It's NaNoWriMo, and around here, that's also known as “your inner critic just drank a Red Bull and came after you with claws” month.
The goal of this post is to help you shut him up.
Yes, You Do Have Permission to Suck
We all feel like we should be writing well right off the bat. That what we create should be ready now, tomorrow, or maybe even yesterday. And when it isn't, we beat ourselves up.
Here's the thing: sucking as a writer is the only way to learn to write well.
You read that sentence, and you're already making excuses, aren't you?
You have permission to suck. (“No, I don't. I have to be good at this.”)
You have permission to suck. (“No, I don't. If I suck, then I have no business being a writer.”)
You have permission to suck. (“Says who?!”)
It's about time you asked that. Here's my answer: every writer who's ever made their mark.
Permission From the Greats… to Suck
We all know what it's like to write things that suck. I do it. You do it. Anyone who's ever tried to transfer their imagination and dreams and wisdom to paper has experienced mighty suckage.
In order to capture the stuff of your imagination on paper the way you want it to appear, you have to learn to write. And in fact, a large part of learning to write is sucking for the first enormous portion of it. But don't take my word for it.
A writer’s apprenticeship involves a million discarded words before he’s almost ready to begin.
That's not a million excellent words. They're words not worth keeping. And that's a lot of suck.
If it were good the first time, it wouldn't need to be rewritten. It's almost like Michener, an award-winning author of more than 40 books, has a pretty good idea of what it means to give himself permission to suck.
In fact, C. J. Cherryh, author of more than sixty books, says much the same thing:
She says that because she—like the rest of us—has a lot of experience writing garbage.
Solidarity in Sucking
I know how hard it is to write garbage, especially when you want so much more for the story in your head. You know what you want your writing to be; you know how good books and stories move you. When what comes out of you isn't as good as you want, it's very, very easy to grow discouraged.
There are times, in fact, when what you write just . . . isn't even salvageable. News flash: that is also normal.
If you are willing to do something that might not work, you’re closer to being an artist.
In other words, in order to learn to write, you have to be willing to write stuff that won't work. Why? Well, Vonnegut actually answers that:
If you give up writing because what you wrote sucks, then you're just abandoning the path every writer before you has already taken.
In other words, here is your new mantra: My writing sucks? Good! I'm on the right path.
Yes, This Means You
No, you don't have to apply a standard of perfectionism to yourself that the greats don't. They've already walked this path; to become a writer, to learn to write well, you have to write and write and write and write.
Kind of like becoming a musician. Have you played an instrument, or do you know anyone who has? When they started, they sucked, didn't they? (It's okay; you can admit it. I won't tell.)
Learning any art takes time. And if you hold yourself to high standards from moment one, you are likely to give up.
But if you give yourself permission to suck, then when you do suck, instead of being thrown, you'll go, “Oh, there it is. Well, I knew suckage was coming,” and you'll be able to keep going.
NaNoWriMo is a really special time for combating that inner critic (who is, as I've often said, a jerk). Your inner critic's goal is to keep you from writing no matter what. That means your own goal must be to keep writing—no matter what.
You can do this, fellow writer. Don't give up. Write.
Have you been tripped up by your inner critic lately? Let us know in the comments!
Take fifteen minutes and write. Just write. Don't worry if it sucks. Give yourself permission to suck, and in the process, knock your inner critic on the head. Don't forget to respond to other writers in the comments and give them a hand beating up that inner critic!
Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.
Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.
When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.
P.S. Red is still her favorite color.