I’ve been tooling around the writing community on the internet a lot lately. For the most part it’s been delightfully uplifting and entertaining. But of course, we writers are as prone to neurosis as any other humans. And, being writers, we like to express our neurotic tendencies with too many adjectives and bad metaphors. Which leads to a lot of “I suck” commentary. So I’ve been thinking about “I suck” a lot lately. And I have some things to say about it. And I’m afraid that my level of frustration is such that I can’t find a way to say any of this nicely. So I’ve decided to just embrace my inner bitch and let her have her say. I’ll just have to hope that in this case the ends justifies the means. And y’all, please believe me when I tell you that I’m talking to myself as much as to anyone else. Because I have had more than my share of “I suck” conversations.
When you say “I suck”, why are you saying it? Do you REALLY believe it, or do you just want to be contradicted? Admit it, you’re saying it in the hopes that everyone who has ever read your writing will jump up and shout “NO! No, you do NOT suck. In fact, you are a complete genius! Your writing is the best thing since the invention of the mattress!”
The problem is, when you say such things in the company of other writers hoping to be reassured, you’re bound to be disappointed. You know why? Because your fellow writers are either a) too busy writing to hold your hand, b) in the midst of an egotistical over-share about their MC’s World of Warcraft Figurine collection, or c) sitting in their own mental padded cell, rocking back and forth in their straight jackets and wallowing in their own insecurities. We TRY to be there for each other, but dude–we can barely handle our own crazy. Please don’t ask us to fix yours for you.
When you say “I suck”, I want to ask you: Yeah? So? Whatcha gonna do about it?
I know you’re saying you suck so I’ll contradict you. But maybe you DO suck. What then? Do you just give it up? Well, I suppose you COULD.
I mean, when you were born, you totally SUCKED at talking. You couldn’t do it right at ALL. Good thing you just gave up on the whole thing before you made a fool of yourself. And that walking thing? Forget it. Why do something you’re so bad at? Especially since if you tried and failed you might fall on your face. Complete waste of time. And potty training, you were never any good at making it to the toilet, good thing they make those adult diapers now.
Can I stop abusing the baby metaphor now? Do you get what I’m saying? You might suck. You HAVE to suck first. That’s how you figure out how to NOT suck. The only way you will fail to stop sucking is if you stop writing. So shut up and write already.
When you say “I suck”, I want to ask you–how much revision have you done? Did you pull that thing out of your ass, throw it on the table, and wait for praise to rain down from heaven? How did that work out for you?
Look, if you’re a writer, EVERYTHING you write sucks–WHEN IT’S A FIRST DRAFT. It is, in fact, mandatory that your first draft suck. Yes, it’s a piece of crap. Pieces of crap require time, lots of input from the world around them, and lots of transformation before they become rich soil that will grow brilliant flowers.
Every time you open your mouth (or place your hands on the keyboard) to say you suck, stop. Take all that energy you’re putting in to suck speak, and learn to channel it in to honing your craft. Don’t complain to me about something sucking until you’ve revised it. A lot. And if you do all that revision, you’ll be TOO TIRED to talk about sucking. All you’ll be able to do is hold it out and say “what did I miss?” before you collapse in a puddle.
When you say “I suck”, I’m going to ask you if you want me to point out how I think you suck. It’s called critique. You want critique. Critique is the only path out of suckland. Yes, you learn to write by writing–but you learn to write WELL by receiving critique.
But you want GOOD critique–the kind that is honest but not mean, the kind that engages thoughtfully with your work. Not all critiques will be right. You will have to decide when you want to take the advice and when you don’t.
And that’s part of learning not to suck as well; developing an instinct for when something is right and when it’s not. It’s hard to do; it take a lot of practice (and–you guessed it–a lot of sucking). So, get some critique and put it to use. Then you will not suck.
Finally, when you say “I suck”, I think what you really mean is, “my writing sucks”. YOU are not your writing. Writing is what you DO. Even if you always write poorly, YOU do not suck. If you must talk smack, talk smack about the piece of writing, not about your value as a human being. YOU are just fine, and I love you just the way you are. Except you whine too much. Cut that shit out.