Writing Advice: Sucking at First


Let’s face it, no one is good at something the first time they try it. This goes for writing, painting, acting, cooking — basically anything. The first time you try it out, you’re probably going to suck at it. When you think about it, we’re all quite good at sucking at things. What we’re not very good at is allowing ourselves to suck. Generally, we tend to be hard on ourselves when our first writing piece, for instance, does not fall out of us as pure gold. Setting aside Anne Lamott’s rule of shitty first drafts, I’m sure we all have pieces of writing that we don’t want anyone to ever read. I know I have many old documents saved on my computer from my teen days that should never see the light of day. What we can take solace in, though, is that every writer goes through that terrible phase.

There are two great quotes or pieces of advice about this sort of thing. The first one comes from Chuck Wendig, in his post about being a happier writer. In the post, Wendig flat-out says that we need to give ourselves permission to suck. He goes on to say, “Leap into the beyond. Fingerpaint like a boss. Remove the pressure of quality and give yourself permission to suck. Remember: with writing, you can always fix it in post. Why do you think Word Jesus invented the Editing Process? PRAISE WORD JESUS.” 

Now, I don’t know about any Word Jesus (maybe Chuck Wendig is my Word Jesus), but Wendig is completely right here. As writers, we are often striving for perfection on our first try. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to write something good, but it’s just not going to happen in your first draft. That’s why there’s editing, and that’s why the first draft is not what you publish. Feel free to go wild with ideas and if you write a drab paragraph here and there, always remember that you can spice it up later on.

Another piece of advice on this matter that I love comes from This American Life’s Ira Glass. A while back, Glass made this quote about storytelling and about how everyone sucks at first. Basically, he says that everyone who makes a creative endeavor has good taste in terms of what is quality, but there is a gap at the beginning where we can’t seem to translate that into our own And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.” Create, create, create. And eventually you’ll get out of that phase.

The most important thing to remember is that this phase doesn’t last forever. Sure, you’ll still have shitty first drafts, but that will never go away. All you can do is keep on writing, or acting, or painting, or cooking until you jump that hurdle and start making good art.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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