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.