Writing Wednesday: “I Just Give Myself Permission to Suck”

21 Mar

I don’t really I get writers’ block.  I always have an idea of what I want to put on the page, or else I just start writing and something new and unexpected finds its way onto the page.  The problem I have is in getting it out onto the page in the first place.  I know that sounds an awful lot like the same thing as writers’ block, but hear my out because I feel there’s a bit of a distinction.

I’m a self-editor.  I can’t get a sentence out without questioning its validity, its beauty, or its coherence.  I blame my career choice for that: I’m an editor by profession.  I obsess over syntax and punctuation, as if they’re more important than the story itself.

Once I’ve gotten a few paragraphs on the page, I begin to worry.  Was that a good place to start the story?  Should I open with dialogue?  Did I provide enough background information?  Too much background information?  Is this story even worth telling???

I move paragraphs around.  I delete sentences.  I go back and reread what I wrote and decide I hate it all.  I feel like giving up, and I haven’t even written the middle of the story yet.

While writing workshops are extremely beneficial to raising issues a writer may have never thought about in their own work, the flipside is it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the criticism that it negatively affects the writing process.  As I write, there’s a cacophony of “create scenes,” “give us more,” and “show, don’t tell” in my head.  These are important elements to keep in mind, no doubt, but the first draft doesn’t always have all those elements in perfect harmony.  The first draft sometimes comes out like a rambling outline of thoughts.  (Not unlike this blog.)

And that’s okay.

I’m a firm believer in Allen Ginsberg’s writing philosophy of “first thought best thought.”  I think the core of writing comes from the pacing and passion of spontaneity.  But that doesn’t mean it always works out that way.  Sometimes the first draft is like a car revving its engine.  Maybe you’re just spinning your wheels and not actually getting to your destination, but you’re gearing up for it.

I felt so encouraged when I read that John Green deletes “about 90%” of his first drafts:

Q. How do you deal with writers’ block?
A. I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90% of my first drafts (the only exception to this rule so far has been Will Grayson, Will Grayson) so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90% chance I’m just gonna delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.

I also like to remind myself of something my dad said to me once in re. writers’ block: “Coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block.”

If the name John Green sounds familiar that’s because he’s the guy who decided with his brother to stop corresponding to each other via textual communication and talk primarily through vlogs on youtube.  “The videos spawned a community of people called nerdfighters who fight for intellectualism and to decrease the overall worldwide level of suck,” as his website points out.


John Green’s also the enviable author whose manuscript reached the #1 position on Amazon this past summer even before it was published.  His new book is called The Fault in Our Stars; he previously wrote Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Not being able to get words out onto the page and deleting 90% of them, it’s amazing writers ever publish anything at all!


2 Responses to “Writing Wednesday: “I Just Give Myself Permission to Suck””

  1. JHaeske March 22, 2012 at 4:20 am #

    I love the ‘coal miners don’t get coal miners’ block’ sentence.


  1. Writing Wednesday: Choosing the Right Writing Tools | Stephanie Nikolopoulos - September 25, 2013

    […] I Just Give Myself Permission to Suck […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: