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Writing even if you suck.
Kenley Tan
Posted: Friday, September 23, 2011 11:42 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 27


I came across that Seth Godin article hat encourages us to keep writing even if it is horrible.

I could certainly understand how this improves your writing, but I'd like to ask you guys if you would still write even if you feel like it sucks.

L R Waterbury
Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011 3:08 AM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 60

Every writer suffers from differing degrees of NGE Syndrome (Not Good Enough). Self-doubt is an integral part of human nature and even more particular to any creative endeavor we may embark on. The trouble with creative endeavors is that any value judgement we make about their quality is, by necessity, subjective. When we critique a piece of writing, we say it is "good" or "bad" not "correct" or "wrong." That being said, I think most would agree when I say there is "better" writing and "worse" writing. It's still subjective. It's still a value judgement, but degrees of quality are also traits particular to all creative endeavors.

So, yes, some writing can "suck." I've written quite a bit of it myself, not that I would share it here. I also like to think that it's been some time since I last wrote something that really, truly sucks. I can still remember my first attempt at a novel. I was in high school and, for reasons I can't quite figure out, I thought I had to write about literally every moment in every day of the character's life for the duration of events. That resulted in a lot of "And then...." and "Later...." and "He spent the next three hours polishing his sword" (and I realize that sounded kinda dirty).

The thing is, I got better.

It took time and work, but I got better. I got a lot better. It's like that old adage, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."

So, I say, if you really love writing, then suck it up and keep writing and writing some more until you realize that you don't suck anymore, if you ever did at all.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011 5:15 AM
• I could certainly understand how this improves your writing, but I'd like to ask you guys if you would still write even if you feel like it sucks.

I’d hesitate to use the words bad writing. We all write crap, and we all write gold. We just change the ratio as we learn our craft. And that’s my point, that do we have to learn it. If the only tool I own is a hammer I might get to be pretty dam good with it, but if I need to paint the room…

We all had to learn which end of the crayon goes on the wallpaper. We all had to learn grammar, spelling, and composition. If it stopped there they wouldn’t offer four year majors in professional fiction writing at our universities, because there would be nothing to teach.

So practice helps us smooth our skills, of course. But if you practice writing lousy all you do is get better at writing lousy. Why not practice the techniques you haven’t yet learned? Yeah, you have to learn them first, but that’s true of any profession. Right? There are lots of great books, filled with hints on how to entice a reader at your local library.
Kenley Tan
Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011 8:56 AM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 27

I think you might be talking about this.


I heard that Hunter S Thompson copied The Great Gatsby word for word just to improve his writing. Did anyone here try it? I plan to copy Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of The World.
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011 3:01 PM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42

@Kenley: I think the key element to get from the Seth Godin article is to understand that your writing will only improve through your own self-critique. If you write regularly, and you are conscious about writing with the intent to improve, then you'll be conscious about what you're writing. It will all start out poorly, but it will inevitably improve if you're intent on noticing your "sucky" writing. I think Anne Lamott's chapter in "Bird by Bird" about shitty first drafts is an equally good essay about this same notion.
Atthys Gage
Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011 3:48 PM
Joined: 6/7/2011
Posts: 467

Personally, I get horribly bogged down if I worry about any thing but getting the basic plot moving forward during rough draft. That said, I get horribly bogged down a lot.
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2011 11:20 PM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

I think this answer deserves a personal touch.

I always think my writing sucks. I constantly need others to reassure me that my stuff is not awful. I used to never share my work because I was sure that it would be spit upon. I have a tendency to over edit, and thus do more damage than if I had just put my work aside. That said, I still write. I know that I am only going to improve if I continue to write every effing day. I have been lucky to have those to support me in my endeavors, but that feeling of inadequacy is still there no matter what I do. The responses that are here talk about how every writer experiences good days and bad, but that doesn't matter if the writer can't get over a lack of self confidence. It took me a while to learn that I'm good (not great) at writing and I love it. It might be one of the few things I am good at, but I still get that feeling. All I can do is read the words that people have writing about my work or said, and go from there. Its all about persevering through the feeling so that you can improve yourself. I had a creative writing professor who told us this story about a pistol shooter he knew. My professor told this gunman that he was good, and the gunman replied, "No, I suck. I've been shooting for ten years. If I shoot everyday for another ten, then maybe I'll be good." I think of that story every time I beat myself up. Hard work, perseverance, and practice make up the other 90% that having talent doesn't cover.
Marshall R Maresca
Posted: Monday, September 26, 2011 2:35 AM
Joined: 3/7/2011
Posts: 56

A few years ago I was at a workshop where John Scalzi stepped in for a few minutes, and he told all the students to "embrace the power of Suck". His whole idea was to basically acknowledge to yourself, "Yup, this may suck" and then drive forward and do it anyway. At the time, Zoe's Tale was just coming out and he talked about how writing a first-person narrative from the POV of a teenage girl was something he was sure would suck... but he did it anyway, and allowed himself the privilege of sucking and screwing it up.
J Boone Dryden
Posted: Monday, September 26, 2011 2:56 AM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 42

In the interest of trying to sound a little more diplomatic with this topic, I thought I'd propose a slightly different way to look at it. I think what we as writers need to give ourselves permission to do is to make mistakes. When we hold ourselves back, I think many times it's not because we think it will suck; I think it is because we are trying desperately to make it perfect the first time. We've been writing since we were kids, right? We've been writing papers all our school careers, right? It's our first language we're writing in, right? Yes, but creativity is exposure, which means it's a way of making ourselves vulnerable. I would shy away from saying that you suck -- saying it to yourself or anyone else. I would say that it's okay to make mistakes. Your first draft might not say exactly what you intended, but that's what revision is for. You learn the craft, so you can better understand how to express what it is you are trying to get across to your reader. So while bad practice leads to bad habits, I would say that conscious practicing of good habits will make for better product. Study the writers you admire to glean what you like; study the writers you do not care for to glean what you might improve upon. In the end you'll create your own voice and continue to improve upon your craft.
Posted: Monday, September 26, 2011 4:17 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

Every time I read a book written by another author I begin to doubt myself. (Okay, maybe not every time, but the authors I really admire and enjoy can do that to me.)

I once asked a published author if he ever felt that way. Back then I was very naive and assumed his answer would be no. This is a man whose books have debuted on the NYT list. His publisher sends him on international tours.

I was gobsmacked when he said he felt that way all the time.

In my personal opinion if every writer stopped writing because they thought their work sucked, we'd have no more books.

Itsucksitis is part and parcel of this career we've all undertaken. The best medicine for it is thoughtful critique, both from self and others, and constant pushing.

At the time I asked this author that question, I'd shelved the novel I began my writing journey with, unfinished. I had an idea for another novel bouncing around in my head but I wasn't going anywhere with it because I felt like a hack, like I sucked and my writing sucked worse. Since then, not only did I finish that novel, I've written three others. And I do see improvement in both my process and my writing.

Every book, every short story, every poem, is making you better at your craft. No word is wasted in the learning and growing process of this long (and hopefully life-long) journey that is publication.
Jay Greenstein
Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 1:56 AM
• We've been writing since we were kids, right? We've been writing papers all our school careers, right? It's our first language we're writing in, right?

A-r-g-h-h-h-h-h… NO!

As children we learn a skill called writing that’s really useful on the job and in life for the majority of adults. But we’re no more Writers than we are mathematicians, biologists or historians, and we spent an equal time learning those subjects. In our schooling, unless we’re studying professional writing we are no more preparing herself for career as a fiction writer then we are as a mathematician. Every profession has tricks of the trade. Every profession has specialized knowledge. Every single profession requires more than we get by dozing through English class.

How many of our teachers, the people who gave us those writing techniques, were multi-published writers? That, in and of itself, tells us how qualified our teachers were to prepare us for a career as a professional novelist. If intent, desire, and perseverance were even close to being enough the rejection rate at the average agent or publisher would not be 99.9%

Of course we all read. And we all have a love of the printed word. That goes without saying. But if we could learn the techniques of writing by simply reading, that rejection rate would be a lot lower, and, we could become a chef by eating in nice restaurants.

• Your first draft might not say exactly what you intended, but that's what revision is for.

If that worked, editing would be a matter of catching our mistakes, and any English teacher could do the job, professionally. But if we make a mistake through ignorance how do we catch it? And if we take a group who has no more knowledge of the subject than ourselves what will we get but attaboys for having used the same techniques they use?

I'm not faulting anyone's dedication or sincerity. And certainly, we all have the desire to tell our stories in a way that makes it exciting for the reader. But, writers have been working for centuries to refine and discover the techniques with which to accomplish that. Assume, for the moment, that the reason one individual out of a given city’s school system becomes successful is because of a talent for writing. If that’s it, were all screwed, because we, as a group, would already have achieved success. But if it's not… If writing skills can be discovered, they also can be taught. And if that discovery is a ladder leading to success, then education is an escalator, and your local library the place to find it.

When I began writing there was no Internet. And I, like the vast majority of new writers, knew only the writing skills I learned in school. And like most people believed that was all there was. I was already a verbal storyteller, so I took those storytelling skills, combined them with my schoolboy English, and began to write. In fact, I wrote six novels, and I brought to that act a love of reading, and a desire to write, equal to anyone here. I worked every bit as hard on polishing them as anyone here, and I made great strides in telling my story with realism and clarity. I could see that.

I had intent, I had desire, and I had the story. And I also had work that truly sucked.

The classified section of Writer magazine was filled with scam agents, who charged a modest “reading fee.” And because my room was wallpapered with rejections I bit on one of those come-ons. I was lucky, though. At that time Lee Shore was selling editing services and then recommending a vanity press. They were, however, selling professional level editing, so the look they took at my writing was more than I might have hoped.

I opened the envelope that carried my sample chapters back home to me expecting some punctuation corrections and, hopefully, “but it's a great story.” It was with great expectations, and the sure knowledge that my hard work was about to be vindicated, that I opened that envelope.

What I got was a sea of blue ink. And, I mean that literally. There were waves of it running between each line, billows of it at top and bottom, and the margins seemed ready to spill off the page-edge. And that was true of the next page, and the next… I was destroyed. I knew I was writing well. All my friends said I was. I also knew I had a nice light touch for point of view. I was certain the work was close to equal to what I read from the library. But that wasn't what the editor told me. She said I was writing cinematically, head-hopping, and that my character’s motivation was pure pop psychology. She said it sucked (though she used kinder language).

It literally took me days before I could look at it again, and days more before I could look at it honestly. But she was right. Because I already knew the story and could see and hear the characters in my mind—and hear myself telling that story aloud—it worked perfectly…for me. But it sucked. It sucked big time. And I had been inflicting myself and my sucky work on lots of editors and agents.

I didn't learn to write that day. But I did learn that there's more to it than sincerity a story idea, and a love of writing.

Rant over. I feel much better now.

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