Columns > Published on June 20th, 2016

All of the Articles I Didn't Want to Write

One of my favorite quotes about writing is by Don DeLillo, and it refers to the draft as a “hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless” infant. That is exactly how I've felt about certain pieces I've been commissioned to write over the years, not just when they were drafts, but when they were grown adults as well.

I wrote them anyway. They were tossed my way or slipped in under the door, hidden in a batch of other assignments. But basically, I wanted to take this opportunity to apologize for all of my defective infants—both those which have already come into the world and the ones which have yet to be born.

On almost any given day, there is at least one piece of writing that I really don't want to face. Maybe the topic is dull, or particularly difficult to research. It might be that I've already written a few thousand words and squeezing out even a hundred more seems like a physically painful chore.

Every ugly baby can be a lesson learned, but sometimes it's better to just take a nap, or a walk.

A few topics to fall beneath this umbrella of loser articles have previously included:

  • Olive oil trends
  • A history of Barbie dolls
  • The release of Sharknado 2
  • Entry requirements for cosmetology school
  • Possibly this article. We'll see.

But I just might have learned something about being a writer from these articles. I write between 700 and 5,000 words every day. Not all of those words will be my best, and sometimes I have to accept imperfection, letting small things slide to keep the bigger picture within the frame (To the person who commented on the misuse of the word “dissemble” my last LitReactor article: I am so genuinely sorry. I hope that you'll forgive me one day*).

*Editor's Note: I, too, apologize, to the readers and to Leah, for looking up the word and going... Eh, close enough... and leaving it as it.

Tips For Making Yourself Write Horrible Things

  • Use Netflix as bait. Watch an episode (or five) when you reach a word goal or finish a piece.
  • Use desserts/snacks as bait. I keep muffins handy at all times for this reason.
  • Do your most undesirable writing on a hardback chair or bench. Masochistically tormenting yourself will pan out in the end when you manage to meet that deadline. Avoid the bed at all costs.

Not every piece of writing is a winner, but every word that makes it onto the page is still an achievement, albeit a minor one. It's a reminder that writing is a job like any other; doing it every day makes it hard to truly enjoy, but every ugly baby is still a lesson learned.


I came back to this article about a week after I wrote it, because I had a sneaking suspicion that it didn't make a tremendous amount of sense. I was basically correct (see my first bulleted list above). I came home from covering a lengthy local government meeting for a newspaper after a day of doing—what else? Writing articles. That's essentially why I pitched this piece. I wanted a chance this month to reflect on the troubles I've had lately, balancing writing and life. Instead, it ended up buried beneath a pile of work.

Overbooking yourself is one of the fastest ways to take the joy out of writing. It makes you write crazed, sleep-deprived drivel like this. Sometimes it's difficult to avoid. Assignments will come up quickly with short deadlines, and it's hard to say no to a paycheck that you figure could be easily squeezed in beside everything else. You can burn the midnight oil once in a while, right? No one will know that you cranked out those 800 words at 3 a.m.

Personally, I have a difficult time determining when to draw the line. I can't seem to say no. It has undoubtedly hurt the quality of my work in the past, and I'm sure it will again. So here's the actual lesson at the end of this strange, rambling monologue: every ugly baby can be a lesson learned, but sometimes it's better to just take a nap, or a walk, or to eat something that doesn't contain caffeine. Maybe save that lesson for another day and reclaim your humanity instead.

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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