Yeah, You Suck. So Whatcha Gonna Do About It?

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.


35 thoughts on “Yeah, You Suck. So Whatcha Gonna Do About It?

  1. LOL! Wise words, friend, despite the baby metaphors. 😀

    I’ve seen my fair share of whiners, er, writers who do more talking and less writing. They’re the kind who put up their first drafts and expect us to drool. More often than not, I try to avoid critiquing their work, lest I say something I would regret later on. I’m usually nice, and I like helping others (pinkyswear!), but if I see writers who do not try to help themselves first, I get turned off.

    I also had the experience of offering honest crit and getting slap in the face instead. Actually, it was done behind my back, but I found out anyway. Trust me, I set them straight. (“You can’t handle the truth!” ala Jack Nickolson…nah, I was still nice.)

    And then there was the weird psychotic one who was so paranoid, he sasses me when I offered to crit. He implied I was trying to steal his work. O_o I almost said to him, “This crap? It’s not worth a period in my whole ms. In fact, I was compelled to help because this work is major suckage.” He apologized eventually and withdrew himself from human contact. Alas, my world is shattered…NOT!

    Hmm…you’re giving me an idea for a future blogpost. Thanks!

  2. Sorry for typos. I was writing this in a rather heated moment. Blind, blind, blind! Alas for memories that haunt us.

    1. I’m there. All you have to do is:

      1. buy my plane ticket
      2. feed me
      3. choose an implement of correction from my extensive collection of whips, lashes, and riding crops.

    1. Um . . . you’re welcome? Though I confess the idea of someone looking to ME for sanity is kind of comical.

      I will strive to take my own advice though. 😀

  3. Dude, hilarious. The other thing about fellow writers is that if you suck, and you say you suck, we’ll tell you that you actually suck.

    YOU do NOT suck. When I was in college that’s how my fellow lit majors graded each other’s papers. DNS – DOES NOT SUCK and S – SUCKS.

    1. HAHAHAHA! That reminds me of when I was a copy editor for the college Newspaper.

      My friend Emily: “Michelle, do you know what this article needs?”
      Me: “To be written by someone else?”
      Emily: “It’s like you read my mind.”

      And thanks for telling me I DNS. 😀

  4. I agree with Phresh. Please collect her and kick her ass. 🙂

    Actually, I do whine a lot, but not to my writing friends. Mostly to my mom and sisters. Did they put you up to this?

    I’m a native Oregonian, by the way. Not sure why that matters, but not many people will claim that so…

    1. Well see, there’s a difference between confiding in people you’re close to, and constantly talking yourself down!

      I’m NOT a native Oregonian, I’m one of those annoying transplants. But I love it here and I don’t think I ever want to live anywhere else.

      And I will be sure to tell Ms. Phresh you want me to kick her ass. 😀

  5. This is so brilliant. I grinned madly reading it – I have this one friend in the good ol’ RL that is OBSESSED with self-degradation. I’m like, IF YOU REALLY THINK YOU’RE SO BAD AT EVERYTHING THEN JUST STOP DOING EVERYTHING BECAUSE IT OBVIOUSLY BOTHERS YOU JUST SIT THERE AND WALLOW KTHX.


    I’m all good now. o_O

  6. I laughed so hard I snorted hot chocolate (and no, I’m not whining about it; it was worth it). I’ve been frustrated lately with this and I’m super glad I’m not the only one that feels this way.

    If I ever whine about my writing, slap me sistah!

    1. Well, I’m sorry I caused hot chocolate snortage, but I’m glad I gave you a laugh!

      And if you ever whine, I will REMIND you that you gave me permission to slap you. 😉

  7. Snarky rules again! 😀

    Since I didn’t read the other comments, forgive me if I repeat someone’s point.

    Worrying about whether you suck, or not, is a complete waste of your time as a writer. It’s like hearing your own voice on a recorder, and I’ve yet to see anyone not shocked by that experience. At least the first time, anyway.

    The worry should start when everyone else says you suck. That’s when you know you’ll have to pick up your game, and figure out what the hell your doing wrong. In other words, (shudder), work at it, for the Gods sake!

    Either that, or get out of the game.

    Writing is, by it’s nature, a profession that is going to smack you ego upside the head. Even if you do become a best selling author, some literary critics are going to rake you over the coals. That’s bad enough, you don’t have to help them do it.

    Good post, Michelle.

    1. Good point, Peter, about deciding to work hard at it or getting out of the game. AND about doing the nasty critics’ work FOR them. They sure don’t need any help!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I read this post right before I got a very good (but very hard) critique. Now I feel guilty about feeling blue.

      1. You totally just reminded me of that animated movie ‘Meet the Robinsons’:D
        …which sorta fits this blog post because the lil dude in that movie is an inventor and the motto is ‘keep moving forward’.

  9. That could be the most thoughtful and honest post I’ve ever read on the writing journey.

    Kudos to you for putting it out there in terms we can understand.

    In case you don’t aleady know this, I love you!

    1. Kellie I LOVE LOVE LOVE that column. I read it a few months ago and thought it was BRILLIANT! But thanks for sharing it, I think all writers would benefit from reading it.

  10. oh. my. god. i LOVE this! i’ve been terribly remiss in my blog-reading and although i saw the title when you posted this on twitter and stuff, i never did read it til now. it’s SO true of so many other things, to! i can’t stand the complainers who are obviously complaining to me in the hopes that i’ll contradict them, or somehow make their troubles all better, or something. what i WANT to say is “yeah, that sucks, what have you done about it? nothing? oh, then don’t complain to me.”

    nice post. i’m going to go plaster it on fb and twitter now 🙂

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