The Importance of Suck

Writing a book is almost like suffering from schizophrenia. Every writer I’ve spoken to tends to go through ‘swings’ with the book they’re working on, alternating between arm-flailing enthusiasm and absolute loathing.
The highs are extraordinary – when the words you’ve written fill your soul like the laughter of carefree children, or that scene in Top Gun where Tom Cruise murders all those commies and then Val Kilmer is like “You can kiss me on the mouth be my wing-man any time” and they hug in a completely platonic, heterosexual kind of way and the music swells, guitars all wailing and…

But the lows are equally extreme, despair inevitably coalescing into two words – an inescapable truth that sours your stomach keeps you awake at night:
It’s true. You do. Everything you write is hackneyed drivel. Every idea you’ve got has been done a million times before, by someone who’s far more talented, likeable and has better hair than you. The people who’ve read your stuff and said it’s good? They’re lying to spare your feelings. All the stuff you’ve written before that got sold? Pfft. Flukes. Because now it’s just you and the word processor and that Blank Page of Doom™, the cursor blinking like the twenty-foot high neon above your head, illuminating the truth you’ve always known.
YOU. <blink> SUCK. <blink> YOU. <blink> SUCK…
The certainty that you suck leads you to developing a dark and almighty hatred for this thing that you’re working on – this so called ‘book’ (Lies. Books have plots. And decent dialogue. And characters with more depth than the flap of a Wheeties box – YOU HAVE NONE OF THESE). And suddenly, you find yourself not wanting to write this ‘book’ anymore. You’ll do anything but – Clean the yard. Sort laundry. Engage in meaningful conversation with your Significant Other. Watch Top Gun.
Thing is? Avoiding writing is the last thing you should be doing.
Instead? You should be relishing your loathing for this damnable ‘book’. You should go back to the ‘book’, regardless of how bad it makes you feel, how much you hate it. Despite the fact that you know ‘book’ is no good for you, and succeeds only in making you feel like roadkill.
…so actually, now that I think about it, writing a book is like being in a really dysfunctional relationship.
So why should you put up with ‘book’s’ crap?
Well, because I firmly believe hating your book can make you a better writer. Truth is, parts of your book probably do suck. And even if suck-age is remarkably absent, it can almost certainly be better.
If you hate what you’ve written, your mind can be opened to new ways of writing it. Hating what you’ve done brings possibility, clarity, creativity. There is power in your suckage, there is life and motion and energy.  All you need to do is channel it back into the manuscript rather than a back-to-back screening of S1 of Vampire Diaries in the company of some ultra-choc chocolate ice cream.
Any emotion, love, hate, fear – these things let us know we’re alive and breathing. Don’t waste it. Use it.
Because, as with all things, the MS blues will pass. Though it will almost certainly be torturous, the blank page will fill with letters and the neon sign will fade. And, if you didn’t abandon it, you’ll probably be left with a manuscript that’s stronger than it was before. To paraphrase a gentleman who murders another beloved portion of my childhood with every film he releases, your hatred will have made you powerful.
…So actually, writing a book is more like being a Sith Lord. I guess?
Yeah, lets run with that.

18 Responses to “The Importance of Suck”

  1. “Fear. Fear attracts the fearful. The strong. The weak. The innocent. The corrupt. Fear. Fear is my ally.”
    Authorship as Dark Side. Like it. Now, back to the task at hand: where are those fucking droids?

  2. RB says:

    I loved this post! Very true and (with your candor) very funny.
    One of your fellow clients at SJGA gave me some sage advice a few years ago about this very topic. He told me, “confidence is something that oscillates. One day you’re the master of the universe, the next day, the scum of the earth. Either way, you can’t let it stop you from doing your work.” I put that on a sticky note and nailed it to the wall above my computer. It helps. :\

    • Damn good advice. Even on the days when everything you write is terrible, at least you’re writing.
      Books don’t write themselves. Good thing too, I guess – if they did, we’d be out of a job 🙂

  3. Soooooooooooooooooooo true. See how much I suck? I used all those gratuitous “o”s.
    Anyway, just went through major suckage stage with book 2. But things are looking good now or more accurately, for now. I’m sure I’ll think I’m scum tomorrow.
    Love the post.

  4. This was a timely pep talk. My novel-in-progress has been letting me know how much I suck all week. I’ll take this to heart and go kick its arse right now.

  5. Gemma Kenny says:

    I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
    …I must not go back to reading Dune instead of doing anything useful.

  6. Some time ago, I found a line that I really liked.
    “Writing is the most acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
    It fits ;p
    Great post again. Thanks for the pep-talk, I personally can use one because I haven’t written in over a week. Mostly due to having to write a thesis but also because I.. well, you know. Think it sucks. Bleh.

    • That totally fits. And it’s true.
      Although if folks asked my wife, I’m sure she’d disagree. Rather than alternating between moody, grump bastard and arm-flailing enthusiast, I seem to just be stuck on grumpy bastard.
      GL with the writing (thesis and regular)!

  7. So loved this post. You pushed my ass out of my email, for one thing and you made me laugh while doing it. You must be a Jedi master. LOL I’ve just finished a revamp of my opening thanks to that push. Thanks!

  8. Judd says:

    Dude. Thanks and all, but I’m already writing a book that sucks. I don’t need your help.
    Kidding, of course. I need your help with ruining quality movie scenes and/or quotes. You’re beautiful.

    • By ‘quality movie scenes’ are you referring to the totally platonic ‘Victory Hug’ scene in Top Gun?
      My favorite scene in that film is when Iceman and Goose and Slider (totally not an innuendo) and Maverick are all playing beach volleyball with their shirts off, all oiled up and whatnot, and “Playing with the Boys’ is the music in the background and Mav is having so much fun playing topless volleyball with his boys he’s late for his date with smoking hottie Kelly McGillis but he’s TOTALLY NOT GAY and hell, I take my shirt off around my male friends and get oiled up all the time, what’s your problem?

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