What To Do When You Think The Writing Sucks

Good morning, wait is it morning? Why the hell is it so grey outside? Is it raining again? Isn’t it summer? Why the hell am I not wearing shorts and a t-shirt? What’s going on here?

Since I’ve said these things out loud, it must be Monday, and that means it’s time for a blog post. Today’s post comes out of my own experience, and maybe you can relate.

Have you ever thought that what you’ve written on a particular day sucks? I don’t just mean like you wrote one weak word among a dozen strong paragraphs, I mean like the day’s whole word count is an absolute joke, and you’d be better off chucking the keyboard in the closet and taking up competitive licking as a livelihood?

Yeah, we’re talking about those moments, when you think there’s little difference between your writing and driving a garbage truck on fire off a cliff into a sea of gasoline and tourists.

I think those moments come out of a comparison. We take our work, in whatever stage it’s in: idea, roughest first draft imaginable, super over-thought-out seventh set of revisions, two hours before submission, whatever, and compare it either a finished product, or the expectation we have for our book. That our MS needs to be at least “this good” to ride the ride that is being published, and then it needs to be at least “that good” (I assure you those are two totally different measurements on an invisible ruler) in order to have a person who isn’t related to you purchase it.

We look at the raw stone barely out of the ground and look at the finished statue. We don’t always see the path, we don’t always see the statue hidden in the block. But it’s there, and we have the talent (or we’ll work on developing it) to educe our vision from the raw materials.

So where’s the comparison come in? If we’re focused on making the awesome happen, how insidious does the doubt have to be in order to make us look twice at what we’re doing?

We compare because we just don’t know. We don’t know how good the thing we’re making will be. We don’t know if we’ll get a review, let alone a review with stars associated.We don’t know if our sales will measure in the ones or 2+. We don’t know… we don’t know … we don’t know.

And not knowing, politely, is a motherfucker.

The unknown is always a greater volume than what we know. That’s not because we’re stupid. That’s not because we’re bad creatives. It’s just that we’re finite. We’re bounded by the time we spend, the choices we make, the priorities we choose, and the decisions that cement us as creatives and people.

Now add to this, the idea that some people are really not interested in a truly egalitarian successful industry or society. They’ll form a group and call another group names. They’ll make unfounded claims. They’ll draw all kinds of lines between an “us” and a “them.” And then say if you don’t read this article, or share that post, or agree in the comments, or retweet this or that, that you’re part of “them” not “us.” Divisions dominate doubt.

Because we’re tribal. We’re seekers and developers of community. And we think, that if we build our community out of these paltry words, these feeble syllables and lines on a page, that our community will be blown down by the big bad wolves that so many people claim lurk just at the edges of our campfires.

I don’t know if there are wolves. The internet says there should be. Loads of blogs and writers and hacks and professional victims and complainers and sages and experts say I need to be careful of this thing, that scam, this writing technique, that book. Plenty of people want to talk about the wrongs and red flags. That all leads to a lot of doubt. A lot of potential, a lot of unknown.

And we can’t let that define our words. It’s what we know, what we can do that will trump the unknown. We tame the blank page a word at a time, we make the statue happen.

No, we don’t know if we’ll be successful.
No, we don’t know if we’ll be rejected.
No, we don’t know if we’ll be paid well.

But if we put our guts on the page, if we write heart-first, if we take all the risks, if we do our best to make the best art, the art’s going to be great.

Eventually.

One word at a time. One brush stroke at a time. One day at a time.

Keep writing.

 

See you later this week, happy writing.

0 thoughts on “What To Do When You Think The Writing Sucks

  1. Your blog post today reminded me of a day last October when I was nearing the end of the first draft of my last mss. I was about 300 words in for that day and all of a sudden started asking myself “what in the wide world of sports are you writing?” (nod to Blazing Saddles there). I realized it was total, nonredeemable junk so I stopped. I deleted it and to this day have no idea where in the novel I was [other than October] when I had that mini-epiphany. I’m not even sure what I was writing about. I might write a lot of mediocre but I have sense to realize when I am writing total junk. And first draft I do not worry about comparing it to anything. I guess knowing how far I’ve come, I’ve got plenty of early writing versions to know that even on a bad day I am light years ahead of where I was. Your post reminded me of that, thanks.

  2. Just keep writing,
    Just keep writing,
    Just keep writing writing writing,
    What do we do we write write write!
    Ha ha ha ha ha ha i love to write,
    When you come just write write write…

  3. Timely advice! I need a cone of silence to write in, but instead of drowning out noise (because what feels better than writing in a coffee shop?) it needs to drown out the ‘and then after I finish the book…’ thoughts that really have no place in the creative process. Thanks, John!

  4. This post made me cry.
    You can’t listen to those who will say good things because they are your friends and they will say good things no matter what.
    You can’t listen to those who say hurtful things because they are mean and will never like your book no matter what.
    You can’t listen to yourself because you are clearly biased and already know where the plot is going.
    So what else are you supposed to do beside comparing you MS to other books. I mean, one can’t assume another writer’s MS was just as bad or worse than yours (especially since there is no proof), it just feels disingenuous, mean even.

    • Do you see that you went from “they’ll say good things” to “they’ll always be mean” to “knowing where the plot is going” ?

      Those three things aren’t related. And, no, you shouldn’t listen to always-mean crowd. You keep writing, because out there are people who will like your work and not because they know you. You keep writing, because it’s a story in dire need of explosion onto the audience. Because if you don’t tell this story it’ll shred you like bad deli coleslaw.

      You keep writing, but you stop comparing. Comparing doesn’t put the words on the page. There isn’t a contest to win, or much good to be had, by getting into a measuring contest with people who don’t realize they’re your competition.

      Your draft isn’t comparable to someone’s finished book. You don’t know how many drafts it took, you don’t know how it was edited, you don’t know the time it took to write. And even if you knew all those things, it still wouldn’t change the fact that your work and this other person’s work are going to be fundamentally different.

      Keep writing, you’re good enough.

      • Thank you.
        My comment does come out as overly harsh and I was a bit emotional after reading the article (when I wrote the comment).
        So an apology for my behavior is in order. I should have waited to calm down before pressing the post button.
        I thank you again and hope you will forgive me. I promise to do better in the future

  5. I absolutely know my writing sucks. but it’s the best I can do today and it’s better than yesterday. This book is deeper, more profound and better written than the last one. And that one was better than the one before. So yes – I’ll keep writing. And deepest apologies to my lovely characters: you deserve better than I. But you chose my head to land in (I guess there was too big a queue for Nora Roberts) so you obviously believe in me. So I’ll keep on writing. Thanks for the encouragement; it is much needed.

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