The 10 Shittiest Sentences I Have Ever Written

Kurt Vonnegut said there are two kinds of writers–Swoopers and Bashers. Swoopers get the basics of the story down in a quick draft, then go back later and refine the prose. Bashers (or, as I like to call us, Bleeders) attack every sentence one at a time until it’s perfect, then move on to the next one.

Personally, I’ve always been a Basher-Bleeder, but in my quest to plot an entire novel I decided to give the other side a try. I set a strict time limit and set upon my very first Swooping session, keeping my sights set on plot structure, believable characters, and overall consistency in the storyline, while ignoring the beauty of the words altogether. This is what Anne Lamott calls writing “Shitty First Drafts” and despite years of reading and re-reading that chapter in Bird by Bird, I’d never tried it.

My shitty first draft.

Overall, the experiment was a success. Bashing-Bleeding is a fine technique for flash fictions, but for an entire novel I’m officially on the side of Swooping. It was faster, easier, and kept me from wasting time polishing my metaphors in what I will no doubt later realize was a dingy rabbit hole, impenetrable dead-end, or pointless detour.

And, of course, as is the nature of Swooping, I wrote some of the shittiest sentences I have ever written in my life. Each and every one of my draft’s 200 pages are full of poor word choices, cliches, lackluster dialogue, crappy metaphors, narrative summary that goes on and on and on… You get the picture. It’s impossible to capture the full extent of the horror without seeing the actual draft (no), but I have specially hand-selected the following for your enjoyment:

The 10 Shittiest Sentences I Have Ever Written

10. The best I could do sucked.

9. The sun was going down, which was weird, because it was noon.

8. It looked like a sea sick flower garden–kind of like my mom’s house.

7. I felt so many emotions.

6. When he stepped out on stage, everyone suddenly got very quiet. Either that or really loud.

5. We traveled on the train, like you do, and I had feelings related to it, although I was unclear about the role it played in the larger scheme of things.

4. “Maybe tomorrow,” he said. Tomorrow. Time meant nothing to me.

3. The surprise took him just as much as the surprise of being surprised. I hung in wait at what kind of surprise it would be.

2. I knew I would have to move quickly. From the corner of my eye I saw his purple coat, his pocket, the red handkerchief. That traitor, I thought. That liar. That evil piece of poop.

1. I continued to struggle in this way that only someone who doesn’t know how to drive can.

Fiction Recommendations, 2012

Here are some books that have given me pause, blown my mind, or otherwise inspired the hell out of me in the last year or so:

The Orange Eats Creeps, by Grace Krilanovich

What it lacks in plot it makes up for in killer prose. Imagine this: William S. Burrough’s creepy stepdaughter grows up to be a vampire punk who hops trains through Oregon while having one esp/drug-induced fever dream after the other, then writes a book about it. Curious?

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, by Aimee Bender

I found this while browsing in the “B” section of the fiction room at my local library. Short stories about reverse evolution and cement backpacks. Aimee Bender is definitely one of my literary heroes. If you like the weird, magical stories in my zines I Have a Song For You and Further Distractions, you should check her out.

1/3 1/3 1/3 (in Revenge of the Lawn), by Richard Brautigan

I could take or leave everything else that Richard Brautigan wrote, but this short story makes me cry my eyes out. Just find it and read it already.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver

I’m a big fan of Carver’s style–spare, delicate, to the point. But what really made me fall in love with his stories is his subject matter. He writes primarily about working class people from the Pacific Northwest. Yes, it’s depressing. And I wouldn’t exactly call him a feminist. But his stories have a subtle emotional power that I haven’t found in anyone else’s writing.  “Why Don’t You Dance?” alone instantly made this one of my favorite short story collections.

Swallow Me Whole, Nate Powell

Every time I read this graphic novel I’m sure that this will be the time I get to the last page without crying. Listen to me, people! I’m not a crier! Swallow Me Whole is on the shortlist for a reason. This book handles the complexity of mental illness with a kind of delicacy that creeps up on you in the final pages, settling into a tender spot you didn’t even know you had, then (if you’re anything like me) leaving you with a serious craving for some watered-down cranberry juice and a bowl of cereal. Super recommended.

No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July

Jesus. Do I even need to say it? Is there some way you don’t know about this book? “This Person” is by far my favorite, followed by “Something That Needs Nothing.” Miranda July is who I would be if I were eaten by a pod person from a cooler, artsier, more curlier-haired intergalactic dimension. Or maybe moving to Oakland and wearing more light pink would be enough to do the trick. Hmm…

The Beautifully Worthless, by Ali Liebegott

I usually don’t get into poetry, but Liebegott is an exception. She writes about moving boxes of pennies and paper clips across the country, Idaho, and crazy, directionless road trips. I believe this little gem is technically out of print, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for.