Sometimes Your Writing Just Sucks


And sometimes there’s nothing you can do to fix it. Mur Lafferty had a post some time ago about tough love and there was one thing she said that I have to disagree with:

My point is that if you write a book, and you can’t get it published, it doesn’t mean the dream is over. It doesn’t mean that you as a writer suck. It means that book wasn’t attractive to agents/editors. It means that perhaps you need to improve as a writer, see your first book as an exercise to make yourself a better writer.

Or it means that you actually suck. I have no problem with encouraging people to continue, to push on and never give up on their dreams, but sometimes some people really should give up on their dreams. This isn’t just to save all of us out there from having to deal with them; it’s also to save them from the humiliation of constant failure and ridicule. While writing this, I’m thinking about all those examples on American Idol where someone with a vision, with an immense dream comes up against Simon (and sometimes Paula and Randy) and has to face the reality that they are not good enough. Sometimes these failed people throw a fit, proclaiming that they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and other times they break down entirely, feeling the immense pain of not rejection, but absolute and total internal destruction.

And I’m also thinking of those folks in the writing world that you meet from time to time that truly believe their self-published novel is really amazing, when in actuality it’s one of the worst things ever put into print. These are the folks who cannot take constructive advice, who won’t change or get better either because they can’t or because they won’t. These are the folks that don’t need encouraging, because they get enough of it from friends and family that don’t have the heart to tell them that they are horrible.

But how do writers know if they really do suck? How do we know when it’s time to throw in the towel and stop, because writing really isn’t our thing? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone can really know, but I still take issue with this idea that one shouldn’t re-evaluate themselves if they meet complete failure at the hands of publishers. I still feel like we should be careful to encourage people to self-publish, because often times the folks who do so don’t realize what they are getting themselves into. Sometimes your novel just isn’t good enough to get published.

And that’s okay. Really. It’s okay for your novel to not be good enough. We call those trunk novels (or stories, for that matter). Sometimes your dream project can be let go. I’ve let projects go. I’ve had to. I got to a point where I had moved so far from something that it wasn’t worth keeping it alive just to feed that part of me that wanted it to succeed. I could find new things that could fill that void. Not everything you write will get published. That’s the honest truth. Sometimes your stories or novels can be put in the trunk and left there, maybe forever, or maybe long enough for you to get enough distance to see what was wrong with it in the first place.

The reality is that sometimes your writing does suck. Sometimes your novel, story, etc. sucks beyond measure. In fact, this is true almost every time. If you get rejected from every editor and agent in the business, maybe you should really think twice before self-publishing, or podcasting, or whatever. Maybe your novel actually is horrible. It happens. A lot. And it’s okay. Write something else. Try again. When people talk about persistence being the key to success, this is what they mean. Don’t throw up your hands and say, “Well, I couldn’t get X, Y, and Z to take it, so I’ll just have to self-publish!” Write something else, submit, and keep trying if you honestly believe you have the talent. How many writers in history have trunked a novel only to have it published later after selling something else? Quite a few.

If you really do have the talent, you can get published. You just have to keep going. This is why I have such a problem with self-publishing (podcasting included). It’s easy. Really easy. All one has to do is waltz on over to Lulu, format a document, and submit. Maybe that ease of access is a bad thing. And it’s not helping self-publishing gain any respect in the world when folks who didn’t give up when they should pay for a publishing package or go through Lulu.

Sometimes you just suck. And nothing you do can fix that. Never assume that you will get lucky like the handful of self-pubbed people that have made it “big” (and not even that big, to be honest, since I have yet to hear of any self-pubbed author who has shattered records). There’s no such thing as luck in the writing world. There is only talent and persistence (and a few other things that I can’t remember right now).

What does anyone else think about this?

P.S.: Yes, I am fully aware that technically I have self-published WISB. The only difference is that I never intended to sell WISB. Not really. It was an experiment that I truly enjoyed and want to keep going not because I want it to make me famous or for it to get into print format, but because it brings me joy. It wasn’t rejected from publishers, nor would I send it to them. I have other work that I submit and I’m not giving up on that stuff so long as there is somewhere to send it!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

6 thoughts on “Sometimes Your Writing Just Sucks

  1. Simply put… Yes, its true that a person’s writing can just plain suck!
    Of course, we’re all critics and not one person’s, editor’s, publisher’s, book critic’s, etc- is the final word on a project. But, if ya get rejected by so many for the SAME reason… maybe its a hint?
    I think its great some self-publish, for some -like myself- its also an experiment; a gesture of lets-see-who’s-attention-i-get-and-if-i’m-any-good-at-this. No?

  2. Experimentation is all well and good, but some folks go to self-publishing with an expectation that it is going to do their careers good. This is rarely the case. The reality is that self-publishing (podcasting included) has provided ease of access, but not a lot of career-based options for folks. There are a handful of successful cases, but even those cases are not outliers, but standard “successes.” There are no self-published Rowlings or Meyers or Paolinis…

    Just saying. Folks have to face a reality if they think self-publishing is a great solution to traditional publishing.

  3. I think the key to what you’re saying is not so much: don’t self-publish – as you need to make a good hard look at your writing.

    Whether you are a writer or a painter, a cabinet maker or a plumber, there is a point at which you must look at what you are doing and be brutal with yourself. Maybe the setbacks and rejections are a sign you’re not doing the best you can.

    People often tell me I’m too hard on myself, but I’m hard on myself for a reason: so I get better.

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