You probably still suck — at least a little bit — as a writer.
It’s okay! It’s totally not your fault! Just because the last sentence of your latest masterpiece just so happens to be “Muhgruh nubblub guhpuhmuhfnnn!” isn’t because of anything you did. Just because your characters are all mitten-handed, soft-headed woodcut facsimiles of popular 1980s action movie characters — hey, you couldn’t help that. Just because you plainly believe yourself to be one of the Black Eyed Peas and insert periods and other punctuation inside words and proper names, hey, what’s a writer gonna do? That’s not your fault. That’s will.i.am’s fault. Totally.
…oh, wait. Wait a minute.
Yes it is. It is your fault. I see what you did there. I see how you tried to slip the noose. Clever monkey. Trying to escape persecution! So cute. So cute. And doomed to failure. Stop hooting. I said, stop it.
Every writer sucks at least a little bit. (And let’s not pretend — some of you suck a whole lot. Your suction is so strong, you could siphon a grizzly bear skull straight out his big bear butthole. Fwoomp.)
I know I suck as a writer. Not always. Hopefully not often. But it’s in there — lurking veins black as road tar, manuscript sometimes shot through with them. A smell like rot wafting off the pages.
Whaddya gonna do? Well, you can sit there and slap your nuts around like it’s a speed bag, or you can join me on a wild-eyed, howl-mouthed journey — a pilgrimage to the deepest, blackest heart of Why You Probably Still Suck As A Writer. Ready? Let’s do this.
In no particular order…
You Don’t Know What Words Mean
Learn a word, or don’t use it. Sometimes, this falls to common misuse (affect/effect, nonplussed, moot, further/farther). The book is not “entitled” anything, unless the book is due some favor. “Appraise” means assess, “apprise” means inform. The parts “compose” the whole, the whole “comprises” the parts — if you ever write the words “comprised of,” you should have your teeth removed by an angry robot. “Titular” has nothing to do with a woman’s sweater monkeys. And so on. Some writers get trapped in a cycle of randomly believing the wrong definition for words, too, words that fall outside common misuse. In which case you get to quote The Princess Bride at them: “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”
You Are The Slave, The Comma Is Your Mistress
Someone once told you, “The comma is where the speaker pauses in the sentence,” and while that’s not automatically untrue, that person did you an unholy host of favors by oversimplifying comma use. Stop throwing random commas into sentences. Stop it right now. The comma has its stiletto heel pinning your pink parts to the floor. It burns your thigh with cigarettes. Stop being the comma’s gimp. Also, comma splices — where you use a comma instead of a period to connect two independent clauses — make Baby Jesus kill a bunch of motherfuckers with an AK-47. While we’re at it, beware overusing any form of punctuation: semi-colons, colons, emdashes. I know your pain. But quit that shit.
Say It With Me: Subject-Verb Agreement
The subject (the primary noun that does shit in the sentence) needs to hold hands and go skipping tra-la-la through the meadow with the verb. Singular nouns like singular verbs. So too with plural nouns and plural verbs. He is punching a goat. She is eating a melon. He and she are fornicating under a dirty blanket.
While We’re At It, Stop Screwing With Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement, Too
Everyone is entitled to their own writing style, as long as that writing style doesn’t stick “everyone” and “their” in the same goddamn sentence like I just did. Everyone is singular. Same with he/she. Their and they is plural. Everyone is entitled to his own writing style. Or her own writing style.
You’re American, So Put The Punctuation Inside The Quote Marks
Says it all, doesn’t it? “Baby Jesus shot all those people with that gun,” the woman said. “He shot ’em real good.” See the punctuation? They live inside the quotation marks. That’s where they’re comfy.
The Sentence Is The Rope With Which You Will Hang Yourself
Run-on sentences chafe the balls, as do sentence fragments. Too many independent clauses: run-on. No independent clauses: sentence fragment.
Your Work Is Destroyed By Passive Voice
See what I did there? Rewrite: “Passive voice destroys your work.” Active sentences rule. Passive sentences drool.
Any Sentence That Begins With “It” Or “There” Should Be Interrogated (And Possibly Shot)
If you start a sentence with “it” or “there,” prepare for it to be a weak-kneed, bow-spined, limp-ass noodle of a sentence. And, if you’re a writer who has written for me in the past, you’ll know my fiery syphilitic rage over the construction “there is.” So blah. So bleargh. So snarrrggh-rage-kickpunch-bite-bite-stab.
Your Writing Is Like That Mumbling Hobo On The Midnight Bus
Your work has no clarity. It’s awkward. The reader doesn’t know what you mean. You lose clarity in both idea and execution. You probably don’t read your work aloud, do you? Writing is about communication. If you are not communicating clearly, then you’re sucking hind tit.
You Think Writing Is Only The Stringing Together Of Words
Writers think it’s all just about writing. That the only requirement is the ability to put one word in front of the other until you have about 70,000 of ’em lined up like kewpie dolls. Writing is just the first part. Do not neglect the narrative. Do not ignore story construction.
The Shape Of The Page Eludes You Like A Slippery Eel Or A Ninja (Or A Slippery Ninja Eel)
Do you look at the page? The shape of the words, the sentences, the staggered contours, the physical rhythm. No. No, you don’t. And that makes you a kaka-poo-poo-doody-head.
You, Unlike The Cylons, Have No Plan
Do you do research? Mind-maps? Outlines? Notes? Character sketches? Arcs? Story bibles? Character bibles? Do you ask what this is about? Do you know why you’re writing this? Do you do nothing but free yourself and write? Then you write without a plan. You write without a safety net. Your first draft is probably going to eat curb. It does not matter how you plan, only that you do plan.
You Are Slave To Goblins And Unicorns
Writer’s block is a ghost. The Muse is an illusion. Neither of these things have substance and gain shape only by the life you breathe into them. Dispel such specters and own your authorial destiny.
You Think You’re So Super Special
You read advice, you read the thoughts of other writers, and you immediately believe that none of it is useful. “I’m just that awesome,” you think. “I have nothing to learn here.” You’re already doomed. You’re also the same guy who writes query or submission letters and doesn’t do what is demanded of you — “I don’t really need to give them the first five pages. I’ll send ’em the whole manuscript because that’s how they’ll discover my awesomeness. And I know this agent only accepts romance and poetry, but I’m going to send her my epic starfighting space opera about the Moon Squirrels.”
You Think Every Draft Is A No-Net Slam Dunk When Really It Rebounds Off The Backboard And Flies Into The Crowd And Hits A Lady In The Face, Driving Her Nose Into Her Brain And Then She Dies But You Don’t Notice
One draft is not enough. Two probably isn’t either. You know how many drafts you have to do? As many as it takes to stop it from sucking. Three? Thirteen? Thirty? Yes.
Shiny Shiny Shiny Shiny Shiny Oooooh Shiny
Who needs to finish this piece-of-shit manuscript when another shinier one waits in the wings? Stop that. Stop that right now or you’ll grow hair on your palms. Finish what you started. Even if it is as foul and blunt as a bezoar plucked from the colon of a train-struck deer, finish it. Writers are allergic to finishing what they started. Put up with the itching and the sneezing and suck it up.
Holy Shit You’re Boring ZZZZzzzZzz Huh Wuzza Wooza?
Stop writing shit that nobody cares about. Readers are looking for any excuse to escape your awful prose. So don’t let them. Trap them with your brilliance. Ensnare them with interest.
You Break The Rules Because You Just Don’t Know Any Better
You break rules not because you are making a stylistic effort but because you just don’t know the rules to begin with, and that sucks. The first person who stands up and says, “But writing and storytelling aren’t beholden to any rules,” gets his head lopped off by a halberd. No, really. Choppity-chop. Writers have rules. Story construction is shaped by rules. They’re not always good rules. Some rules can be summarily ignored. Some rules must be ignored and reevaluated. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you don’t know them, then you cannot know why you break them.
You Continue To Enjoy The Poopy Diaper Smell Of Your Own Failure
It is easier and for some more interesting to fail than it is to succeed. Perhaps because conflict drives every story, and writers take that conflict and apply it to their own lives. To fail, then, is to evoke struggle, and to evoke struggle is to net sympathy and maintain interest. Bullshit. Nobody cares. Don’t be another one of the billion asshole nonsense douche-swab writers out there who are content in mediocrity. Learn. Improve. Engage. Read. Write. Take off the diaper. Stop complaining. Stop making excuses. Kick down doors. Blow holes in the earth and crawl through them. Failure might be easy, but it is not interesting. Commit.
That Is Just The Tip Of The Penis Iceberg
This is merely a taste of why you still probably suck as a writer. The truth is, we all suck in some way, shape, or form. That’s a good thing to realize. Hell, you go through this post, you’ll find that I’m probably breaking all these rules somewhere along the way. Sometimes that’s okay. Other times, it’s not. The best we can do is identify the problems. Stay frosty. Keep on our game. Practice. But don’t just practice in a redundant, circling-the-drain manner — practice should be iterative and show improvement.
…should you choose to accept it, is to drop one more “Why You Probably Still Suck As A Writer” reason here in the comments. Just one. Something you do, ideally, or something you’ve noticed others do with some frequency. Let us build a mountain of our possible failures, a mountain that we can ascend, a mountain littered with the corpses of our lessers, a mountain for all of us to conquer.