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A Pep Talk for Writers Who Think They Suck

June 19, 2016 by Diane

hand opening red curtain on white.

“I suck at writing!”

How many times have you told yourself that behind the writer’s curtain? Or publicly, on Twitter, in a forum, or to your best friend as you gobbled down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia?

I’m here to say, “You don’t suck.”

The fact that you’re writing means you’re putting in effort. Nothing sucky about that.

Now, you might be a beginning writer. Nothing sucky about that either. You’re learning. Genius rarely happens when you pop out of the womb.

I took golf lessons in college. I love watching a golf game on television. There’s something meditative about all that green, the sports announcer whispering about club choices, the placid ponds that dot the grounds. But out there on the course with my own club, I spent a lot of time in the bunkers, and hollering, “Four!” as my ball sailed into another student’s thigh.

I could moan, “I suck at golf!” But I refuse to accept that label. I haven’t yet mastered the swing. If I wanted to, I could invest years practicing my swing, but frankly, that doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather watch golf than play it.

So, are you saying you suck at writing because you don’t want to expend the energy? Do you want an easy out? Do you want to throw in the pen?

If so, claim it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t want to put in the work. Be honest. “I’d rather read, than write!”

But if you want to study the craft and improve, if you want to write every day, you’ll discover that some days your writing vibrates with energy, and other days when it’s just “meh.” Some days you’ll read your work and say, “hey, that’s pretty good,” and other days when you want to rip it in half and grind it under your heel. Your writing will surprise you and embarrass you, inspire you and depress you, move you and bore you.

That’s how it goes. Up and down. Sometimes sideways.

Now, If you’re an old hand at writing and you play the “I suck” card, well, my friend, you’re not playing with a full deck. I implore you to set aside your work for a day and go out and play. Then come back and read it again.

I guarantee—you’ll find something in those pages that shines. One sentence. Grab it, and use it to start a freewrite. Put the new pages away for a day, come back and read what you wrote. Find another shining sentence, use that as the start of a brand new freewrite, and keep going until you hook into something strong.

Let’s say you just started blogging, and after a post or two, you’ve run out of ideas. The words you write sizzle out after three paragraphs. Do you suck? No! You’re learning how to blog. Maybe you don’t have a solid idea of what to blog about yet. You need time to experiment, discover your topic, discover your voice. You will. Keep at it.

Let’s say you labored over a short story, or a book, and sent it off, and it was rejected. Do you suck? No! That particular journal or publisher wasn’t right for your work. Or you had too many typos, or cliches, or a passive voice. Or the story didn’t grab the editor. All of these things are fixable!

Research journals or publishers to find a better fit. Submit again. And again and again and again. Have a good editor go over it with a red pen. Rewrite, if need be. Don’t use the “I suck!” excuse to avoid the work. Yeah, it can feel draining, and frustrating, having to rewrite and resubmit after you’ve invested oodles of time in the darn thing. So take a break. Recharge. Then get back to it.

Takeaway this week:

To learn more about submitting to literary journals, and what an editor wants, read this.


14 Comments »

  1. Riley says:

    Ha! I was sitting here eating an ice cream snickers bar as I read this. I never gained the ‘freshmen 15’ in college but I’m making up for that now as a writer. LOL

    Great blog post and one I very much needed to hear!

    There are days when I hear my inner child whining “I just want to read good stuff…not try to write it” but I feel driven to write and learn the craft. I’m sure I’ll be re-reading this post often :)

    • Diane says:

      It’s a pep talk for you as much as it is for me. We all feel this way at times. Just remember that it’s a dysfunctional thought. Don’t believe it!

      An ice cream snickers…that sounds heavenly!

  2. M says:

    Great post, especially for me today as I stared at the computer for quite a while before starting to hit the keys.

  3. Joan says:

    Great pep talk! Could apply to other areas as well! Do you really like to watch golf? That’s kinda right up there with bowling for me!

  4. M.W. Thomas says:

    My writing is always fantastic. I don’t know what’s wrong with youse guys.

  5. Bun Karyudo says:

    I particularly liked your ending quote about writers not sucking but being at different stages of progress. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a writer whose entirely satisfied with his or her work. Certainly, I can almost never reread one of my posts without changing it. I can only hope that little by little, I’m getting better and learning to avoid at least some of the mistakes. :)

    • Diane says:

      Ah yes, the endless tinkering. I do that too. As if anyone is going to go back into my archives and read those old posts.

      We can’t help but get better over time! At least, that’s my belief, and I’m sticking to it.

  6. Pearl Allard says:

    Love this, Diane! I came by for some humor and was inspired and encouraged instead! I’ll take it! :-)

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