Editor’s note: this post was first published in 2010.
As I begin with Ch. 6, I realize that each time I start a new chapter I have to inevitably chose between two options:
1. Not write the chapter.
2. Allow myself to suck.
Obviously not writing the chapter is not really an option, its more of a delaying tactic. I postpone writing for several minutes, then several hours. If I’m really feeling the fear, I’ll let days go by until I end up choosing the only choice I really have, which is choice number 2: I have to allow myself to suck.
I bite my lip, squint my right eye, and tense up my back as I allow the crap to flow. Oh yes, it’s all crap. It’s going to be crap for a while. But not for long, don’t worry. Towards the end of the draft it gets better, I get happy with it, and then, only then, can I move on. I feel smug about myself and my ability to turn out a decent first draft of a chapter. But then comes the next chapter, and here we go again.
Delay, delay, delay. Then, face it. Bite my lip, squint my right eye, and tense up my back as I let the crap flow once again. It’s all blood and guts. I’d imagine it’s what God had to work with when he was creating Adam. A random liver here, a rib cage left unassembled, a spleen missing, and no skin to cover the ugliness. Just half a bone here, half a bone there, some muscle and blood, a couple of veins and an artery. Organs piled out-of-order. Nothing quite functions how it should be yet, and I’m still not sure what’s going to go where.
Oh, boy is it ugly.
But here’s the thing that separates the writer from the rest. Look back at the two choices up there. You know, number one and number two? Can you see that if you are not okay with allowing yourself to suck, you will never sit down and finish writing anything? For a writer, number 1 is a delaying tactic. For a non-writer, number 1 is an actual choice.
“I get, I get it. You have to take risks. You got to be willing to fail, moral of the story, blah blah blah. Heard it before. Nothing new. Blah.”
No. I’m not talking about taking risks, or even allowing yourself to fail. Those are all one-shot sort of things. As in risks and failures happen in relatively short-time spans. You take a risk, you come out stronger or not, and then its over. You fail, you learn from it or you don’t, then it’s over. Doesn’t take very long for the result of a risk to become evident, or for a failure to become clear.
No, what I am talking about is the need to have a prolonged familiarity with your suckage and a willingness to sit and hang around, on a day-to-day basis, with your (yes YOUR, not somebody else’s) bad bad writing. It’s like you’re the Duchess of York, and your forced to sit in a room alone and watch that video of you drunk in the middle of a sting operation over and over and over again. The very worst of yourself plastered on the screen, unable to escape the cringe-inducing, humiliating, sadness of it.
Woah. Ok. That was too dramatic. But for some reason I wanted to use a Duchess of York analogy. (Did you see that interview? Even Oprah was like: ”You needed money for a ‘friend.’ Girl, you have got to be kidding me!?”)
Anyways. Where was I?
Why You Need To Allow Yourself To Suck
Writing means that you have to allow yourself to suck about 90% of the time so that the little 10% at the end can be brilliant. No, the actual sucking is not the hard part. It’s allowing yourself to suck that’s the hard part. You don’t want to be bad. You don’t want to think that at any point of the process you are bad, or that any other writer is ever bad.
But the truth is all writers suck. They suck 90% of the time. What you get at your local bookstore is that last 10% that turned out brilliant.
So, I hope this encourages writers out there who are too afraid to start because they think they might suck, that in a lot of ways it’s their job to suck. Trust me. You do suck. You will suck. You will always suck. At the beginning. But not near the end. And you have great company, because all writers suck at first. The thing that makes us writers (and the thing that will make you a writer) is that we allow ourselves to suck long enough for us to become awesome.
Practice does make perfect, but it’s the ability to allow yourself to look bad while you practice that will keep you going until you reach the top. You must wade through The Lake of Suckage before you can reach The Promised Land of Near Perfection.
Ok now. Back to churning out more crap.