Sixty second writing tips: I think my writing sucks, and that’s how I like it

A few days ago someone told me their writing sucked. I had to explain that this was the proverbial Good Thing.

MJWright2011All good writers think what they’re doing sucks – and this is what drives them on to get better. It happens because of the inevitable problem of turning the perfection of concepts into something mundane – the written word.

The danger comes when writers think their writing doesn’t suck – when they get complacent. Or they don’t critically self-analyse – ‘unconscious incompetence’ – leading them to think what they’re doing is great.

Writing is all about pushing boundaries. Always. Writers never stop learning. If you think your writing sucks, it’s because you’re aware. My advice?

1. Look hard at what you’ve written. Does it suck? Yes? Good. Figure out why. Be critical. What is wrong? Is it structural? Stylistic? Do you need to re-cast the emotional impact? Think hard.
2. Re-write, if necessary from the beginning.
3. Re-read it. Does it suck? OK, repeat steps 1 and 2.
4. Stick it in a drawer for a while.
5. Pull it out of the drawer and re-read. Does it suck? Yes? By this time, though, it probably doesnt, and so…
6. Get a beta reader to check it out. Listen to what they have to say.

Bottom line? Self-awareness, being self-critical, and pushing those edges – in short, thinking your writing sucks and then doing something about it – is what turns mediocre writers into good ones – and good writers into great ones.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013


21 thoughts on “Sixty second writing tips: I think my writing sucks, and that’s how I like it

  1. It’s always helpful to me when another writer reiterates the idea that it’s okay to produce sucky writing, and that sucky writing can be fixed. I remember a time long ago when my inner critic would become so bad while simply trying to get through a first draft that I quit writing for many years. Advice like this certainly would’ve helped back then, but this was before the internet was really a thing, so I was pretty isolated as a writer.

    Though I may have overcome that particular hurdle (I’ve happily produced tons of crappy writing now ;), the ideas in this post will always remain relevant. Thanks for sharing them.

    1. Thank you. It’s always OK to produce sucky writing because it always leads on to better things. And it can happen, I think, any time in a writing career. I am thinking of Hemingway, who went through a flat spot in his own career in the 1950s, knew it – and next thing, came up with ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and won a Nobel prize for literature.

      1. Yeah, it’s helpful to remember that there’s always a lot of work involved in a piece of writing, and sometimes tremendous difficulties to overcome–even for the great writers. It’s easy to forget that when reading a finished work after it’s been revised however many times and polished until it shines.

  2. I’m currently in a “my writing sucks” phase. So nice to hear that it’s a “good thing.” Your post reminded me of the process I went through learning martial arts (tae kwon do). Periodically, I’d get to a place where I thought I was getting worse, not better, after all the hours I practiced. The funny thing was, the “getting worse” phase always came before a major break through where my abilities jumped to the next level. I guess the writing process isn’t a whole lot different. 😉

    1. I think it’s pretty much the same – I guess like any learning process. For myself, I never stop thinking my writing sucks…I got going on a new book last week, with some different parameters from my usual work. Wrote a few thousand words. ‘This sucks,’ I said to myself, so I’m briefing myself on a couple of possible writing styles and hope to have another go this weekend.

  3. Okay…but I know a lot of writers who get stuck in the 1, 2, 3 cycle… They never seem get past the “My writing sucks” phase. This is a dumb questions but at some point is an intervention in order?

    1. Sure. If you’re stuck in a loop, that’s when the beta reader comes into play. A lot of writers do keep tinkering – Tolkien, I suspect, was one of them. I’ve just finished reading a book about how he wrote The Hobbit, and it was a relentless process of revision, indicating he was never fully satisfied with whatever he’d written. He was still revising it after the book had been published – down to a near-complete re-write he attempted in 1960, which never saw the light of day.

  4. Wonderful post, Matthew! Once again, your words are timely, rather synchronous as a matter of fact. My issue is what you reference in your opening, turning the “perfection of concepts into the mundane.” Isn’t it always? The writing is close but close is not good enough, and I know it, as much as I would like to tell myself otherwise. I do know better so once again, steps 1-3, and I have to admit, it is different this time. Thanks, Matthew!

    1. Glad to have been of assistance! To me this issue – ‘close but not good enough’ is the essence not only of writing but of all art. There’s no final answer to it. For myself, I spend my life struggling with fact that no medium seems able to properly express ideas, not as they appear in the mind. And so too, I suspect, do a lot of writers – and musicians, and artists, and so forth. We can but do our best. I think the journey – the journey of trying, striving and making that effort – can in many ways be as important as the arrival at our imperfect end point. Not least because of what we can learn about ourselves along the way. And maybe in that journey we might also gain serendipitous insights that we might not have found any other way – as you say, it’s different when re-trying. It’s all good.

  5. Thanks for this. I felt it like a little pat of encouragement to read, “Writing is all about pushing boundaries. Always.” This is always the tricky, terrifying part; thus, it is necessary to be given reminders/encouragement/camaraderie in the trenches.

  6. I think my inner editor is bi-polar. Sometimes he claims, “It’s greaaat!” When it isn’t. Other times claiming it sucks when it’s pretty good. I need to fire my inner editor and get a new one.

    1. Yah, mine too! Usually the ‘that’s great’ voice happens just after I’ve written something, and the ‘that sucks’ voice turns up the next day when I re-read it. All part of the wider tapestry of being a writer, I guess. 🙂

      Weirdly, I spent some time before last Christmas revising a book I wrote a decade ago, for a second edition (new publisher) and found myself thinking ‘wow, how did I write THAT?’ Not so much ‘this sucks’ as the fact that I’d utterly forgotten what I’d done to get to that point…

      1. Yeah, I’ve looked past writing sometimes and see something and wonder, “what was I thinking?” and on the page, “wow, that was smooth? Why can’t I be more consistent?” It may be the wider tapestry of being human as well, I guess.

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