I Suck, You Suck, We All Suck for Quite a While!

(Wow. That really didn’t rhyme at all. Sorry.)

I seem to spend a lot of time explaining things to my older son that are actually lessons that I need to learn for myself, or that I’ve learned only recently. This means that either I never learned them as a child, or I did, and it took another twenty years for the lessons to stick. I’d like to blame the former, but let’s be honest: I can be a bit dense. I have no one to blame but myself.

Yesterday’s (attempted) lesson involved something we’ve talked about here before: This tendency that I and many others have to expect our first efforts to be spectacular. Oh, sure, we understand that other people need to practice a lot before they’re good at something, but there’s something in each of us (human nature, or perhaps a heavy focus on self-esteem building in our youth) that makes us think that we are special. We might think we’ll be able to learn to play guitar remarkably quickly, and do it exceptionally well, or that (in my son’s case) we’ll be able to draw things well just because we want to. Sure, Stephen King was writing short stories and novels for most of his life before he sold a novel, but we think that the first thing we write will be brilliant and sell a million copies and make us rich and famous and…

Sure, we say modestly, it will need a bit of editing, but the world will love it when it’s ready. We read (repeatedly, if we’re doing our research) that most books by new authors, no matter how they’re published, sell a disappointing number of copies. They don’t make a splash, don’t earn out their advance, don’t break even on what the author spent on editors and cover designers… but we still think we, individually, going to be the next J.K. Rowling/Stephanie Meyer/Insert Big-Time Debut Author Here.

And kids, it just ain’t so. It’s a fun dream, but as goals go, it… well, it sucks harder than the first draft of a first story.

This is a hard lesson to learn for some of us, but not learning it comes with serious consequences:

  • We don’t do the work. It’s like an actor sitting around waiting to be “discovered” rather than putting the necessary hours into learning and failure and experience. It’s happened before, but it’s a terrible game plan.
  • We’re unwilling to try new things, because we know we won’t be “naturals.”
  • If we do try, we give up as soon as things get tough, or as soon as we realize that this work isn’t as perfect as we expected it to be…
  • …or as soon as someone criticizes our liberal use of triple exclamation points in our Historical Romance, or the fact that the cat’s leg in our painting looks like a furry penis.
  • In fact, it makes it damned hard to take any criticism at all.

And we need that to grow. We need to be able to fall down and scrape our knees and know that this has nothing to do with us being special snowflakes or not; it just means that there’s more to learn, and there’s no shame in that.

This can be exciting! I’ve discovered that there’s freedom in saying “Yes, I need help,” and finding that there are people willing to offer it. There’s freedom in understanding that this is freaking hard on so many levels, but there’s no shame in trying to improve, and there’s freedom in knowing that you don’t have to be the best of the best to contribute something to the world, whether it’s stories or sculptures or sermons or songs (or photos or recipes or lemonade, or other less-alliterative things).

It’s actually funny that my son and I were talking about this yesterday (Me: “They say it takes 10,000 hours to master anything*.” Him: “Wow. That’s more than two days.”). I wasn’t going to do a blog post about it, but this morning I opened a Weekly Inspiration e-mail from Life Manifestos, entitled “Yes, You Suck– Now Get Over It.” I recommend clicking on over there to take a look. It’s exactly what Simon and I (and now you and I) had been talking about: learning that we’re not the prodigies, naturals, or Mary-Sues** we dream we are, but going out there and doing it anyway.

This is why NaNoWriMo was and is so important to me. It’s not about being the best on your first shot. It’s about getting out there and doing the work that needs to be done before you can be great. It’s about not waiting for perfect inspiration or perfect skill to materialize out of thin air or to develop on its own, with no work or input from us. It’s about enjoying the journey, gaining a support group of people who are learning these same lessons, and having a ton of fun even as we work through the frustrations of revising, editing, maybe even publication… and then doing it all over again, knowing that it only gets better.

I hope my son will learn this lesson more quickly than his mom did. I don’t want him wrestling with perfectionism and insta-discouragement*** and thinking that everything he does should be amazing right away. I hope he’ll be open to improvement instead of being hurt by criticism like I was for so long. I hope he’ll learn to be willing to work and to put in something beyond the bare minimum (as this is a huge issue for him right now).

As for me… I’ve got to get back to work.

*No, I haven’t read Outliers yet, but it’s on the list.

**Come on, in our dreams we’re all that girl/guy who’s good at everything, the genius who everybody wants…

***Just add water!


About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with five cats, two dogs, and just the right amount of humans. USA Today bestselling author of the Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy), Into Elurien, and Vines and Vices. Writing dark, decadent, and deadly Urban Fantasy as Tanith Frost. www.katesparkes.com www.tanithfrost.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

17 responses to “I Suck, You Suck, We All Suck for Quite a While!

  • Nagzilla

    OMG, yes! On so many levels. One of the reasons I hate golf is because I am not a natural at it, and I am absolutely unwilling to put in the work to become okay at it.

    On a random side note, want to be one of my writing buddies for NaNoWriMo? I’m blissflower1969.

  • IsabellaStines

    Yes, yes, YES. Thank you for this post!

  • ElaineJeremiah

    Such good advice Kate. Just what I needed to hear!

  • Phillip McCollum

    Well said and something us special snowflakes need to be reminded of each day.

  • Stephen Palmer

    Fantastic commentary, Kate — and much more diplomatic than my post. πŸ˜‰

    Interesting that you bring up your son. My post was written to my son as well, who struggles with doing anything that he’s not immediately good at — especially in a social setting.

    Here’s to sucking and loving it…

    • Kate Sparkes

      Thanks for stopping by! I actually prefer your approach, but something in me can’t help adding personal commentary to my blog posts, which might force me to take the edge off (so as not to wound my special snowflake self, you know). It was so strange to see that e-mail this morning afterthat conversation yesterday. I love when that happens!

      Yes, it’s a huge problem for my son. I try to tell myself it’s genetic, but I’m sure my own perfectionism has negatively affected him. Here’s hoping that I can set a better example for the future.

  • sknicholls

    What a great reminder. Our expectations being set too high can make the fall seem so much further. I have actually learned to like criticism for giving me the opportunity to grow and learn. (well…some of it, my husband is my toughest critic) I have published one book. This is just the beginning. So it hasn’t sold a million copies, or even one tenth of a million, or even one tenth of 100,000, or even….need I go on? But it was an accomplishment nonetheless.

    • Kate Sparkes

      It certainly is! I’m learning to adjust my expectations. In a year, I’ve gone from expecting to write a bestseller to thinking about just keeping it to myself, or doing a very quiet release. Who knows where I’ll end up when the time comes? But I think understanding that we’re not the best of the best and developing the humility to work toward being the best we can be is a very positive thing. πŸ™‚

      I don’t know that I’ll ever LIKE criticism, but I can appreciate a fair critique much better now than I used to.

      • sknicholls

        I released my book too quietly and did not do ANY pre-release marketing because I was so naive and had not yet begun to blog. I have learned so much from my WP family and friends and received so much support that I have the courage to tackle the next release much differently…but it will be a while…I am learning so much, that rewrites keep becoming necessary. I trust that I will get there though. πŸ™‚

        • Kate Sparkes

          I’m finding it hard to find a balance in so many of those things. I worry about releasing too soon, but my natural inclination toward perfectionism could leave me revising for a decade and never releasing, and I don’t want that, either. As far as promotion, I think I’d like to focus more on that when I have more than one book out, but I’ll want to do something for the first one.

          First things first, though…

          • sknicholls

            Honestly, I am glad that I put my first book out there without knowing what I know now. being a perfectionist also, I don’t know if I would have ever thought it was “good enough” unless some friends had not pushed me. Even though I was already getting good reviews, I looked at my reviews and made some improvements. I will also admit, and it is posted on the first page…that I have done a revision and had another copyediting done on that first publication. I am not ashamed of it. I think it lets people know that I am striving to create the best product…for me and for them. (It is the perfectionist in me.)

  • Dave

    Thanks for the reminder that we suck, Kate. We really do. I struggled with the same notion of instant perfection and expecting that my books would be instant best sellers. Nowadays, not so much. Success comes through hard work and a willingness to learn. I’m still working on both of those πŸ™‚

  • Jade Reyner

    Brilliant post – well said Kate and very true! Love the conversation with your son. A bit like the “Mummy, why do we eat animals?” one that we had last night! πŸ™‚

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