Culture

Twelve Writers Confess the Absolute Worst Thing They Wrote in 2018

Dog at typewriter
What was the worst thing you wrote in 2018? John Pratt/Getty Images

Every writer knows the feeling: You wrote something so bad it plunges you into a fog of doubt and self-loathing. Maybe it was an ill-advised think piece, an article you botched, a career-ending tweet or a stand-up routine that mocks school shooting survivors (OK, that's just Louis C.K.). As Thomas Mann once said, "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." And Thomas Mann, bless his soul, never had to deal with Twitter.

Every winter, as one year ends and another begins, writers rush to share their best work from the preceding 365 days. This is fine and good! And while self-congratulation is often healthy, ruthless self-reflection is more interesting.

Just like last year (and the year before that, and before that), we surveyed a bunch of good writers and asked them to confess the worst thing they wrote in 2018. It's a mix of journalists, poets, comedians, even a philosopher and a songwriter. Some answers are remorseful and sincere. Others are self-deprecating and witty. All of them, we hope, provide some insight into the regret, insecurity and internet backlash almost all outwardly successful writers deal with on a regular basis.

As usual, please be kind and forgiving to the writers below. They were the few brave enough to participate in this exercise.

MEAGAN FREDETTE (@meaganrosae), freelance writer, contributor to Refinery29, Teen Vogue, Rolling Stone, etc

"First of all: I am so sorry for writing this headline ('Male Birth Control Pills Are Slowly Coming'). I am so sorry for the image I chose. I am so sorry for the copy errors. I am so sorry for not seeking comment from actual scientists and physicians. And most of all, I am so sorry that, in my quest to be as gender-inclusive as possible, I used the term 'sperm-makers.' (I also said 'ovary-havers,' which may be the least horny two words ever strung together.)"

DAVID WEIGEL (@daveweigel), national political correspondent for the Washington Post, author of The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock

"I launched a newsletter for the Post this year, and led off almost every issue with a reported piece from some pivotal race or state. I think all of those pieces held up, except for this one ('What Happened Since Trump Won Ohio'), a little trip through rural eastern Ohio in which I found Republicans and Democrats speculating that Trump's 2016 appeal wasn't trickling down to other GOP candidates. Lots of anecdotes, for example, about how roads and neighborhoods that were covered in Trump signs didn't have evidence of GOP support in 2018. All of that was true, but Republicans actually had a great year in Ohio—there was a strong turnout operation, hard to see in person, that had nothing really to do with Trump."

BROTI GUPTA (@BrotiGupta), comedian, writer for Speechless

"I wrote a really nothing tweet that went vaguely viral despite having no real joke element to it. Kanye isn't even pronounced 'Can-ye' and obviously not spelled that way either. Sometimes, I tweet because I guess my body's dopamine levels are connected directly to Twitter's push notifications. Anyway, this very inane non-joke snuck its way into a sub-reddit called 'White People Twitter,' and became one of my most 'successful' tweets, again, despite it not being a real joke. Actually, now that I think of it, more of my successful tweets are things I don't actually find funny, but I think they might be relatable or 'on the pulse of pop-culture.' No one really appreciates when I tweet my real inner thoughts about how I think anything smaller than a lizard is an insect or that owls are too smart to be birds or that if I saw a bear I would think it was a large man in a bear costume and I could probably reason with it in a language."

Defunct typewriter A defunct typewriter is displayed to attract customers at a roadside typing shop in Mumbai. Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

GRZEGORZ KWIATKOWSKI, poet, songwriter, member of the Polish band Trupa Trupa

"Fortunately, the worst things I wrote in 2018 will never see the light of day. Almost. I spent the better part of 2018 working on an investigative poetry book called Karl Heinz M, focused on Shoah, euthanasia and eugenics, with most of the research work done in Austria. One of the focus points of the book is the Am Spielgrund clinic in Vienna, where children were killed to extract their brains for quasi-scientific research during the Nazi regime. Having spent too much time dealing with these gruesome themes made me realize I moved from the position of defending the victims and trying to understand the perpetrators to the position of rhetorical hate speech against the perpetrators. Fortunately, thanks to my editors, I managed to remove this poetic hate speech from my book. If only it was that easy. The black milk was spilled and it was spilled in Austria.

"Apart from being a poet, I’m also a musician in a psychedelic band Trupa Trupa whose songs cover, among others, the topic of Shoah. One of our songs is called 'Never Forget' and its lyric are inspired by Claude Lanzmann’s movie Shoah. Before we played it at the Waves Festival in Vienna, I made a short announcement: 'There was no Holocaust. That’s what some people say. Fuck them.' It was not planned and it was not thought over well. Even though it is true, I realized I crossed the line. My language has transformed from reasonable and non-violent to aggressive hate speech. Fool’s luck - I was saved by the heavy delay effect on my microphone which made my words totally incomprehensible. My New Year's resolution for 2019: Don’t let myself get infected with evil when studying it."

ANNA MENTA (@annalikestweets), senior culture writer for Newsweek

"I was assigned to write about the very brief Bruno Mars 'controversy' on Twitter in March ('Is Bruno Mars's Music Cultural Appropriation? Activist Sparks Twitter Debate'). As a white person, I knew I was the wrong voice to be reporting on this story, if indeed there was even a story to be told, but I was too afraid to say no. Instead, I attempted to tell the story through the voice of the black activist who accused Mars of cultural appropriation by interviewing her, turning the whole thing into a much bigger piece than it needed to be. I then, more crucially, failed to reach out to any of the black writers and activists who were on the other side of the debate. In the end, I told a one-sided story which was probably worse than if I had just aggregated a few tweets and wrote a quick 300 words, and definitely worse than if I had just had the guts to turn down the assignment altogether."

JAMIE LOFTUS (@jamieloftusHELP), comedian and cartoonist

"The worst thing I wrote this year and every year is 20 pages in what will someday be a five-and-a-half hour musical slasher opus called Santa University, a movie I will someday direct about 40,000 Santas who (you guessed it, bitch) attend a university and 39,999 are killed in brutal and unhinged ways before the end of the year. Last year’s script was very bad, and the only way I could think to describe the protagonist Dan Santa is ‘looks like sh** and can’t even read.’ This year, I wrote an overcomplicated prom plot that ended up with Second Amendment Santa blowing up, Too Many DVDs Santa being beheaded by one of his own beloved DVDs and parents disowning their Santa child because they want to use his childhood bedroom to hook up with clowns they met on Tinder. Now that I’m reading this back, it’s actually the best thing I’ve ever written and people need to get on board.

"I also wrote a sketch this year for Robot Chicken that was uniformly hated about a hidden camera show where people try to make Lin-Manuel Miranda unhappy out of resentment. Apparently no one wants that except me."

Typewriter A Royal typewriter, pictured in 1966. Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

JASON DIAMOND (@imjasondiamond), author of Searching for John Hughes and the forthcoming book The Sprawl (Coffee House Press)

"My friend Tom Kretchmar has one of the best food Instagram accounts for a person who doesn’t cook or write about or photograph food for a living. He’s been in Japan recently, and took photos of nikuzushi, or horse meat sushi, starting with an apology to people who don’t eat meat. I started typing, 'This is the GOAT of horse meat sushi photos!' but decided to go with the horse and sushi emojis instead."

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEKphilosopher and cultural critic

"The choice is easy—the four short essays I published in the Philosophical Salon of LARB in defense of Avital Ronell against the accusations of her sexual misconduct. What I regret is not that I defended her but that I did not use this opportunity for a more general attack on the hypocrisy and power games that sustain much of the Politically Correct struggle against sexual exploitation. The time has come not just to defend wrongly accused individuals but to attack the entire orientation. I still feel the disgust when many of my 'friends' told me privately that they agree with me but that they don't dare to say this publicly. They are the worst, I should have attacked them."

WAYNE GLADSTONE (@WGladstone), novelist, author of the Internet Apocalypse Trilogy and the forthcoming novel The Perversity of Thieves

"I satirized Bret Stephens' New York Times op-ed where this alleged 'Never Trumper' said he was finally grateful for the president because Trump was strong enough to stand by Brett Kavanaugh ('For Once, I'm Glad My Neighbor Is a Mad Scientist'). I actually still like the piece quite a bit, but it was a failed attempt to capitalize (within one hour) on a story that was super hot on Twitter. Even though McSweeney's accepted the piece and got it up the same day, by the time it ran the world had already moved on from Stephens' latest editorial atrocity. A whiplash turnaround is a swing for the fences to capture the moment, correctly judging the overlap between social media circles and the rest of the world's reading interests. This was not one of those times. A tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it still makes a sound; it just wishes it didn't."

ANNE BOYER (@anne_boyer), poet and essayist

"Although I am sorry to say it, the worst thing I wrote this year was the same email hundreds of times apologizing for being behind on my emails, and also a variation on the emailed apology apologizing for both being behind on my email and being behind on whatever that email requires me to do. Sometimes I apologize to others in my emails that my email to them with an apology caused them to apologize for their own email. Then there is the very worst variation of the bad email, which is an apology for the lateness of the email and an apology, too, that I will not be able to do the thing which I said I would do because I am too behind on my email to do anything but answer email for the foreseeable future, for which I am, of course, very sorry."

Typewriters Candelaria Pinilla, 63, types a letter on her typewriter, in front of the district taxing office in Bogota, on April 9, 2018. Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

MARK LEIDNER (@markleidner), author of the short story collection Under the Sea

"The worst thing I wrote in 2018 was a short story called 'Weeping in Hollywood' about a person who lives in L.A. and is obsessed with podcasts. I've only been to L.A. once, so I know little about what it's like to live there. Podcasts are also not a thing I listen to often, so writing about someone whose obsession with them is so deep it dominates every moment of their waking existence was perhaps foolhardy. Maybe worse than writing it, I recorded and uploaded it as the first post on my Patreon page. Most of my writing is bad, so I'm used to that, but soliciting donations for it is a new low. Although I'll be updating the Patreon throughout 2019, I'm not looking forward to it, and the $10 a month I'm currently getting is surely too high. I expect it to drift toward $0 as early as February, around when the snows hit."

ZACH KELLY (@ZachWKelly), freelance writer for publications including Pitchfork and Noisey, co-author of A History of Hip-Hop

"The last shake of the death rattle for the workaday writer is starting a novel, the last stop on the ricketiest, most unreliable line out of the city. Last year, I put my workaday writing on hold. My wife was pregnant, I had my day job to keep me busy and I was experiencing a certain amount of burnout. If I had known that the university would surprise-cancel the courses I taught and wrote, and I would soon find myself a full-time stay-at-home dad, I would've given that self-imposed writing hiatus a very serious second thought. With all writing (music writing, especially), getting your foot in the door is awfully difficult. Getting both feet in the door is twice as hard. But step out for a breath of fresh air and, once your kid has figured out a reliable nap schedule and you find yourself with both time on your hands and a nagging creative and intellectual itch, you’ll find that your repeated knocks on the door to be let back in will largely go unanswered.

"So this summer, I shrugged an inevitable 'fuck it' and started writing a novel. It’s a pretty good story (I mean, I think it is) about three high school friends who run a small but lucrative lawn care service. When an outsider comes to town and starts cutting in on their business, the trio decide to play a prank on the interloper to teach him a lesson. But the prank has unintended consequences that affect the lives of all involved permanently, and the book explores how the events of a night of adolescent cruelty follow the characters into adulthood. Not uncharted territory, but there’s the potential for some interesting character study, dark humor, thoughts on guilt and loyalty, all that kind of stuff. I’ve been working it out in my head for a long time, but boy, getting this thing out has been largely defined by bouts of depression, self-doubt, anxiety and self-loathing, and that’s never minding my regular bouts of depression, self-doubt, anxiety and self-loathing.

"Some of it works (or might work in the future), but the worst thing I wrote this year was a chapter about one of the characters (a fast-living front-of-house manager at a very hot Washington, D.C. restaurant) attending his new girlfriend’s friends' game night. The games get boring and they end up telling ghost stories instead, trying to one-up each other. He’s a pretty unlikable character (a professionally frustrated straight white male!), and in trying to convey that, I ended up just writing about another professionally frustrated straight white male, but one I personally know really well. Most of that ended up in the trash. All that said, I haven’t abandoned the book completely, so if any editors out there are reading this, you know where to find me. And if you’re thinking, 'Wow, that’s the worst book pitch I’ve ever read,' I can assure you that it is not. Because I’ve pitched a book once before already."

BRET STEPHENS (@BretStephensNYT), op-ed columnist for the New York Times

Bret Stephens did not respond to our email.

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