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Apr 22 / King Kaufman

Time’s James Poniewozik on writing: Just write, baby

James Poniewozik

James Poniewozik

Of course you can learn a lot about sportswriting by taking advice from other sportswriters, but sportswriting is writing, and you can learn a lot from other types of writers too. Our Writers Advice series continues today with the first entry by a non-sportswriter. It won’t be the last.

Television and media critic James Poniewozik has been writing the Tuned In column for Time magazine for 12 years, and he writes a blog of the same name at He’s also written and edited for Salon, the New York Review of Books and Rolling Stone among others.

Here’s the best advice he says he’s ever heard:

I’ve heard this advice in variations from different people, but I once took a writing workshop with novelist Charles Baxter, who gave it my favorite phrasing: “Just write, whatever crap it may be.”

That is, don’t wait for the perfectly formed sentence to appear in your head; sometimes forcing the physical act of writing itself is what you need. Your mind will catch up.

That would probably be my advice to another writer too. Maybe another way to put it is: Don’t be afraid to be bad, to be ridiculous, to be wrong. [Don't be] bullied by your internal editor.

What Poniewozik is talking about is not editing yourself before you write. Just let the words go. I would add, though — just in case it’s not obvious — that you have to put on your editor’s hat when you’re done writing and make sure that when you publish, your writing is not “bad, ridiculous, wrong.”

There’s a time to be a discerning, harsh self-editor. Baxter and Poniewozik say that time is not when you’re trying to get the words out.

I can identify with this advice. I used to have a daily column with an 11 a.m. deadline. If I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to write about by 9 a.m., which happened fairly often, I would just start typing. I’d just write.