“You only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly. You can’t write regularly and well. One should accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”
~ Jennifer Egan (Pulitzer Prize winner)
He was a British author who could have had no idea of the dubious fame that would one day overtake him. His name was Edward George Bulwer-Lytton and, among his works was a novel titled Paul Clifford, published in 1830. The rambling opening sentence of the book is 58 words long, beginning with “It was a dark and stormy night,” later made famous by Snoopy, that wonderful little dog in the comic strip “Peanuts.”
However, it was a San Jose State University professor named Scott Rice who would forever link Bulwer-Lytton’s name with bad writing. In 1982, Rice launched a competition to identify and celebrate bad writing. Called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, it promotes bad – really bad – writing, as contestants are asked to compose the worst possible opening sentence to a novel.
I first learned of the contest when it was featured in a front-page article by Erik Larson in the Wall Street Journal. In it, Larson quotes Rice’s explanation of the contest’s goal: “We didn’t really want bad bad writing. Bad bad writing nobody wants to see. What we were really looking for was good bad.”
Over the years, the contest has remained enormously popular, and the winning entries are outrageously bad, laugh-out-loud hilarious, clearly demonstrating just how much creativity it takes to write really good bad material.
To learn more about the contest, and to read many of the entries, log on to www.bulwer-lytton.com, where you’ll find that the www stands for “Wretched Writers Welcome.” Rice has also published several compilations of contest entries.
For years, I’ve wanted to submit some entries of my own, but never seem to get to it. However, my oldest daughter, Mary, has submitted several entries and, one year, I’m proud to report that her entry earned her a Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mention! I’m happy that we have at least one good bad writer in the family. Way to go, Mary! Keep up the good bad work.
A Final Word: