on down to the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco this Thursday at 8 p.m. (2174 Market St.) to laugh at with us. You won’t regret it.

And now, a question for you—what is the most regrettable thing you’ve ever written? Was it a love letter? A poem? A short story or journal entry? Please share a few lines in the comments below. Best entry gets an autographed copy of one of my worst poems.

22 comments to What is the worst thing you’ve written?

  • julia

    My grad school application essay. I looked used a Thesaurus for every third word because I thought 6-syllable words would make me sound smarter and increase my chances of getting in. It was something like "NAFTA: a panacea for U.S.-Mexico ligatures?" I came across a copy of it a couple of years ago when I was moving and my cheeks steamed with shame. I dumped it in the recycling, so I can't quote from it. I did get into the grad school, but no financial aid.

  • Deb

    I was going to say I'll have to rummage around for my worst stuff, then recalled the 120 pages of TMD-precursor I wrote when I was 14. If I remember, what I comment with will likely be either from that or from some of my early poetry.

    (I'm glad I kept it. Really? I know, totally convincing.)

    I love your comments about your instructor. To folks–including yourself!–who take that kind approach, I offer a hearty salute!

  • Ani

    Meghan…You clearly pieced together "Recipe for a fucked-up relationship (marriage)" by piecing together a note I had torn and thrown in my trash can. And in my note, I called it "Recipe for a perfect marriage". Stop taking meth and stop stealing my writing!

  • I think Tyra has been going through your attic too:

  • Julia – Oh, that's too bad that you didn't keep that essay! My first undergrad essay was pretty bad, too. I didn't want to go to college straight out of high school, but my parents made me apply to the University of Michigan, so I wrote this really snarky essay, so I wouldn't get in.

    Deb – I want to read some of that early poetry!

    Ani – Isn't that funny? At 19, my worst nightmare was routine. I couldn't stand the thought of doing the same thing week after week, month after month. In one journal I wrote that I dreaded the thought of getting married and staying home to watch videos on Friday nights. Now my most exciting night of the week is when I get to watch a video!

  • Kristan – We must have posted comments at the same time. And OMG – do you think supermodels rescue Earthlings from fashion catastrophes in Modelland? From the description of the book, it sounds like Trya said to herself, "Hmm. How can I make a shitload of money? Let's (meaning she and the ghost writer) combine models and fantasy (maybe throw in some paranormal vampire romance) into one book and use my super-fame to market it to the fastest-growing book market–teens." I wonder what kind of e-reading supplements it will have–videos? A video game? I'm being snarky, but it's stuff like this that it making it more and more difficult for real writers to sell good literature. (And to find the time to write it when they are spending so much time marketing to compete with superstars like Tyra Banks.)

  • m++

    At first I was worried that you had torn up your only bad writing, and that you would struggle to find anything to replace that letter. But after reading this post, I'm *glad* you tore up that letter, because Supermodel Planet is definitely going to make for a hilarious Regreturature reading. This box is taking up a ton of space in the living room by the way. Is everything in here, that bad?

  • julia

    snarky college entry essay – that's great!

  • m++ Haha. No, that box is full of journals and hopefully they're not all that bad.

    Julia – great if you don't want to get into college! 🙂

  • haha! I love this post–so what I needed! Well, I get embarassed of just about anything I've written ten or more years ago. There was one poem about a gnat and how its beady eyes implored me to sink into my depths of despair. Who writes about gnats? yeah, I do! Ridiculous. xx

  • Sarah – I want to read that gnat poem! Any chance you'd be willing to share it with us? Pretty please?

  • Okay, one more because, Why Not?

    "Backstage Pass"

    I touched your guitar
    felt its generation
    bumped the thing, dropped it

    **I would read this at Regretarature**!!

  • Oh, Sarah, I can't believe it took me five days to see these! And thank you thank you for sharing your gnat poem with us! I love it! (well, in that way that people "loved" by screenplay!). And "Backstage Pass" is equally wonderful! Okay, and now since you were willing to expose yourself, here is an awful video of my awful scene at Regreturature: Enjoy!

  • sarahwedgbrow

    You're a great speaker! As for the actors….um…well, no comment. 🙂 That was very funny, thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks, Sarah. I tried to memorize my intro but ended up reading most of it since it was sitting in front of me. My friend took a video of a story I told at another reading with NO notes – will post that one when I get it from her. The hooker in my scene, btw, is a real actress. I thoughts she was great! (The rest of us are clearly not actors!)

  • I agree w Ani – yr recipe for a bad marriage sounds like a perfectly good marriage to me…

    As for bad writing – I am really good about not storing hard copies – ESP of bad writing… But I m sure there’s plenty on my computer -or if you just sift through my comments! 😉

  • aditi raychoudhury

    i think your recipe for (a terrible) marriage is an awesome one – and i don't think you need a sample of bad writing from me- you have many- in my blog and emails… 😉

  • meghancward

    aditi, glad your comments are showing up now! one of my reader's still aren't. it's vexing. like i said to ani, the thought of that kind of marriage made my stomach churn when i was 19. now it sounds pretty good 🙂

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