Why You Probably Still Suck As A Writer

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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.

Your Mission

…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.

96 comments

  • I suck as a writer because I persist in believing that more adjectives describe something more accurately, and that it’s really important to let the reader know that it’s a small whiny brown-and-white dog with ratty ears. It’s a dog, it’s just a dog, I know I should let it lie but I don’t.

    Anyway, it’s equally awful when writers can’t think of different *ways* to say things, so they just use every word in the thesaurus.

    Sometimes simplicity is best.

  • My own personal suckitude (among some of those you mentioned) is getting overfond of a particular phrase or word and using it more than I should. Like more than once. Or maybe twice.

    The other one, which Stephen King brought up in “On Writing” has to do with the insidious adverb. Yes, my name is Janet (“hi, Janet”) and I use adverbs.

  • I suck because I keep thinking about the end of the story, getting all in a rushed hissy fit to get there and then totally forgetting that everything leading up to it has to be interesting too.

    I also suck because my sentences are too long at times.

  • I suck because I’m writing to change the world instead of entertaining people. I sneer at the best-seller lists and genre fiction, call that stuff trash, and keep thinking about what my high school English teachers told me about how books like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “The Jungle” changed history. The problem being that Random House isn’t interested in the next Harriet Beecher Stowe.
    That, and I hang out on Facebook too much.

  • There are no words. You are my literary HERO. I stumbled on this completely by accident and (semi-colon, pause, or dash…perhaps a facetious period or two?), I love it. Brilliant. Sarcasm should be an official language, and I’m not being flippant. Seriously, hat-tip to you. How did I never know this blog existed? I don’t write; I just read. What a refreshing read!

  • I suck because of so many of these reasons (mostly the commas and not finishing what I’ve started) and I’m not good at transitioning into new scenes but a lot of people suck because all of their characters talk exactly the same and NEWSFLASH not every talks and thinks like you do. Oh and please for the love of God stop over describing things and let my imagination do some of the work!

  • October 9, 2013 at 4:12 AM // Reply

    I suck as a writer because I’m lazy. With as much time I have on my hands outside of work, with all the books I’ve collected and promised myself I would read, with paper and pencils and a fucking computer to let my ideas go, I still find time to go to youtube and watch stupid videos, post crappy status’s on my facebook, and ironically, search google or yahoo asking how to improving my writing skills. This problem is admittedly a reflection on my character and as I look inside myself, I honestly feel ashamed. How dare I pursue a career in writing, a career that takes hours, days, weeks, months, YEARS, of hard work and treat it like its a bum on the street.

  • I suck for so many reasons. Here are two.

    1) I suck because I don’t trust my readers. I over-explain. I wield foreshadowing like a club and beat readers with it about the head and neck.

    2) I suck because I waver. I am so prone to distraction these days, more so than before. The moment I fall, willingly, into the zone, I get so excited about being in the zone that I immediately exit zone stage right and go get a drink of water or use the bathroom or gaze adoringly at my books.

    Fortunately, I acknowledge these shortcomings, and I’m taking steps to correct them. I over-explain in early drafts, but NOTICE my over-explaining and weed it out in the 2nd, 3rd, and nth drafts. Any over-explaining I fail to notice is usually picked up by my editors. They point it out, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that is on the nose, isn’t it?” And I fix it. I think we all need that sometimes. Sometimes we’re not sure something is bad, or just don’t know it’s bad, until someone comes along and says, “This is bad.” Smart writers heed that advice and break out the shears.

    And when I write now, I disable my Internet connection and stuff my phone under a pillow. No Facebook, no videogame news, no nothing until I’ve hit my minimum word count for the day.

  • I suck because I refuse to realize my own self-worth. I need affirmation from the ‘literary gods’ that the words I string together not only make sense, but that they create some kind of art. Word-counts and rules and rituals and discipline are your friend. Talent will give you your voice. I very much enjoyed this article, I have had beers and I firmly believe the part where you will you always suck, but you can always learn.

  • August 5, 2014 at 8:00 PM // Reply

    I suck at writing because I suck at writing. I’m just not good with words. Some people aren’t supposed to be writers, and I am one of them. Alas, college has forced me to write several essays a week. I appreciate your tips. I’ll try to use them to mask my incompetence.

  • I suck at writing because the vast majority of my sentences make Hawthorne look like the most concise writer on earth. And I never finish anything. And just started that sentence with and. I may also use walls of dialogue with nothing else to describe it. I also spell the British way, despite everything else about my writing being American except for irregular verbs which can go either way with very little in the way of consistency. And commas. That is all.

  • I suck because I like to describe things. I build visual images in my head, but I can’t draw, can’t paint, and so I determine to use words to MAKE the reader see what I see. I imagine each word a piece of gold or a gem filling up a treasure chest, and that each reader who cracks open that rusty moldy lid will have their face light up like that damn case in Resevouir Dogs, music shining in the air while they marvel at the wonder that is the pile of droppings I’ve heaved into the paragraph. I must admit that they are not gold, but gelt, and not even the good shit, with chocolote in it, but the eaten kind, just empty gold coin wrappers piled loosely, shining, and empty.

  • I still suck because I’m too fucking self-conscious about sentence construction as I write instead of just TELLING THE GODDAMN STORY.

    Also I still suck because I’m pretty sure my current villain is a dimensionless turd.

  • I felt a craving for more elaboration on some of listed reasons why we suck. I thought I could actually reply to this because there is one thing I am good at which is listing reason after reason why I suck at writing. I suck because a lot of great phrases will pop into my head and I let to much time slip away before writing it down or recording it. This kills me. Dialogue is something I engage in everyday, I practically never shut up. All my character’s can’t seem to spit out anything that moves them towards what they want. They just seem to fidget around and think a lot.

  • I suck because I’m just not meant to be a writer. There are some many people like that and I’m one of them. I struggle with punctuation, giving character’s personality and just stringing words together in a clear, confident manner. Describing actions is really tough for me as well. I also tend to leave behind stories with good concepts because I don’t have the motivation to continue…

    However, it’ll never be something I give up. I love doing it and that’s what matters. It makes me calm and happy. I’m still really young though. Maybe someday I’ll have the confidence to share my stories with others that are not my close friends. For now, I’ll keep my writing in the dark :P

  • I suck because no matter how many different story ideas I can muster, I never pull through. I always find another idea that’s better, or I realize that I’m plagiarizing from other books I’ve read.

    It’s infuriating. Plus, I can’t keep the story straight, whether it be the plot and conflict and characters, or the tense of the words. I always end up using all tenses, because I am a confused tard.

    I love writing, I really do. It helps me think through different possibilities. It gives me wings. My goal now is to not suck at writing my stories and actually get past twenty pages. ^^

  • I make dialogue too detailed, I pay too much attention on what the characters are feeling and not what surrounds them, I can’t keep the story connected, plus all of the above

  • Sometimes I just suck at everything. I pay too much attention on dialogue and forget about the setting or otherway around. Sometimes I start my piece of glorrious art with passion,enthusiasm and whatever drives my boat but soon I realize I am literally writing shit without direction that I think I should open a publishing company named “shit productions” and as I did my writing gets worser and worser,more boring. My sentence get shorter. And shorter. SHORTER! Sometimes I just break up at the middle of the sentence and just say “f$$k it.” I would drink a cup of tea and start a new book. And guess what happens next? Yes this hellish circle just starts all over again. Gosh I’m so messed up.

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