Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Dare To Be Bad

A Great Catch Phrase…

Following is a post I wrote almost exactly ten years ago. Very little has remained the same in publishing in ten years, and especially through this pandemic, but I figured it would be a good time to bring this forward, touch it up a little bit. Many of you have heard me talk about this concept, and it is an amazingly freeing thing when applied.

And my gut sense is that this would be a good Pop-Up topic to really dig into it for those who might need this. Anyway, here is the original post from ten years ago.

Dare To Be Bad

Kevin J. Anderson credits me with coming up with the phrase, but it actually was a catch phrase that Nina Kiriki Hoffman and I used in our early years of our short-story-per-week challenge. I think Nina might have said it first, but it was our chant. And I have repeated it over and over during the last few decades. Both to myself and to other writers.

Now in this new world of publishing, it still applies, maybe even more.

Kevin takes the phrase “Dare to Be Bad” and applies it to first drafts, using it as permission to write hard and fast on the first draft and then fix it on the next draft if it needs fixing. That works and works well, especially if you are a rewriter and have the ability to actually finish a second draft. And Kevin uses external deadlines a great deal to stop the rewriting and release the product, which is also great.

Nina and I were using the phrase in a slightly different way. Not 100% sure how it helped Nina, she would have to talk about that, but for me it got me out of the rewriting mode (and solidly following Heinlein’s Rules).

And it helped me get the courage to send my stories out for editors and readers to read.

The base of the phrase for me is this: It takes a lot more courage to write and mail something than it does to not write, or write and not mail. And by putting out your work to editors, and/or readers, you are risking the chance that readers and editors might not like it, that it might be bad.

So you are daring to be bad.

Where I have used this phrase over the years is to try to help writers who are stuck in rewriting whirlpools, never thinking anything was good enough to mail, so thus never making any real progress toward selling their work. At some point, if you write first draft or ten drafts, you have to take a chance and mail your work if you want readers to read it. At that point you must “Dare to be Bad.”

(And if you are writing into the dark, one draft and mailing, you must also dare to be bad.)

Of course, there are no real repercussions of mailing a story that fails. No editor reads anything that doesn’t work and no editor will remember your name if your story doesn’t work. Most of us (editors) have trouble remembering the names of the authors and the stories we have bought over the years, let alone the stories we glanced at and form rejected.

And there are no real risks in putting a story up on Amazon and Kobo and D2D. If the story sucks, if your sample is bad, or your cover sucks, or your blurb wouldn’t draw flies, no one will read it or buy it or remember you. No real risk to you. Sure, no sales, but no real risk either.

But alas, new writers (and I was no exception) are all afraid of mailing our work to editors or putting it out for readers to read. New writers think that some editor with an empty desk like we see in the movies will pull up the manuscript, read every word, realize it sucks, and then put the new writer’s name on a blacklist and send thugs with guns to the new writer’s house to kill their cats.

Or worse.

The reality is that no one notices, which I suppose for some people is worse. But there are no real risks.

(I honestly came to love the fact that no one noticed in my early days of writing.)

So early on in my writing life, I used the “Dare to be Bad” saying as a way to jump my brain over the made-up fear that kept me from mailing and that wanted me to rewrite things to death.

I wrote one draft and then instead of tinkering with it, I had a first reader find the typos and the mistakes, fixed those, took a deep breath, and mailed the story while repeating over and over, “Dare to be Bad.” I was convinced that every one of those stories I mailed sucked beyond words, that they all needed to be rewritten just as I had been doing without any success for seven years.

But I still mailed them.

I would also turn every story into a workshop after I had mailed it to an editor. The workshop, of course, would back up my fear that the story sucked beyond words and I needed to fix a hundred different things about it. Then I would sell the story and be very, very glad I didn’t listen to the workshop or my own fear.

In those early years, with “Dare to be Bad” I never fixed a one of the stories I wrote unless an editor asked me to. And I still need that saying at times to get stuff out. And in hindsight, when the stories started selling, somehow I managed to hold the fear under control and not go back and touch any story.

In fact, in those early years, I became so militant about not touching a story (because I had to in order to climb over the fear) that I got angry when some editor wanted me to rewrite or touch-up a story. I always did it, but because I was so intense about the “Dare to be Bad” I got angry every time in those early sales. (I never let the editor know I was upset, but my poor friends around me sure knew. (grin))

When I look back at it, I can’t believe I actually managed to swim so hard upstream against so many myths. Knowing that Heinlein and Ellison and Bradbury and others did it the same way I did, writing one draft into the dark, helped me, but mostly it was the “Dare to be Bad” chant that pushed me week after week after week.

The New World of Publishing

It takes a huge amount of courage for a new writer to put their work out into the real world. It takes one hundred times more courage to put out first drafts that you are convinced can be “fixed” and “polished.” But for seven years my fixing and polishing had gotten few stories written and finished and no sales.

Mailing first drafts got me a career.

“Daring to be Bad” got me a career, such as it is. “Daring to be Bad” has paid the bills for over two decades. (Now three plus…)

And now we move into a new world where writers can take a chance and put up stories on sale directly to readers (Remember, this was ten years ago I wrote this.) Writers can become publishers. The bad stories will sink without a trace, the good stuff will find readers and get some word-of-mouth and good reviews and sales.

So many writers I hear these days talk about the “noise” of the internet, the fact that so many writers are putting up their own work that their little story won’t be able to find an audience. Great excuse, don’t you think?

But all that “noise” again means there is nothing really to lose. And nothing really to fear. No one will notice if a story sucks.

So back to “Dare to be Bad.”

There are always fears of one sort of another, fears that turn into excuses, to not put your work in front of editors or readers. So let me list a few “excuses” here just for fun that “Dare to be Bad” chant might help you with in getting your stories either on editor’s desks or for sale electronically.

And note: Let me just take these excuses right down Heinlein’s Rules.

1… I don’t have anything to write about, and I have trouble thinking of any idea. Maybe the fear of writing is stopping you and you just need to sit down at the computer and dare to be bad. Writing something is better than not writing. (Heinlein Rule 1: You must write.)

2… I can’t seem to find the time to write. Yup, we all had that problem starting out with day jobs and family. But if there are no major emergencies going on in your life, maybe you really don’t want to be a writer if you can’t find the time to write, or maybe you are just afraid of what you might write. Bluntly put, you need to just sit down and dare to be bad. (Heinlein Rule 1: You must write.)

3… I write, but I can never finish anything. Yup, I know all about these excuses. You can’t figure out the ending, or you get bored and jump to another project, or the project just feels awful about halfway through. If this is happening to you (happens to me all the time), you really need to dare to be bad. It takes courage to finish a project even when you think it sucks. Far more courage than it does walking away from it and quitting. (Heinlein Rule 2: You must finish what you write.)

4… Story isn’t good enough, it needs another polish. For most writers, doing another draft is an excuse to not mail it for fear of the story being rejected or not read by readers, and this fear has a bunch of your stories sitting in files not mailed, maybe you might want to think of not doing that final polish and daring to be bad and mailing the thing. (Heinlein Rule 3: You must not rewrite.)

5… I write and finish stories, but I can’t seem to get them to editors or find the time to learn how to put them up indie myself. Here is where the real rubber hits the road, the real fears I talked about above hit each of us. Dare to be bad. It takes a vast amount of courage to get your stuff to editors or readers, even though there are no real threats coming back at you. No one notices if something is honestly bad. And maybe that’s the biggest worry of all, that no one will notice. And if that’s the case, run from this business now. Your ego is way, way too big to survive as a writer, either through traditional publishing or publishing your own stuff. (Heinlein Rule 4: You must mail your work to someone who will buy it. (Modern addition, put it up so readers can buy it.))

6… I mailed the story, got five or so rejections on it, so it must stink. Wow, again, if you give up after only a few rejections, you might again think about another career. But now, even if you do give up after a few rejections from editors, your story can still find readers. All you have to do is learn to do a cover and format your manuscript correctly and get it up on Amazon and other places. There is no reason to ever retire a story these days. Again, no one will notice if it sucks and if it doesn’t suck, it will find readers. But to get to those readers, you must dare to be bad. (Heinlein’s Rule #5: You must keep your story in the mail until someone buys it. (Modern addition, get your story for sale directly to readers and give them a chance to buy it.))


The phrase “Dare to be Bad” is a phrase that allows you to gain courage. Sometimes you just have to let go and dare to suck.

Someone pointed out to me once that Babe Ruth not only held the home run title for decades, but also the most strike-out title. Luckily for him he had no fear of being bad. He just stood up there and swung at the ball. That’s what I did every time I mailed a new story. I just stood up there, swallowed the fear, and took a swing.

Every writer, without exception, has mental issues with courage. Long term professional writers have figured out ways over and around or through the fears. For me, putting my work out there is always a challenge because so many of my stories have personal themes, personal fears. I still use “Dare to be Bad” as a chant to get me to mail things, to put up stories electronically, to even write the new novel or the next short story.

It takes a lot more courage to try and fail than it does to not try at all.

Go ahead, dare to be bad and see what happens. Mail a story to an editor without rewriting it to death. Put a story up on Amazon on your own. Try new things, experiment, take chances. You really have nothing to lose.

Step up to the plate, take a deep breath, and swing.

And who knows, just as I was, you might be very surprised at the positive results.


  • Marsha

    I love the point about Babe Ruth standing at home plate, daring to swing and holding best and worst records. My rejection file numbers in the multiple hundreds now and leaves me feeling a mix of a) I’m still not good enough, and b) I just haven’t found the right editor for the story.

    Last week I finished the year long short story a week challenge with a heartfelt, “Oh my god, I did it,” sigh of relief. Having to get a short story written every week made daring to be bad much easier and I began to experiment. Can I write MG adventure? Literary? A ghost story? The challenge became fun. Do all the stories work? Nah. Am I submitting them anyway? You betcha. Because I realized I don’t have a clue about my own work. I think it all pretty much sucks, but I’m having fun and I love to write. I can’t stop.

    It’s a little like dancing. I’m a terrible dancer. But I love music and when it gets inside me I have to move no matter how ridiculous I might look. Some people might laugh. So be it. I’m glad I gave them something to chuckle about. But some others, who maybe aren’t too graceful themselves, might feel emboldened to get up and cut a rug with me, and don’t we have a grand time?

    The short story challenge taught me that letting loose with our writing is freeing. Exhilarating. Totally awesome–and safe, because daring to be bad is all about not caring what anyone else thinks. It’s about celebrating our individuality, our unique viewpoint. Nothing we write will be to everyone’s taste. That’s impossible. But as long as we’re getting the craft right our stories will be to someone’s taste and those readers will become our dance partners.

  • Carolyn Ivy Stein

    Thanks for posting this reminder. This was the single most important thing I learned from you. It enabled me to finish the Great Challenge of 52 Stories in 52 Weeks. It is what makes it possible to send work out. I say it to writing friends when they struggle and it helps them as well. I didn’t realize you had a blog post I could refer them to. Now I do.

  • Marlene Jensen

    Dean, you’ve mentioned D2D a couple of times now. They seem similar (identical?) to Smashwords. Is there an advantage to using both of them? Or would it just be confusing to, say, Apple Books as to which of them to use to get your book? Or, I guess you could save the 10% by setting up accounts individually with Apple and Kobo, etc. This is all a little confusing to me. Thank you!

    • dwsmith

      You go direct to Amazon, Kobo, and then D2D. Then on D2D you turn off Amazon and Kobo. But go everywhere else. You can also go to Smashwords, but turn off everything that is on D2D and Amazon and Kobo. You only go to each place once. Adding Smashwords is a pain in the ass, and doesn’t get you that much extra.

    • Sheila

      Smashwords can get you to some markets D2D doesn’t. That’s about it. Like Dean said, go direct when you can, Kobo, Apple, B&N, and let an aggregator get you into markets indies can’t reach on their own. They’re also good for the Overdrive catalog. Just remember if you do both SM and D2D, turn off things so you don’t get duplicates.

  • topaz

    Thank you for bringing this back. It’s always a pleasure to me to reread this chant and Heinleins Rules.
    Both helped me finish and mail stories. 🙂

  • Karen

    Congratulations to Marsha and Carolyn Ivy for finishing the 52 week short story challenge! What an amazing feat that you have done. Hope you can keep it up for yourselves. Well done. Karen

  • Tony DeCastro

    Hey Dean, I came across this quote from a favorite singer/songwriter of mine. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. This is seems to me very much in line with what you teach about the creative voice and, well, many things.

    Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on kids and creativity…
    “Kids are creation machines, man. They just barrel forward. And that’s really the ideal state for anybody making something. Figure out what it is later. Just make it; keep pedaling forward. Kids don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on which drawings are on the refrigerator. They’re busy coloring the next one. I really think they pretty much have it all figured out.”