Yesterday I say down and I wrote for an hour and I sucked.
It may have been because it was getting late and I was tired, or I hadn't eaten dinner yet and I was hungry. It could be that I've recently lost a friend and didn't feel so creative. It could be I'd spent a little too long playing a video game and my mind had gone numb, all my creativity dried and turned to dust.
What may have caused an evening of some terrible writing doesn't matter. Fact is, I wrote some absolutely awful prose. I was productive, but in the same way food poisoning makes you productive. You're welcome for that thought.
So I finished an hour of writing and said, "I'm going to put a hold on this for now."
I'll try again tonight. I might still be in poor form. I might write some more crap. Depending on how the day goes, I might write crap for two hours, or three.
In the end it doesn't matter. It doesn't bother me even a little.
Normally I like to flatter myself and say I'm a decent author. I write some good stuff, some exciting stuff, some engaging stuff. Mostly I like to say I write something worth reading.
And often, I don't. Days like yesterday happen. No big deal.
I'm going to say something that's pretty standard writer's advice. This maxim gets shared around plenty and, unlike many writer's maxims, I tend to agree with this one.
Give yourself permission to suck.
It's going to happen. It's probably going to happen more often than not. A lot of the time, it's going to happen when you don't even realise it. You'll write something and you'll be very happy with it and later you'll come back to edit it and you'll say, "What happened? This was good when I wrote it! Those damn Suck Goblins snuck into my house again and ruined all my work!" But the Suck Goblins aren't real. I know they're not because I just made them up. Literally, I made them up just now. So you can't blame the Suck Goblins. That bad writing is all you. Bad prose, bad dialogue, bad plot, bad metaphors, all of it is on you.
And that's just fine. It happens. Nobody writes a perfect first draft. Nobody writes a perfect second draft. Third draft? Nope. Fourth? Fifth? I highly doubt it. Personally, I usually take six or seven drafts to get something right. Every draft up to that point is full of suck.
I plan to go into detail on editing in the near future so I won't dwell on this idea for long but let me say this: Good writing happens in pieces, in stages, over time. Drafts one to five aren't terrible and then draft six is all strawberries and cream. Each stage sands off the edges and polishes the surfaces until you've got it right.
What are the caveats, you ask? Good. You're learning. There's always fine print, always some extra detail these maxims demand. Sadly, they don't get shared as often as the maxim itself - because writers just love a snappy little truism. But this is why you come to me, right? We don't play around, here. We get down to the hard nosed truth.
All right. So, give yourself permission to suck.
But don't. Don't ever let yourself get the idea that writing something crap is okay. It's not. We're not put upon this earth to write bad stories with bad prose. We're here to produce quality. So when you notice yourself writing something that makes babies cry for all the wrong reasons, just make a little note of it to yourself and keep going. You'll come back later and fix it up. All this bad writing here is an error that must be fixed like a typo. It's a typo that the government gave psychic powers to and now its powers are out of control and its body is mutating into this giant fleshy baby looking monstrosity and it's shouting "KANEDA!!!" and you're shouting "TETSUO!!!" and half your audience is scratching their heads at this point, wondering just how we got to this point. The take-away from this is that you don't want to write badly, and when you do, remind yourself that it is bad and that you'll fix it up later.
Don't get comfortable with bad writing.
This is all about acceptance of the inevitable and giving our self the space to keep going. Bad writing mustn't become a stumbling block. It's a part of life that we acknowledge, and then we keep writing and we finish what we're doing and we get to the end of the draft and then we start again and we polish the surfaces and we sand the edges and bit by bit we remove all that sucky writing we did. But in the mean time, you have permission to suck.
Fortunately for us, that's the long and the short of the fine print on this one. It needs to be said, but it's said briefly. Maxims are great and that's why we love to share them around and make them into memes and say "Hey there, creative buddy of mine, just remember that when the tough gets going, it's okay to suck." Or something like that. But we must always look deeper and unpack pithy phrases like these to make sure we really understand them.
If we don't, we may get the wrong idea and when somebody says "Hey, this thing you wrote is kind of craptastic. You're usually better than that," we go and turn into a giant raging were-honey-badger and scream "I GAVE MYSELF PERMISSION TO SUCK AND THAT'S WHAT I DID AND YOU CAN'T TELL ME I'M WRONG I DO ALL THE THINGS THOSE FUNNY GREETING CARDS SAY TO DO AND I AM BEST WRITER EVER NOW I EAT YOUR FACE."
And nobody wants to be that guy.