#09 When Your Writing Sucks
So Your Writing Sucks?
Has someone ever told you, your writing sucks? How does one determine something so ghastly? Perhaps you have asked for reviews from readers and critics alike, and the overwhelming feedback is not flattering. Maybe you are not published yet, so you are sharing what you write with friends and family. You can see it in their eyes. They are supportive, but your grandma is doing that thing with her eyebrow that lets you know she is lying. She is not trying to be malicious but rather kind.
?You don?t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it?s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That?s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.? ? Octavia E. Butler
I think it is one of the most challenging aspects of human nature to receive criticism. For some, it hurts more when it comes from those closest to you, and for others, it hurts more coming from strangers. If you want to put your art in the public domain, you will need to kill that part of yourself that struggles to take criticism and feedback which is easier said than done. I grapple with this all the time. Just when I think I have it under lock, someone says something about my writing sending me into a freefall to a very dark and miserable place. How can my writing be so bad?
?Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.? ? Lisa See
Okay Your Writing Sucks, So Now What?
Once you’ve had sufficient time to throw a pity party, lick your wounds and nurse your broken ego back to a semblance of health, it’s time to get cracking. No one ever came out of the womb spouting beautiful prose. As children, no great author-to-be was developing a mind-bending narrative that awed the world. Even at the start of the careers, most of the famous authors in human history, well, sucked, just like you and me.
So what happened to them that had them become the authors we admire today? They put in the hard work it takes to become better at their craft and were obsessed with improving their writing. The question is, are you? If you are writing as a hobby, then your skill level will remain roughly the same, but If you challenge yourself to grow, you may reach untold heights of excellence, even you could not imagine. So what will it be?
A professional writer is an amateur who didn?t quit.? ? Richard Bach
Your Writing Sucks, And You’re Tired of It
The secret to stopping sucking is to start working. But this practice must be deliberate. You can’t hard work your way to being better. However, you need to work hard, yes, but you need to work smart too. The first step is to read great literature. Everyone needs to learn what good writing looks like and then needs to practice imitating it. Let’s look at some examples of exquisite writing:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” ? Jack Kerouac, On The Road
Here Kerouac presents us with unique and authentic dialogue from his masterpiece, On The Road. You can feel the emotion in this statement, and you can see how he has presented it artistically. Take a sentence like this about a topic you are equally passionate about, let’s say baking. Next, create some metaphors around baking. Maybe something like rising and flour and perhaps you get something like…
Kerouac Imitation Example:
“You can’t trust a woman who can’t bake. There is all manner of lessons a woman learns from watching flour rise. A girl is nothing more than dough slammed and kneaded by society’ expectations ? she is flattened and placed in the oven under severe heat, but instead of breaking her, she rises. Perhaps she becomes a force to be reckoned with, exquisite as much as she is beautiful. Don’t ever discount a woman put in the fire!” (Literally just wrote that without planning but it demonstrates the point).
Kerouac Example Analysis:
Now that you have some raw material, you can break it down into its component parts and chisel it into perfection until the poetry pounces off the page. We have just practically improved an aspect of our writing.
Again, you can do this with longer passages that are not necessarily linked to dialogue as in the case below
Sometimes, fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why?
Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears, so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverised bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ? Haruki Murakami, Kafka On The Shore
Haruki Murakami Imitation Example:
Here the author is trying to make a point about life. What philosophies in life do you believe in? What are you passionate about and want to share with others? What more profound truth do you want to hold up in the mirror and have us as human beings recognise about ourselves? Perhaps it is that when it comes down to it, we are all selfish and will act on that. Now, what examples from human history show that? Let’s try the exercise again.
Suppose I kidnap your husband and your daughter and place them in a cage dangling over the jagged rocks of a steep cliff. The fall will almost certainly kill them. Suppose I give you a choice. Your husband or your daughter. The one you choose lives, and the other dies. Perhaps this is still too easy. What if you need to give me a reason for choosing, and it has to be the truth? What then?
If you’re lying, they both die. I wonder what choice you would make? It is hard to believe that you would make any decision other than the one that served you the most, be that your husband or your daughter. This then is the problem with human beings and our human choices. We lie to ourselves about our intentions and mask them behind professions of nobility, yet it comes down to one simple truth. There is a choice that pleases us and one that does not. There is no motivation beyond that.
Haruki Murakami Example Analysis:
Well now. This is a very cynical view of the world, but the narrator is trying to make a point and using an example, an analogy, and other such poetry to point to the picture he or she is trying to form. Now it is not sharp and crisp yet, because it was done on the fly, but with some refinement, this could be quite a compelling piece of writing.
The Big Takeaway: Your Writing Sucks No More!
If your writing sucks, Read a lot of great literature and let it shape your opinion. Seek out writing that moves you and study it. Analyse what it is about the writing that sings to your soul and break it down into its component parts. Once you have done this, you can emulate it by changing the topic or the structure. The key is to experiment and then assess how close to the work your imitation came. Do this enough, and you will slowly improve your own writing over time, and it will have the added benefit of already having your unique take to it because it is inspired and fuelled by your truths and passions.
Here are some resources where you can find more compelling prose to inspire you:
Check out my other blog posts for articles similar to this one and listen to my podcast to undertand the authentic author’s journey as we deal with criticism and critique. You are not alone on this journey, but your path is up to you!