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.