permission to suck

One of the pieces advices new writers get is that you have to give yourself permission to suck.

The logic behind this is not that sucking is okay; rather, sucking right now is okay. Too many people get paralyzed the moment they set finger to key, thinking that if what comes out right then isn’t brilliant, they might as well not bother. So you tell them it’s okay to suck: that’s what second drafts and revisions are for. Much easier to fix an existing story that sucks than one that doesn’t even exist.

I never really had to go that route, not because I never sucked, but because I did most of my suckage before I got self-conscious about it. When you’re twelve, fourteen, sixteen, it’s easy to get lost in the fun of it and not worry about the flaws. I was just self-critical enough to improve, not enough to paralyze. So I’ve never had much personal use for that advice.

Now, for the first time, I’m having to embrace it.

I’ve got this thing, the Sooper Sekrit YA Urban Fantasy Project, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering ways to start it off that won’t look like every other YA urban fantasy I’ve read (having devoured half a dozen or so recently, as research). Finally the other night I said, screw it. Let’s go ahead with the standard opening, and start getting this thing on the page. Maybe it will suck. Maybe I don’t quite have the voice yet, maybe I’m going to have to radically revise the thing later to fix its pacing, because I have no idea how to structure a 60K-word novel instead of a 100K or 120K one. Maybe I don’t yet know how to get Brian and Ethan into that fight, and what I’m about to put in for that will be kind of dumb and useless.

It’s okay. I’ve given myself permission to suck.

I’ve also given myself permission to write out of order, though I know most of the bits I’m scribbling down are actually long-form notes, not the scenes themselves. In fact, I think I’m throwing much of my process out the window, here. It may be an experiment doomed to failure; we’ll have to see. But this is a spec project, something I’m doing on my own time because I want to, and because I don’t have any other book I should be writing just now. The Victorian novel has to wait for the summer because if Midnight Never Come is any example, it will eat my head, and I can’t do that while I’m also teaching.

This, I hope I can do. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ll produce the crappiest first draft since Sunlight and Storm, or realize that my process is a good one after all and I should go back to it. But for the first time since July of 2003, I’m tackling a novel without any deadlines on it I haven’t imposed myself.

If it sucks, nobody will ever have to know.

And besides, that’s what revisions and second drafts are for.

0 Responses to “permission to suck”

  1. takrann

    Swan Tower, I took cheer and encouragement from what you have written. Because right now, with my novella, I am the swamp monster of suckage. I’ll keep going. The opening of the thing I was pleased with (very) but I cannot regain the intensity of it right now. The thing to do is to suck my way through the rest and like you say, at least you will have the thing there to redraft. Thank you for writing that. :-))

    • Marie Brennan

      The trick is to make yourself really believe that yes, it can be redrafted. That maybe you’ll hit the end and decide everything after the opening needs to be thrown out, but having done it the wrong way, now you know what the right way is. Or that the ideas are there, but you need to rewrite them in totally new words.

      Or maybe it doesn’t suck as much as you thought, and you can keep what you have.

      I stopped myself from writing out of order because I used to hold on too hard to the things I’d already written, even when they turned out not to fit. I’m starting to let myself do it again now because I think — I hope — I’m willing to throw them out if necessary.

  2. moonandserpent

    I find that writing out of order lets me keep momentum, because it means I can cheat and get to the fun parts and then go back and connect the dots.

    But then again, you don’t seem to have much of a momentum problem. And are prolific. And dedicated. And awesome.

    • Marie Brennan

      Actually, momentum was the problem. Once I’d cheated and gotten to the fun parts, I had very little interest in the bits that connected the dots. Which was a good recipe for those bits sucking. (Plus, the stuff I wrote out of order tended to be not grounded in what came before, which made it not so good, either.)

      • moonandserpent

        Huh. I’m finding it just the opposite for me. When I need to get myself moving, I’ll write a part I’m really interested in and then fill in the dots. (In the process, usually finding something about the “boring” parts that I can get into.)

        For example: the very first thing I wrote for the novel-thingy was a bit near the end involving a cowboy driving a high-speed steam engine (fueled by the flesh of a Fallen God) through a rising zeppelin. Then I wrote a flashback to Acre in 1134. It wasn’t until I had these things in front of me, all shiny and neat, that I wanted to actually move forwards at all. Of course the entire structure of those scenes has changed as I began filling stuff in, and they will barely be recognizable once I get to them, but that seems to be part of the process for me. This whole writing more than 40k words of something is new and disturbing.

        But then again, I *heart* writing short stories and novellas and am aghast at this novel-thing on my doorstep. Whereas you seem to prefer long form.

        I think this may be more proof that we’re antimater versions of each other πŸ˜› But in a good way, not in a universe go boom way. I hope.

        • Marie Brennan

          The only truly universal rule in writing process is that nothing is universal. One person’s magic bullet is another person’s bullet to the head.

          I like both short and long form, but they represent different experiences and payoffs for me.

          • takrann

            ‘The only truly universal rule in writing process is that nothing is universal. One person’s magic bullet is another person’s bullet to the head.’

            Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!

      • takrann

        That overall observation certainly shook up the sawdust in my skull! ‘Once I’d cheated and gotten to the fun parts, I had very little interest in the bits that connected the dots’. And ‘Plus the stuff I wrote out of order tended not to be grounded in what came before’. This is why I have become lost in my own labyrinth. And why the bits in between feel like they will suck so bad I can’t face writing them.

        There is a reason, when you start climbing, why you should never look down – or back! Thank you.

        • Marie Brennan

          Yer welcome! That epiphany, and the resultant change in my process, was a big factor in me finishing my first novel. And I rapidly found out that if I made myself take things in order, the connecting bits to get me to the next cool bit often turned into cool bits themselves, with all kinds of fascinating little details that fed into the whole.

  3. milbrcrsan

    Haven’t heard from me in a long time, huh? :p

    Your post has relaxed me quite a bit with that fear of writing something horrible. For me, so far anyway, I’m not afraid of my novel being. That’s more of a back-of-the-mind thought right now. But when I finally find an editor and a publisher, that’s when I start to shake. Maybe it’s too cliche or not that great of the plot. However, I do my best to keep those thoughts away, otherwise, I won’t write.

    As for the writing process…I’ve pushed myself to keep writing chapter after chapter, but I can’t quite do it. I’ll randomly get an idea for the chapter thats three ahead of the one I just completed. Like just yesterday I finally completed chapter three however chapter ten had been finished for quite sometime. I suppose that’s just my writing style.

    …And because I can’t gloat about this too much…I’m currently over 15k in my novel. hehe πŸ˜€

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, don’t think about the editor stage yet. πŸ™‚ (Much less the shelf stage, when Total Strangers will be picking it up.)

      I’ve described in the comments above why I stopped writing out of order. Also, if I think of something three chapters ahead that I really want to write, that helps goad me into zooming through what stands between me and the fun. Sort of the carrot I’m dangling for myself.

      Congrats on your progress!

      • milbrcrsan

        *nods* Makes sense, but for me, and a lot of other writers, I’m sure…once I get an idea and the conversation in a certain chapter I need to write it. If I don’t, I’ll remember the idea but the conversation goes right out of my head. If/and when I become a writer, I might come up with a different process. We’ll see. lol

        I’ve been thinking about this certain site, Novel Maker. I’m registered there and I even uploaded one of my short stories on it (though sadly, I still haven’t gotten any review or comments…even though 45 people have read it and given it five stars) however, do you believe it would be bad for my novel (the one I’m hoping to publish) if I posted the chapters I have on there? I’ve heard publishers hate to see anything that relates to your work on the internet, but there are editors and publishers on the site as well. Would I be better off if I don’t worry about that or do you think it would give me more of a chance to be noticed if I did upload it?

        • Marie Brennan

          It’s a brave new world we live in, and I honestly couldn’t advise you with confidence. I’m sure there may be some editors and publishers there; the question is whether they’re the editors and publishers you’re interested in, and whether the ones you’re interested in are on there. Personally, most of the editors I know do not frequent such places, and would consider the posting of chapters to be a detrimental move. (Not “anything that relates to your work,” but substantial portions of the work itself.) I mean, if you’re putting them up there for people to read and rate, then essentially you are publishing them. That’s different than a password-locked site used for a critique group, for example.

          • milbrcrsan

            I’m going to ask another odd question…that is if you don’t mind, because once I start, it’s kind of hard for me to actually stop. lol

            When you were first writing Doppelganger, was it hard for you to get people to read your progress? The only reason why I was considering putting up the chapters in my novel is because I’m practically desperate to get some actual feedback from it. My boyfriend has a site bookmarked for a woman who will read through what you have and give you professional feedback and give you advice for editing, though currently I don’t have the money for that.

            I was never like this before when I was writing, I was satisfied with my teacher who read it and edited it, but now that I’m seriously considering being a writer for a career, it’s killing me that it’s this hard to get someone to read it. My best friend scanned through my short story and that was it. *sigh*

          • Marie Brennan

            Don’t ever pay for an editing service.

            “Professional feedback”? What are her qualifications? If she’s not somebody who can buy your novel, then her advice isn’t really worth more than anybody else’s. There are plenty of ways to get reader responses without forking out cash for it. By and large, editing services are scams, and even the ones that intend to be honest aren’t worth much.

            So what should you do? Well, I’m one of those writers who generally hates having an incomplete work read. The advice is often counterproductive, since the reader can’t judge how the bit they’re reading fits into the context of the whole. It works for other people, though, so my personal inclination shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

            It’s a bit presumptuous of me to say this, but it sounds rather like what you really want is not a critique, but encouragement: some kind of positive response to help prod you forward, so you feel less like you’re working in a vacuum. That’s very understandable, and you’ve got plenty of options for how to approach it. The internet is chock-full of writers’ groups, ranging from structured things like “Novel in 90” (an LJ community I’ve mentioned before), where you post reports on your daily progress, to freeform critique groups where you can get feedback on the work itself. The “Fangs, Fur, and Fey” urban fantasy community just put up a post, in fact, to help community watchers hook up with each other for critique purposes.

            Not all feedback is equal, of course. The funny thing is, there’s no nice, clean rule for whose feedback will be of use to you. Some readers can’t say more than “uh, I liked it,” while others will give you insightful commentary, complete with suggestions for how to fix the flaws. Some writers know just how to point out what you’re doing right and wrong, while others operate on such a gut level that they can’t articulate what they see. The trick is to find a group that neither pats you continually on the back, nor cuts you down so you don’t want to write anymore.

            But you’re in luck: thanks to the magical internets, you’re no longer restricted to whatever critique group exists in your town. You can shop around and find one online that suits you.

            And it won’t cost you anything.

            I’m afraid I don’t have a handy list of crit groups, but they’re pretty easy to find. Google around a bit, see what people have to say about various groups, find one that works for you. If the feedback you get hampers your forward progress, then wait until you’ve got something complete to show. Too many people get stuck in the trap of rewriting the first three chapters, and never moving beyond them.

            Good luck. I’m sure you’ll find what you need, if you go looking.

          • milbrcrsan

            Yeah, I’m actually in Novel in 90. lol

            Well, thank you very much for your advice. It’s not every day you get advice from people who have actually published books. πŸ˜€ I will begin my quest as soon as I can.

          • Marie Brennan

            Actually, it’s surprisingly easy to get advice from people who have actually published books. We’re by and large a friendly lot. ^_^

  4. squishymeister

    embrace the suck and make it your own!

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