A Quick Note Re: Being Grown Up and Writery and Not Sucky
Posted on June 18, 2007 Posted by John Scalzi 7 Comments
When discussing teens and their sucky writing, let me also note in fairness that there are positively scads of adult writers whose writing sucks as well, some because they only began writing in earnest when they became adults, some because they tried to cruise by on cleverness when they were teens and are paying for it now, and some because, well. Some people are just no damn good at writing and will never be.
I don’t think there’s any one particular time when one passes the suck frontier into non-suckitude; you just get better as you go along and then one day you’re sufficiently good, which is not necessarily the same as being actually good, or good at all aspects of writing. I was sufficiently good at writing at age 22 to get a job doing it; I shudder to think what a novel out of my 22-year-old self would have been like. Likewise, at 38, I’m a better writer than my 28-year-old self, who was a substantially better writer than my 18-year-old self; I hope to Sweet Merry Jesus that my 48-year-old self is an even better writer still.
The ideal situation has a writer continually distancing him or herself from suck. This, however, is not a guaranteed thing, and you have to work at it. It’s called “suck” for a reason. It’ll be happy to pull you back in.
I read your article on teenage writing, and before you dismiss me as another teenage complainer, I would like to point out to you that I agree with you on all your arguments and would probably give advice to other writers in the same likeness. I would also like to point out that I’m not saying this just to suck up to you. I’ve written similar things in reviews to other users on fanfiction.net.
I only have one request for you. I started reading your short story and have concluded that my writing isn’t MUCH better (of course, I’m also of the opinion that I’m the best teenage writer I know, whose work I’ve recently read). If you could go through your story and point out the things YOU did wrong that you also see in the work of other teens, it would be a helpful resource to me and the other writers who are complaining because of your blunt but altruistic views.
hahahaha. Suckitude. I like this word. I like it a lot.
I’m sitting at my mac giggling uncontrollably and saying ‘suckitude’ over and over again between giggles, hoping desperately that no one walks in and wonders what I’m laughing at. Enough ppl think I’m crazy as it is…..’suckitude’.
That is an amazing word….
WOW. I just read the comment before mine and realized I just defaced everything he said by the moronity (IT’S ACTUALLY A WORD!? omg. no swiggly red line!?) of my comment. And there I did it again.
SO apologies actually smart teenager CJ, put I’m sick and rather giggly from a little too much cough syrup.
That was *but not put….
[Kamari – time to move on to another blog. This is your first and final warning on the subject. -KEB]
I am also a teen writer and appreciate your blunt approach to this topic. I know this is an old post, but I recently stumbled upon it due to a Google search. Anyway, I was just wondering how you build the confidence to actually publish a book. As you said, the more practice you get the better your writing gets. So, when do you know your writing is worth publishing? Do you ever look back at your published work and think: “Damn, I could have written that so much better”?
I am not John, but imho there’s an easy answer to this question: you know your writing is worth publishing when a (respectable) publisher accepts it and gives you money for the right to publish it. It doesn’t have to be a gigantic publisher; it could be a cool little well-regarded indie publisher. What matters is that they are willing to take a risk by investing in you.
Personally, I’m so, so grateful that self-publishing was not really a viable option back when I was starting out. (Sure, some “vanity” publishing existed, but it was very expensive so few writers chose that route.) I thought my first novel, which I wrote when I was 19, was brilliant. I thought my second novel, written a few years later, was even more brilliant. Yet, the rejection slips piled up. I was so aggravated, as I had already had several short stories and essays published, and I was CERTAIN my novels were “good enough” too.
Well, many years later, I’m now a professional novelist and I can’t tell you how eternally grateful I am that those early efforts were rejected. NOW I can see how trite and derivative they were. Though I cursed their names at the time, those editors who rejected me did me a huge favor, making me go back to the drawing board again and again, doing draft after draft, novel after novel, until I wrote one that was *really* ready.
If self-publishing sites like Amazon had existed back then, I’m sure I would have foisted my early efforts on the world. And, the thing is, they never would have gone away. Those dreadful books would have followed me around long after I realized how weak they were. They would pop up in Google searches when committees were considering my current efforts for awards. Worse yet — without the early rejections of numerous editors forcing me to keep improving my craft and up my game, I might never have gotten better at all.
So, in retrospect, I am just as grateful to all the editors who said “no” as I am to the ones who finally said “yes.” My answer may sound discouraging but I mean just the opposite — that every step on the road to getting published is actually a positive step, even when it sometimes feels like it’s taking forever and you’re getting nowhere and your career will never get off the ground. You are getting better all the time.