Mediocre Writing > No Writing At All?

Recently, I boldly declared “mediocre writing” to be better than no writing.

One reader commented, “While I cringe at the idea of mediocre writing being considered better than no writing, I do agree with you that in an educational environment such practice is necessary.”

I don’t blame him for cringing at that; the truth is, I cringed too, as I wrote it. And I knew I’d have to go back at some point and dedicate a new post to that very idea.

When it comes to my own writing, mediocre is rarely enough. In fact, mediocre can ruin my day. Typically, when I sit down to craft a Magnificent Nose article, I spend about five minutes typing out an intro and a few connected thoughts. Then I sit back and read critically over what I’ve done.

As you might imagine, many posts fail to see their six-minute birthday.

You might guess that I am just too hard on myself–but the  truth is that I take all writing seriously. And while I may sometimes like to paint myself as the smiling teacher outside a writing classroom shouting, “All are welcome!” I do come down pretty hard on mediocrity from time to time.

I don’t so much have a problem with my students. Their grades are often held hostage in exchange for essays and stories, and if in the end the work is less than stellar, well, that’s the way it goes in education. No, I don’t take issue (read: get angry) with mediocrity until I come across some unimaginative internet blogger, or that dreamy guy next door who thinks he’s the next John Keats because he’s filled a few notebooks with clichéd “poetry.”

You know, adult people who think they can write, when they can’t. That’s the type I don’t generally like. And no, I am by no means proud of these feelings–but they’re there. Now, if I could flip a switch and prevent these purveyors of mediocrity from producing anything new, would I? No. Tempting though it may be, I most certainly would not.

When we read short stories, view paintings, or watch actors perform onstage, it’s easy to imagine that these creative pursuits are nothing more than the end product. In other words, we forget that there must have been a journey along the way. We forget, for example, that the brilliant tap dancer must have tripped a few times during his first lesson. We don’t see how hard that person must have worked, day in and day out, to get to where he is today. In other words, if we don’t allow mediocrity, we’d never get to anything good.

Now, not everyone who signs up for a tap class is going to eventually be cast in a Broadway production of “A Chorus Line”. If I put on a pair of tap shoes and practiced every time I had the chance, I’d probably go from a horrible dancer to just okay.

So should I be forever bared from the dance floor? Or should I be allowed to participate because, hey–it might be fun? Especially given that my other option would be to sit forlornly and wish that I was good enough to dance with everyone else, isn’t there something to be said for allowing ourselves a new and rich experience?

And as I returned to my post, blustery and ready to defend my original point, I saw that the aforementioned commenter had come back to add:

It’s true, I do cringe at the idea of mediocre writing being better than none… The truth is, as I think about it… I would rather have my children playing guitar or piano badly, or as best they can than not experience music at all.

So there you go. It took both of us a while to get it, but we got it.

Now, anyone want to take a tap dancing class with me?

Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site has more examples of her work.


3 thoughts on “Mediocre Writing > No Writing At All?

  1. The way I see it, some people do mediocre work because they are lazy and don’t care — whether they are writers, lawyers or even house painters. For that I have zero tolerance. Sometimes it’s because the people in charge (a parent, teacher, boss or client) let them get away with it. For that I have less than zero tolerance.

    Some people just don’t have the talent or the ability. That has nothing to do with mediocrity. If you’re pursuing a hobby or an interest and you’re a mediocre artist who cares. Who am I to judge you? But if you are working as an art director and you just don’t have the talent and mediocre is as good as it’s ever going to be — well — you’ve got to go.

  2. You have to start at mediocre, usually worse, to get to good.
    The people who think they’re brilliant writers when they’re terrible worry me. They have no models of what good writing looks like because they don’t read, or they read things that aren’t much better than what they themselves write.
    This is one of the reasons I avoided trying to find a writers’ group for many years: I thought they were all full of people like that.

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