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Does It Really Matter If You Suck?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Philip Overby, May 16, 2015.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    Maybe that's kind of "click-bait-y" but I've just been wondering more and more about writers who are afraid to pull the trigger on their work or share it for this fear that they're not good enough. This idea that self-publishing is plagued with "crap." I just wonder, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Does everyone have to be super-awesome at writing? When does it stop? When do you reach the point when you're good enough?

    Is it fine to be happy with your current ability and just try to continue to learn as you go? Or does this constant need for perfection and fear of being "lumped in with the crap" keep writers in this stasis they can't break free from.

    It's like publishing is based on fear. Fear of rejection, fear of being ignored, fear of not being read. It's like everything always seems cloaked in fear. However, thankfully, there are bright spots on the internet that always encourage writers to do the "seat work," research, and you'll find yourself getting better and better.

    For me, I think there comes a point in every writer's life where you have to decide you're good enough. That you feel there is segment of the reading population that will like what you're selling. Of course this doesn't mean rush everything and put out rough work. It just means working to the best of your ability with your current skill base and hopefully getting assistance from people (paid or otherwise) that can help you smooth out the edges.

    So, yeah, it matters if you suck. You obviously don't want to be seen as a poor writer, but I do think there needs to be a point when writers just bite the bullet and say, "I'm as good as I'm going to be at this moment" and do their best to get their work out into the world.

    As an aside, in 2013 I lost several things in my life. I won't go into details, but it opened my eyes how quickly life can change. So since then, I've tried to be the best writer I can be every year I'm alive. If that means I suck some years, then so be it. Of course I don't want to suck, but I do want my work to be read. If that means pissing off my inner editor, who screams at me every moment that "You're not good enough yet" (he's been doing that since 2002), then so be it.

    I hope some of you can piss off your inner editor more often. 100 percent non-suckage may be a pipe dream. But you can be 100 percent you and I believe that shines through.
    Last edited: May 17, 2015
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  2. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    You're awesome, Phil. Thank you for the encouraging note.
  3. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    I don't think the question "am I good enough" or "is this piece of work good enough" is one that is useful to ask yourself. Since we're talking about creative work, "good" is totally subjective. All writers and all written work is both "good" and "bad" based on which member of its audience you're talking to. Neither of those question can be answered with a definitive yes or no at any point. The answer will always be both, which isn't helpful to an individual writer.

    I think it's more helpful to ask yourself "Do I have something inside me to communicate to readers that no one else can" and then "Does this piece of work succeed in communicating my vision to my audience". If you can answer yes to those questions then I don't care if editors and critics rip your words to shreds, I still think you should publish. You should go ahead and reach out to your audience and offer them your creative work. If there are readers who respond positively then it doesn't matter that anyone else thinks. You've done what a writer is meant to do.

    ETA: If only I could actually listen to my own advice I might not be crippled with the certainty that I'm never good enough and I could actually get something done. ;)
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
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  4. Mectojic

    Mectojic Minstrel

    Here's my opinion:
    It's fine to share your work with those you know personally: family, friends, work colleagues etc.

    However, I believe the publishing world should be only for the very best. Bookstores only have limited space to put stuff on display, and consumers want the very best there.

    If that means I never publish myself, so be it. I'd rather have everyone read really good fantasy rather than mediocre.
    Does that mean your work 'sucks'? It may not. Go for the risk, take it to an editor, get some professional advice.
  5. Truepinkas

    Truepinkas Dreamer

    I believe there is a threshold you should meet before you publish (even self publish), but here's the thing, as a general statement, most people are terrible at gauging their own work. You need to find an objective third party to help you in this evaluation.

    I'm going to give an anecdote from the illustration world (I know, not the same thing, but close enough for these purposes). In 2001 I attended a local sci-fi/fantasy convention. Illustrator Matt Busch was there and I got him to look at some of my work I had brought along. After he had looked through all of it I asked him what he thought I needed to work on to get to the point where I could do professional work. His response was essentially, 'You're already there. People with less skill than you are getting paid work right now, just go look for it.' When I went home from the con I sent out a barrage of emails to Art Directors. A month after that I was signing my first NDA and getting assignments.

    Throw caution to the wind. Get an impartial third party to give you honest feedback and go from there. Don't wait for perfection, just get 'good enough' and go! The only way you hit a point where you can't improve any more is if you die.
  6. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I agree that publishing should be saved for the very best. But what I notice is that some writers never think anything they do is ever good enough. We had a thread a while back about knowing when you're good enough. That's something I think is very difficult for writers to figure out. So I do think your advice of seeking out a professional to get opinions is good. They can at least let you know if you're onto something.

    I guess I lean toward what Mythpoet said: if you have something you strongly want to communicate to the world, then good or bad will always be subjective. At least if you feel strongly about your work, then getting it out there is a priority. Hopefully this means you make the effort to build your craft and not just go "OK, good enough." I think it's more of trying to be as good as you can be now.

    I hate to make this example because some like to jump all over this, but Twilight is an example of a book that many people think suck. The characters are weak, the plot is silly, and it's melodramatic in some ways. I've never read it, so I can't comment on that. But I always wonder if Stephanie Meyer thought, "You know what? This sucks. I'm not going to publish this until I'm the very best." Then she wouldn't be in the position she is now. I'm not trying to equate being "good" with financial success, but it kind of answers the question of what is good being very subjective. Some books are polarizing and I think that's a good thing. While one group of people enjoy the story of a girl falling in the love with a vampire others decry it as the fall of good taste. Either way, this is always going to be the case. Even if someone spends years and years crafting the perfect story, there will always be people that don't like it.
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
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  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver


    It seems like the problem you're seeing is that there are too many authors who aren't publishing that should be. I think that most people in the greater world of today's publishing are seeing the opposite problem.

    I see the whole issue as one of goals.

    If your goal is to share what you wrote with the world and you truly don't care what anyone thinks about it, then, by all means, you have every right to put it out there.

    I think, however, that most of us desire to get a positive response to what we put out there. I also think that's it's harder to get a positive response than most self-published authors realize.

    It seems like aspiring authors mostly desire some combination of the following three things from their published works:

    1. Money - not the only thing, but, hey, it's nice.
    2. People to get their story - They've got this really awesome tale running around in their head, and, if they could just write it down, they're sure everyone else would love it, too.
    3. To make people happy - Reading has been a big part of their lives. Remember reading that really awesome book and the way you felt afterwards? They want to make others feel that way about their book.

    So I guess I feel I have to ask myself as an author:

    Is this work that I'm about to publish going to accomplish my goals?

    If not, maybe I need to get better at my craft until I can make my work accomplish my goals. And, if I think it does accomplish my goals, I probably need to realize that, if the evidence points to the contrary, I need to seriously take into account that the likely reason it didn't was that I simply wasn't good enough.
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  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    That's great that talking to a pro artist got you motivated and then got you work. I think that's a great idea for any person. When you get a chance to show people something who you respect, that holds a lot of weight.

    One way I think to pro level feedback might be to entire contests. If you win, then that can be a way to give you some motivation. That and having honest critique partners helps a lot. The critique partners I've had have been great about telling me when something is sloppy or doesn't work for them, so that's a good way to gauge skill level. I have had people tell me "this is very Phil" which I always take as a huge compliment. This means that my authorial voice is becoming stronger and people can tell what stories are written by me.

    I do agree that throwing caution to the wind is the best advice I can give to anyone who has been sitting on the fence for a while. Every writer suffers heartbreak and disappointments, but you can only achieve your goals by hitting some snags along the way. No one wants to be mediocre, but I think mediocrity is determined by becoming stagnant. As long as you're trying to make each story better than the next, you are onto something.
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    That's a fair point about too many people self-publishing that shouldn't be. But I guess I'm looking more at it from a community perspective. I've seen some truly awesome writers on Mythic Scribes and I just wonder why they're not publishing things left and right. I guess it goes back to not feeling ready enough. But there are people lurking on this post right now that I believe are ready. They may need some guidance like anyone else does, but they're certainly ready if they want to take the leap.

    I care about people liking my stuff like anyone else, but I do realize the limits of this. There will be people that hate it. And no amount of hemming and hawing about it with change that. The bigger problem may be for some that they'll be ignored. But the solution I see to that problem is to write your next story and your next and then maybe one will catch fire. Then "you've got 'em."

    My goals are similar. Money isn't a huge motivator, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to "live the dream" and make some decent money from writing. I've had enough people "get" my style that I feel good about it, but I've had some not get it. That's the risk of doing anything though. And making people happy would probably be my biggest goal. Or at least leaving an impression. The impression may be "This guy is good at ___________" or "This guy is weird" or "This guy is not my bag, but I know someone who may like him."

    In my estimation, yes, there may be people publishing who aren't ready. But my concern is that there are people who are ready. From what I gather, the people who don't care a lick about being ready will always be out there. Look at Youtube. Some people have professional production and some just have a blurry webcam. Look at music. Some people have professional recorded stuff and some have, well, not professionally recorded stuff. And writing is the same. As writers, I don't think we need to be concerned with "the crap pile" so to speak, but to be concerned with being as good as we can humanly be.

    I got some good advice awhile back about obscurity. If no one knows who you are, it's easier to screw up. But if you're well known, that's when it's a problem. So if you're not famous, you are lucky in a way to have more chances. And if things get desperate, you can always use pen names to "restart" yourself.
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver


    Again, I just think that writing fiction well is a lot harder than it seems at first glance. First, you've got to understand what you need to convey (storytelling) and then you have to figure out how to convey it (technique).

    I don't know about anyone else's experience, but I haven't found either aspect to be particularly easy. In fact, I really don't feel like I have any kind of mastery at all over either. I'm just hoping that I've mastered parts of each enough that what I don't know doesn't sink me.

    I guess, reading through your last post, that I'd probably guess that each of those authors had darn good reasons for what they're doing (or not doing).
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  11. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Nothing is written, it's re-written. Expecting genius when you first start is a surefire way to disappointment. Write, write, write, regardless if it's absolute crap. Review what you've written, see what you like and what you think needs to be changed. Dissect the books you like to find the methods the author used to find a formula that worked.

    Just generate as much material as you can, constantly review and revise and take note of your small victories.
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I do believe understanding storytelling and technique is important and it's difficult to learn. The best ways I've found to do that is read and write. Then when I'm finished writing, let people read it. If they think it sucks, then it may suck. But if they see promise in it, even just a kernel, then it's worth pursuing. Anyone that doesn't feel confident in their work, then yes, I think they should hold off until they're comfortable. I wouldn't even suggest forcing something that isn't ready. I do think that writers should always be thinking of how to get out of their bubbles though. By bubble, I mean writing with no real feedback or desire to share it beyond a certain circle of people. It's terrifying in some regards to have people sitting there reading your story, but I've experienced the same thing being in band. We practiced and practiced and practiced until we thought we were ready. But when we played, there were some slight screw-ups, and the last show I flubbed the end of a song. But the owner of the bar still said he wanted to book us for a future show. Which means sometimes people can overlook mistakes or 100 percent perfection if things are clicking for the most part. So should we have played a show? Yes. Because in our minds we thought we were ready. We weren't in some minor regards, but we still pulled it off and people enjoyed it. That's what I hope some people can think about when it comes to writing. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, but never stop trying to figure out how to be the best you can at any given moment.
  13. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    Many of the published works that are commercially successful, completely lose my interest by the end of chapter 1.

    I admire the author's for having what it takes to make it, but my confidence is never shaken by their successes.

    Some brilliant agent, read dollar signs in their work, or some self-pubber built up their fan base the hard way over time.

    Whatever they have that makes them a winner, only boosts my enthusiasm for my own work.

    But, I'm competitive by nature and also a bit war-torn by time. I have a vision and I'm confident in it. Let the words of each new draft be a glorious volley of spears, some crude, others finely crafted, both with the lethal potential to win the war against mediocrity and obscurity.

    The only thing that I feel uncomfortable with, is having people close to me read my work. I'm not a young man, but I still feel awkward with the thought of my mother reading something erotic that I wrote, or having a close friend knocking down the walls of my emotional barriers, built brick by brick over decades of blood and bonding.

    But I tolerate the exposure of inner-self, because I know they will show the face of encouragement, despite their personal objections, if any.

    Critics be damned; I will sharpen my pencil and take pride in each new day, for I am, mine own king.
    Last edited: May 17, 2015
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  14. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    See, when someone thinks my writing sucks, here's the process I go through:

    1. Evaluate their opinion. If it's not valid, I discard it. Most of the time, it is valid, and I move on to step 2.
    2. Figure out what I can learn from the criticism.
    3. Rewrite.
    4. Seek more opinions.

    The quote above implies that, if people think your writing sucks, it's not worth pursuing. In my view, it just means that you either need to rethink what you're conveying or how you're conveying it.

    I agree with you here. One of the best ways that I've found to improve is by seeking feedback from as many sources as possible. You never know when that one comment is going to completely transform your work.
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  15. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    Great discussion guys. I think this is why writing forums, workshops and beta readers are mandatory. Those are the next steps beyond reading and writing and reading and writing and reading and writing.

    Every writer that is serious should seek input/feedback to their work in order to evaluate it. The feedback should be taken with a grain of salt, you must know and understand the tastes, perspective, and something of the intent of the readers/feedback providers. You need 'trusted' readers that will give you the feedback you need in order to improve your work and move in the direction you need to accomplish your goals.

    It's a system, a feedback system that can be used to constantly evaluate and improve your work. But only you can decide when to publish or attempt to publish. Each writer is different. Diversity is a good thing. :D
  16. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    There are times when I get a beta-read and I immediately edit. Most recent case: an 8K short in which the beta reader only found one issue, and once it was pointed out to me, I immediately agreed that the one line should be changed, came up with the fix, and ran it by her. She agreed the fix worked.

    That's what I find most valuable about beta-readers: even if my story had all the laughs and imagery I was hoping to get, I make some really stupid mistakes—especially when I start messing with sequence of events in the first edit. Each time a stupid mistake gets caught, I'm that much wiser (or that much less stupid) when I begin the next story.
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  17. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Well you all know my opinion by now. Yes, yes and more yes. But this is more than just a cry from an indie. It's a cheer from a writer.

    Look, the bottom line is that writing is a communicative art form. That means someone has to read it. Forget the money and the rest. Putting your work out there in whatever form is a part of becoming a writer. So yes, you do have to bite the bullet at some stage.

    And yes your work may not be ready. But which is the worse crime that a writer can commit against himself. Risking his reputation and ego by putting out work too early and getting some bruised feelings? Or never putting it out there and never becoming the writer that he could be?

    As for some writers putting out work that isn't ready - yes of course it happens - too much. But at the same time how many others never put out work that is ready? How many Shakespears and Hemmingways sit out there at home typing away and always dreaming that one day they'll be "good enough" but will never be heard from?

    Forget the trade versus indie debate - this is the one thing that this new age of self publishing has brought to the world which is a blessing. The chance for so many writers to communicate their visions. To be knocked down, beaten up, but then rise again and become the writers that they dream of. This is the thing that trade publishing could never facilitate.

    And the truly glorious thing for readers, is that this allows for some true gems to be found. Pearls that would otherwise never have seen the light of day. Fifty shades should be a perfect example of that. Not that I've read it or ever will. But this is a work that would never have been trade published, and an author who would have probably never made it under the trade system. But suddenly her work is out there thanks to self publishing and it's resonating with millions of readers. Millions of readers who are discovering a whole new sort of read.

    Good luck Phil.

    Cheers, Greg.
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  18. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    a favorite recent quote:
  19. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I guess this is the crux of my feelings. Sure, things are going to slip through the cracks no matter how many times you stare at them (like a typo in your blurb; thanks Devor :) ), but you have to reach that stage. I kind of crudely call it my "don't give a ****" stage. Or even a trail by fire stage. It just means there are going to be stumbles and weirdness no matter how meticulously you plan. If your story is worth communicating and you think you can find an audience for it, then why not do it.

    In my experience, I've written dozens of failed novels. After years of not finishing anything and feeling like I wasn't a real writer, I broke down and said, "OK, I need a clear vision of what I really want to do with this." For me, it's about putting my heart and soul into what I do as many times as I can while I'm alive.

    No one wants to suck or be mediocre, but I want to be as best as I can be today.
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  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

    I have to agree with BWF78, you need to know what your goal is for your writing before you can decide if it is ready to be shared, or published or communicated to other people.

    Fear does cripple a lot of people, but I am not sure where the balance lies. There are people who are too hard on themselves and there are people who are inflate their own worth and quality of their work.

    I do think fear can be conquered quite often by doing a risk analysis. What is the real world harm of publishing or submitting your work, especially is you use a pen name? The short answer is "not bloody much."

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