NON FICTION: You Should Know That Writing Really, Really Sucks

Drawing of woman throwing paper planes

Photo: Annie Spratt

I’m remembering how much I hate writing.

Even after embarking on my third novel, after I’ve accepted that the first draft will always be shit, after living through the mantra that writing is rewriting, I still have days when I find the process just a tad frustrating.

And today is one such day.

The first draft is you realising you suck

You know how every successful author touts the magic of rewriting? And how it’s easier to rewrite bad prose than it is a blank page? Yeah, they probably say so because they aren’t me.

I’ve left my second manuscript hidden in the depths of Google Drive for half a year, and I felt like it was time to revisit it, give it a good polishing before I send it off to the Epigram 2021 Fiction Prize.

But I’m barely into chapter four before I realise how shit my writing is. It’s not even ‘Oh, this is just the first draft’ shit, but ‘Wow I can’t believe I charge people for this shit’ shit.

Fire burning paper in wastepaper basket

What goes on in my mind when rewriting doesn’t solve my problems. Photo: Chris Rhoads

Procrastinating is worse

So I decide to take a break on WordPress, maybe read other writers’ work, immerse myself in various voices so I can go back to my draft with a fresh eye.

Turns out, that’s a terrible idea, because all I get are talented writers with amazing turn of phrase, and what’s worse is when I click on their bio, most of them are barely even out of college.

Some are even writers on the side, a little something something to supplement their photography career. Programming. Risk analyst.

Are you kidding me? Here I am writing full time, with sentences clunkier than one of those hipster New Balance sneakers, and in comes a CEO of a marketing boutique with prose that’d make Nabokov blush.

Typical starving writer

And to think I quit my day job for this. Yup, I didn’t just follow in the footsteps of a tired cliché, I embodied it. That entailed quitting a cushy job to write a novel and not knowing where the hell I’m headed after this.

I tell myself not care about external factors beyond my control, to only judge my journey by the effort I’m putting in, but I log on to WordPress ten times more often to check my stats than to actually write.

Because the approval of internet strangers are all I have when all else fails. Or else, it’s just wake up, write, eat, sleep, ad infinitum. After a year of doing this and not actually seeing any difference in my craft, that’s really all I have left.

So what am I doing, really? I never got into fiction to make money. It was just a passion project. Something I had to do in life. But there’ll come a time when my savings will run dry, and I’ll be forced to go back to a cubicle. What then?

Do I abandon my authorial dreams and just start adulting (a little to late for that at thirty-seven years of age)? Do I double-down and yell “No plan B!”? What?

Man standing before vending machines

A lot of my choices dwindle with each passing year. Photo: Victoriano Izquierdo

It is a bed of roses… with thorns

Over the years, my posts have morphed from a David Sedaris-esque journal to what I hope would be a place to inspire other budding writers—especially local writers. But I don’t think I’m up for that.

Like many other writers, I’m faced with a shit-ton of self doubt, and I’m afraid that today, all my late shipment’s come in. I’m buried in this crap. And it would be unfair to paint the writer’s life  in a romantic light.

But I guess this is what I’d signed up for. I didn’t see myself working a nine-to-five, even if said nine-to-five involved writing. So this is what it takes. A whole lot of writing and not knowing if it’ll be of any use. But I look on the bright side. At least I get to write whatever I want.

So if you’ve ever thought of striking it out on your own, to sell your words for money, like the millions of other writers out there, you should know that the writing life does suck sometimes. That doesn’t mean you won’t love the suck though, because if it was easy, you probably wouldn’t even want to do it.

Woman crossing her fingers

Maybe there’s hope behind all this suckage. Photo: Dayne Topkin

Don’t lose hope

Now I’m going to click ‘Publish’, and some of you may like this post, and some of you might comment, and I’ll know because I’ll be refreshing the stats page every ten minutes, and I’ll click on your profile, and I’ll read your beautiful work, and I’ll get discouraged once again because my writing sucks, and I’ll repeat this entire process for as long as I can tolerate living like this.

And if you’re a writer who’s sacrificed a lot just so that you could what you love on your own terms but you’re starting to feel the self-doubt creep in, just remind yourself that it’s normal to hate writing sometimes. In fact, you’ll hate it more often than not, but that’s okay.

Because you’ve actually taken an honest shot at your dreams. And it’ll be worth it in the end when you look back one day and, instead of saying “Look how much money I’ve made!”, you’d say “I’m glad I went for it.”

32 thoughts on “NON FICTION: You Should Know That Writing Really, Really Sucks

  1. Wow, this post is so real and raw. I feel you. I’m not a writer though. But since I started blogging a month ago, I feel like one, and I’m not confident with my writing skills, my grammar, and all that and it prevents me from writing but sometimes I just forget about that and just write. 😅 Let’s not lose hope!

  2. I can certainly relate to a lot of what you wrote. Some days are good, some are bad. I think consistency is the most important thing.

    Nicely written and thanks for being so honest, Stuart.

  3. I’m not currently pursuing a professional career in writing, but I could relate to the sentiment of cringing rereading old work. I definitely look back at old blog posts and think, ‘why did anyone enjoy reading this?’ lol.

    Also, agree with you in regards to chasing your dreams so you don’t look back on your life with regret.

    • Yas! Easier said than done though, because we tend to take the stable path through life. It’s almost as if our dreams are too flamboyant to pursue. Add a healthy serving of social conditioning and we have someone who just plays it safe and regrets it.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. I can relate so much! I think unless we are kissed by the gods (like the very young authors or the part time, after work authors) we have to go through a lot of sh*t writing before we get to words that sing. A million words I heard somewhere, some famous quote, and THEN you start to write better stuff.

  5. Hi Stuart, this was honest and it’s brave that you’re really committing yourself to your writing. Best of luck, and if it helps, I think that it’s got to come from your ‘inner light’, from something deep within you – and it’s about creating something that will last and that will sit as part of who you are. Make it a good one!

  6. Sometimes you’ve got to let it all out. I relate to a lot of what you mentioned in this post. Comparing myself to other writers? Oof, I’ve been there way too many times. Never ends well.

    We’ve just got to keep fighting the good fight and writing the good write. Good luck!

  7. Hi Stuart! Loved this blog and your writing style, although I must admit you’re a little too harsh on yourself. :( You have great potential and I really loved how honest you were. I myself am quite new to WordPress and experienced this same disheartening feeling when views were at its bare minimum, but I’ve learned that establishing a presence takes time. Joining a community here as well as working on writing with my friends proved to really help build on my motivation, so perhaps you can try that out too. Then again, I’m not a professional blogger or writer of any sort, but these tips worked for me. Wishing you the best in your writing career! :)

    • Am definitely working on the community part, especially as I’m not as community-able in real life, lol. Thanks for these wonderful insights, and I’m grateful that you stopped by!

  8. Totally normal to write a lousy first draft, as you clearly know. The trick is not to beat yourself up about it and just to learn as much craft as possible, get as much feedback as possible. And just write, write, write. (I know you know all this, but for anyone reading who doesn’t…) Take it as a challenge to write better, to chip away and analyse everything. Now,I have to slink away and take my own advice… 😀

    • For some reason, I’ve always known that it’s as simple as ‘just sit down and write’, but sometimes, one can’t help but wonder if their craft is getting any better. I look back at some of my work ten years ago and I can’t really tell if I’ve improved at all, lol.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by and dropping such an insightful comment!

  9. Great Post Stuart! So many people say that they’re going to write a book but only a fraction actually do. That first draft is the essential beginning to take things to the next stage. Have to start somewhere!

    • Yes! And as much as they’d like to keep their promise, they tend to do anything else—research, find the best software, arrange the spice rack—but write.

      Thanks for stopping by, Faye. Hope you had fun with the r/WritingPrompts subreddit!

      • lol…I got lost on reddit reading all the great advice.
        Yes, writing takes discipline for sure. But, the rewards when you’re done and someone actually validates it…nothing like it.
        Have a good night Stuart!

  10. I really related when you mentioned other peoples work! I’m one of those who does writing during free time when not doing the 9 to 5, father and husband.

    I try not to compare anymore as I just think “how did someone so young get so good!”

  11. There are definitely authors I choose to read when writing, and authors I choose to read when editing! Dunnett inspires me when I’m planning but my goodness is it a crushing experience to read her when I’m editing! But then there are authors who write for the pure pulpy fun of it, who take my mind off the editing a bit.

    • Haha, I definitely read differently as I’m doing different work too. I take in scene structures and descriptions much more when I’m editing, and I read for pacing when I’m writing. Thanks for stopping by again!

  12. It’s funny that you mentioned reading other people’s writing and thinking it’s so much better than your own. I thought the same thing about your writing while reading this post xD “Damn, his writing isn’t nearly as clunky as mine” lol. Unfortunately, most artists aren’t the best judge of their own work. Sometimes we just have to shut off our internal critic and plow through. Easier said than done, though.

    • Aw, you sure do know how to make a writer blush. Am glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for taking the time to comment! Looking forward to hearing more from you, Rachael!

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