WFMAD Day 26 – Permission to write suckaously

Several of you asked me to address the universal discomfort of sucky early drafts.

Given the barn floor quality of my early drafts, I consider myself an expert in this area. “Queen of Awful Early Drafts,” that’s what you can inscribe on my crown.

Here’s the thing they probably don’t tell you in MFA school: writing a book that is good enough to be published will always take longer than you want it to. Much longer. As in, it could take years longer.

So what?

You haven’t bet the mortgage payment on being published in the next six months. The health of your children or partner doesn’t depend on how many words you wrote today. And no matter how hard you try, your writing will not change the path of Hurricane Irene.

One of the best things I ever did to help my career was to pay a visit to the Cornell University Library. There, in the third sub-basement, and after surrendering my driver’s license and kidneys to the gorgon guarding the door, I went into a hermetically sealed room, and pawed through the papers of E. B. White.

Guess what? He wrote some HORRIBLE pages in the early drafts of Charlotte’s Web. Stanky! He rewrote the opening chapter something like eight times!!!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that my writing talent and skills even come close to those of E. B. White. So if he needed time and space to write suckaously in order to find his path to his clear writing and brilliant storytelling, then I sure as hell have permission to muddle and muck around as much as I need.

You have permission to write sucky.

You do not have permission to submit sucky writing.

You have permission to write as many drafts as required to bust out of suckaiousness and into something that readers will enjoy.

You do not have permission to whine because the process takes longer than you want.

Ready… Make sure you have stored one gallon of water for each person in your house for the next seven days. Plus water for your pets. And realize that if the hurricane does mess up your life this weekend, there’s a chance that you might not be able to flush your toilet for a while. (Hurricanes give writers such good material to work with!!!)

Set… “Be obscure clearly.” E. B. White

Today’s prompt: Write yourself a permission note to write less than Newbery- or Pulitzer quality in early drafts. Be sure to note things like the fact that you are not a demi-god, and that demi-gods are crappy writers anyway, and if it were easy, you wouldn’t be challenged and you’d be trying to do something else, like composing duets for harpsichord and spoon. Heap it on. Shovel hard. Try to fill two pages in fifteen minutes.

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble…

14 Replies to “WFMAD Day 26 – Permission to write suckaously”

  1. Sometimes we need permission so that little but extremely loud voice inside screaming for immediate brilliance can be silenced for a while. We are amazing creative creatures aren’t we? I wonder what mountains would shake or hurricanes run yelping in the other direction if we’d just let go – save the self editing for draft #300.

    Now to remember and practice!

    Thanks as always. I wish August could last a long time. I’ll have to be my own August soon.


  2. Thank you. These are the absolutely most perfect words I coulda heard today–my 6th revision sucks. Royally. Oh, and a royalty check (from something else) came in that made me weep…again. I thought for a full hour of wanting to stop. It. All. As in permanently. But this has made me feel less alone. Thank you, Laurie. You rocked the Ballroom in LA BTW. As ever. If you can share some of these same feelings, maybe I can fumble on.

  3. Ha! The perfect post for me at this very moment as I gag over my manuscript draft. I always tell my students similar things, but still never quite believe the authors I love have the same problems. Hearing you and the other authors at SCBWI talk about your struggles really motivated and inspired.

  4. Seeing early drafts of Charlotte’s Web would be really cool. We have something like this in Minnesota called the Kerlan collection. I’ve been meaning to visit it and this post is a good reminder.

  5. Laurie,
    You are my hero. For real and forever and always. I’m almost convinced that you have magical mind powers and can see into my inner most secret places where I hide my fears and self-doubt. You are the voice inside my head that tells me to JUST DO IT. And thanks for telling me it’s okay if I sucketh whilst I’m doing it. You are a treasure.

  6. This is the kind of inspiration I love to find when I’m procrastinating on the internet because it seems too hard to get working on my writing. Thank you! Going off to open my story doc now.

  7. Fantastically encouraging words, Laurie. Thank you! “You have permission to write sucky. You do not have permission to submit sucky writing.” Big difference. As everyone else has already said, this will give me heart to keep going when I’m figuratively crumpling yet another page of sucky writing on the way to what I hope will not suck. (Writing on a computer is great, but one loses the satisfaction of crumpling that paper in one’s hands.)

    Thank you, also, for your incredibly empowering words at SCBWI LA. Wow.

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