Litquake's First Book!

DRIVEL: Deliciously Bad Writing
by Your Favorite Authors

Edited by Julia Scott

A collection of wordy, overwrought, insipid writing by America’s most beloved authors and artists.

Gillian Flynn, Mary Roach, Dave Eggers, Rick Moody, Chuck Palahniuk, the list goes on: they all sucked once and they all have the guts to share some of their crappiest early work in this uplifting bit of voyeurism.

Based on San Francisco’s wildly popular Regreturature stage show and produced by Litquake and the SF Writers’ Grotto, Drivel contains abstruse and esoteric poetry (bad); incoherent and illogical short stories (worse); bum-fuzzling proto- journalism (shameful); and pretentious, overwrought journal entries, all contributed by your favorite bestselling authors.

Thanks to these courageous but foolhardy writers, you’ll discover the real meaning of a work-in-progress.

 

On Sale September 2, 2014 · 978-0-399-16888-8
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Preface

The genesis for this project began as a desperate idea for a fundraiser. Janis Cooke Newman and I were brainstorming some type of collaboration between San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival and the Writers’ Grotto collective, which might benefit Litquake.

Grotto writers reading from their work? “Who’s going to pay to see that?” joked Janis, who of course is a member of the Grotto.

We continued wracking our brains. It couldn’t just be another reading or panel discussion. It needed some real zest. And then it suddenly hit me—what if we had these respected, professional writers instead read from the worst thing they’d ever written? The most shameful, embarrassing, precocious, clunky, sappy, immature, cloyingly earnest prose that somehow may have been stashed in a long-forgotten box.

Subconsciously, I think I was remembering a horrifically misguided paper I had once written about hippies in fourth grade. It was so ill-informed and painful that I could still recall some of the sentences verbatim. If I were ever to dig it up, it might amuse a roomful of people clutching cocktails. I would come off looking pretty stupid, but perhaps other writers could be persuaded to also embarrass themselves for a worthy cause. (The “essay” is included here).

But would it work? Would writers who ordinarily push themselves to be the best, be willing to debase themselves and offer up a personal literary turd in the name of entertainment? This goes against everything writers strive for. It’s hard enough to learn how to write well, to hustle working gigs, to get paid, to get published, to find readers, to make the world care about what you wrote. So why would anyone reverse the process and call attention to the fact their writing once sucked ass? And even more importantly, for our purposes, would they have saved any of it?

To everyone’s surprise, from Janis and myself, to the authors, their friends, and the audience, the stage show entitled “Regreturature” has become a hit. We’ve sold out four events in four years, and now you’re holding this collection—Drivel—that includes several of the pieces we presented, plus many others Julia Scott has found.

It’s always inspiring to hear great writing read aloud. But listening to a well-established author read from a cringe-worthy teenaged diary, or an earnest letter to President Nixon, or a groaner student poem, is enlightening in a different way. It reminds all of us that writing takes work. That everybody does start somewhere, and often that somewhere is pretty crappy.

So in a sense, Drivel offers hope for all aspiring writers. And it also sends a warning. If you haven’t thrown away your horrible writing, we may someday hunt you down and force you to share it onstage.

—Jack Boulware, co-founder, Litquake


Introduction

Right about now, you’re probably feeling pretty good about yourself. You’re holding a collection of shamefully bad writing by authors who have invested a lot of their careers in getting you to think they’re pretty great. Anyone who’s ever aspired to greatness but was scared of sucking, who’s spent desperate hours pulling their hair out and throwing draft after draft in the trash, knows the cringing terror these authors are feeling right at this very moment. Have a care for them.

Why? Because there was a time, not so long ago, when their writing stank so badly it wouldn’t even have been used to line a litter box. And yet the 48 authors (and three writer/artists) in DRIVEL: Deliciously Bad Writing by Your Favorite Authors are doing the unthinkable: they are willing to impale themselves, in public, for your amusement.

In fact, the writing in this collection is so bad, it deserves its own taxonomy of suckitude. There’s abstruse and esoteric poetry (bad); incoherent and illogical short stories (worse); bumfuzzling proto-journalism (shameful); and pretentious, overwrought journal entries (just turn the page and we’ll not speak of this again).

And all by your favorite, bestselling authors. Yes, they’ve committed horrible crimes against the written word. But the lesson, if there is one, lies in what happened next.

They never stopped writing. And eventually, they began not to suck.

I conceived the idea for this book after performing at the second annual live Regreturature show in San Francisco in 2012. I read from a journal entry I wrote as a twenty-year-old, gushing like a Tiger Beat teenybopper over an encounter with British playwright Tom Stoppard. (“It’s enough to know that I am living IN THE SAME LIFETIME, let alone being in the same room!”)

Who knew my earnest writerly crush on an eminent septuagenarian would supply so many laugh lines? I was delighted. But as the evening slipped by I sensed a second feeling in the crowd: a sort of communal catharsis. Together, we’d transcended the pain and the humiliation of dredging up our stinkiest ‘work’. And we’d turned it into a kind of public sacrifice.

By far the hardest part of putting this book together was getting authors to cough up their hoary hairballs. Some were seduced by the concept immediately, and were forced to choose from a veritable catalog of tumescent masterworks.

Others not so much. No matter how I framed my plea, begging for some scrap of juvenilia or errant bit of mid-career offal—anything, really, that escaped the wrecking ball of good taste and discretion—a number of fellow writers were not swayed.

Their excuses just a notch above “the dog ate my homework”: “My mom threw out my early writing.” “My boxes are buried in the attic.” “I don’t have anything that qualifies as bad enough to share.” (A note on that last one: we don’t believe you.)

Some writers expressed genuine regret, even as they confessed why they couldn’t contribute. One bestselling novelist got straight to the point:

“My bad writing is so bad, and there’s so much of it, and so little of the good, that it’s just too painful to lay eyes on that stuff,” he explained. (We understand.)

You’re about to meet the dozens of contributors who volunteered to pluck their turgid treasures from the bottom of a locked and moldy vault. Thanks to these courageous but foolhardy writers, the world now knows the real meaning of a work-in-progress.

—Julia Scott, San Francisco Writers’ Grotto


About the Editor

JULIA SCOTT is an award-winning radio producer, journalist and essayist who has reported from across the U.S. and Canada.

Scott’s stories have appeared in the New York Times, Modern Farmer, Nautilus, Salon, and on PRI’s Marketplace and NPR. Her BBC World Service radio documentary "Bon Voyage" won the Excellence in Journalism Award from the NLGJA and was nominated for a Sony Radio Academy Award. Her work has been collected in Best American Science Writing.

She has profiled giant pumpkin fanatics, written about honeybee nanotrackers, and reported from the inside of an iron lung. She has also investigated the proliferation of nitrate contaminating the drinking water of poor and rural Californians.

Scott hails from Montreal, Canada, and graduated from Smith College. She lives in San Francisco and is a proud member of the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. Follow her on Twitter @juliascribe.


Watch videos of Regreturature 2013!