I Am The World’s Worst Writer And I Totally Suck

I go through crippling periods of self-doubt when it comes to my writing.  Luckily, at the moment, I am not in one of those trenches of despair where every word I type including “Sincerely, Aravan” looks ungainly and wrong.  Bad word choice.  Probably spelled wrong even though there isn’t another way to spell it.  Tone is flat, metaphors lame, characters boring, setting insipid, point pointless, and everything I’ve ever written should probably just be gathered and burned so I can crawl into the supply closet of some abandoned factory somewhere and never have to reveal my stupid face to the world.

Other days, I feel even worse.

If you’re a writer, or have ever written, or ever plan on writing so much as an email in the future, then I hope you go through this feeling of utter self-loathing several times in your life.  Why?  Because I am a small bitter person who takes some measure of meager self-satisfaction from the joint suffering of others and will take whatever mean-spirited path I need to in order to make myself feel better.  But also because I think it makes you a better writer in the long run.

Somewhere in the world, there is a writer who feels a sense of calm satisfaction with every word she types.  She has no doubt that everything she writes is exactly correct, the choices she makes with the language are flawless, and that the world at large could not possibly help itself but to admire her utter brilliance.  If such a person exists in the world, my guess is that it’s probably Harlan Ellison. (Long Parenthetical Aside: I like Ellison’s stories.  Not love, but like them well enough.  Unfortunately, I read the Foreword from one of his short story collections recently, and came away with the impression that here is a man who thinks his shit not only doesn’t stink, but also feeds hungry children in Haiti, postulated string theory, and is currently ranked third worldwide in single’s tennis.  I get confidence, I can handle a little bit of arrogance truly earned, but the level of hubris that oozed its way off the page made me want to shower with a cheese grater.)  Anyway, if that person really exists, I hate her.  Hate isn’t even the right word.  Loathe comes close.  I need a word that means “the feeling caused by the sight of someone who you’d give nearly anything in the world to see hoisted on a gigantic platform for the entire universe to witness getting humiliated in such a fashion that even single-celled creatures view them with derision.”   You probably do too, if you’ve ever struggled to come up with just the right salutation for an email to your company’s CEO, or tried desperately to describe the scene in your head but suddenly discover that there aren’t any words in any of the 3 languages you know to explain that particular manner of foot-positioning.

But it’s OK, because Ellison that person will never do the one thing that you do every time you type a word: Improve.

That’s right, those stupid plunges into frantic self-hatred are good for you.  It means you don’t feel perfect.  It means you aren’t convinced that you have no room to possibly get one iota better.  It means you can still learn, and without that you’re just stagnant and predictable and doomed to exist in the same rut you’ve made for yourself.  It’s a horrible tragic painful learning experience, like every other terrible gut-wrenching agonizing episode you’ll ever go through in your life.

I hate those times when I’m mired in self-doubt, when I don’t even want to look at the title of my horrendous mutant creation of a Word Doc.  I become morose in all phases of my life.  I stop blogging, I withdraw from my friends, I struggle to write the simplest emails.  It honestly and truly sucks.  But it also gives me a perspective I generally don’t carry.  It exposes me to feelings that, although uncomfortable, will make me a better writer if I can tap into the memory of them when I want to describe something tragic.  At some point, the feeling will pass, and I will own it and make it mine and hug it and pet it and call it George.  I’ll use it at some point in my writing to describe how that person feels when they hit rock-bottom inside their own heads, the place they have the farthest to fall.

Or at least I hope so, because if I don’t get anything out of it then I totally want to be Harlan Ellison.

But I never will be, and I have to come to grips with those times when I hit my own mental Skid Row.  Usually during the throes of self-flagellation I just stop writing, take a mental break for a while.  Then, when I think I’m ready, I’ll take a story I’ve written that I normally like or a section of my book that I haven’t read for a while and read it again.  My eye is super-critical, it’s true, but those times when I read something I’ve written and it can still make me smile a bit, or there is a turn of phrase I don’t have any conscious memory of writing but enjoy immensely, I can begin to feel a sense that I’m not the world’s worst writer after all, that I have a perspective worth sharing, that my ability to translate thoughts into words is at least somewhat operational.  And that’s good enough.

And if that doesn’t work?  I have a secret weapon.  I generally don’t give advice, but here I will: get one too.  It’s amazingly helpful.  On a shelf at home I have access to what I consider the most god-awful pile of dreck that was ever written.  It’s published by an actual publishing house, one of the places that rejected me.  It’s awful.  So every now and again I take it down and read some it, and I feel a little better.  My novel may be a festering pile of shit, but it can only be the second-worst novel ever written.  I take comfort in that.  Because I am small and bitter and mean.  So find that book or poem or play or whatever, that someone actually published, and think to yourself, I might suck, but this crap got published.  Mine deserves to be too.  And keep writing and learning and improving.  That’s important too.

About Alan Edwards

An indie writer who does accounting full-time on the side.

Posted on May 10, 2011, in Philosophizin' and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I hit this point about once a month. During PMS. I second guess everything I write, everything I think, everything I say. Whether people admit it or not, I think most writers (even those sans monthly estrogen surges or whateverthehell causes PMS–what am I? A scientist?) go through it occasionally.

    Harlan Ellison has balls of steel, so I can forgive him anything…because steel balls are awesome.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one (although I don’t think I have PMS, but who knows. I’d blame plastics if I did, myself).

      He doesn’t have balls of steel. He has balls of Jupiter. More power to him, heh.

      Oh, and thanks for commenting!

  2. Have you been reading my diary again? *shakes fist* Why I oughta…

    Seriously, though. I’m going through this right now. My only remedy is to give myself one of those ridiculous type of pep talks you’d give a puppy: “Who’s a good writer? YOU’RE a good writer! Mommy loves you! Now go fetch the stick!”

    Even though THE FUNK(tm) has struck again, I know what you’re saying is true. This will pass and I will feel better. I’ll even BE better…

    Thanks for the pep talk. I needed that.

    • I loved your pep talk. I’ll have to try that myself sometime, in the weird voice I use when I’m talking to my dogs: “Where’s your mojo? Find your mojo! Bring me your mojo!”

      Glad I could give you an inadvertant one of my own. I love your writing, so you can take it from me that people want to read what you have to say. I know when I’m in a funk, hearing that doesn’t help much, so save it for when you feel a bit better about it all, heh.

  3. God, I couldn’t have said this better myself. I am *exactly* like you! We are total twins. Some days I feel like I’m a pretty decent writer (no Harlan Ellison, mind you), but most of the time I think I’m total shit. It gets so debilitating for me that I actually avoid reading my favorite authors because they intimidate me so badly. The last two JR Ward books are still sitting on my shelf, collecting dust. I refuse to read her any more, and she’s my fave writer in the whole world. When I read her stuff, I get totally depressed because mine is so bad in comparison.

    Anyway, I can tell by your blog posts that you Officially Do Not Suck as a writer, so take comfort in the fact that at least one person thinks you’re great. 🙂

    Next time you feel like piping hot seahorse shit in a sea of rancid shark piss, grab me on Twitter and we can wallow together. No need to face that crap alone, my friend. And you are most certainly *not* alone!

    • I will totally take you up on that. I imagine the next wave is due in, hmm, probably two weeks or less. Hah heh *sob*

      I didn’t even think about the fact that I do the same thing with my favorite authors until you mentioned it. I love Steven Erikson, and his ability to create a tribe of people that never existed and have what seems to be a fully-fleshed religious, economic, and values system that makes logical sense out of thin air makes me feel like a small petty being who has no business going into the same type of work. Reading those kind of people can actually drive me into a funk. Funny.

      Thanks for the kind words. It definitely means a lot coming from a writer I enjoy and respect.

  4. I think we’ve all had that happen. Mine happened for about 3 months. Into the first month I decided not to write any fiction at all and kept it to e-mails and shopping lists. Luckily I switched to art for my creative outlet. Then I had some kind of epiphany. Switch genre’s. Normally I write in dark style epic fantasy – I decided to go into horror. There I could cuss and murder indiscriminately. It’s great. Now I don’t think it’s so shitty because I see a lot of shitty horror. Wound up with two books from a “pro author” at the library for 25-cents. It’s so bad I couldn’t get past page 10 and I felt freedom from my self-flagellation at last! Huzzah!

    • Horror is definitely a place where some truly awful shit gets published, even stuff by the Big Names. My own choice for Worst Novel Ever is a zombie-vampire story that is just horribly painful to read. I just…I can’t even talk about it. It simultaneously makes my head spin and explode.

      Switching genres is a really interesting thought. I’ve been struggling to finish my sequel novel lately, and I think part of it is this other story that just seriously wants to be written. I’m close to the end of the sequel, though, and want to finish it before starting the next project, but it’s a different approach and different genre (although it still has zombies) and completely different voice that makes me feel energized and I want to rush into it. Blarg.

  5. Yup, I think we all go through that at some point – and obviously, if a writer DOESN’T have these moments, then… they aren’t a writer, they’re an alien/robot/creature of the darkness. I’m at the point now where I feel like some of things I write totally suck but I’m pushing for my novel completion and once I get my first complete MS in the bag, then I’ll worry about how much it sucks. But at any rate, no… You are not alone.

  6. So, when I googled “Alan Edwards blog” just now to put a link to it for a discussion post in my english class, this post was the first result for you (#4 overall).

  7. I couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly written!

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