Maybe I Forgot How Often I’m Bad at Writing

I sometimes forget how probable it is that I will one day fall down the stairs. No matter how many times I skip down them with drunk feline grace, or how many times I lug dangerously bloated trash bags down without meeting disaster, I will inevitably fuck up. There is nothing I will do perfectly forever. There’s nothing I’ll even be good at consistently. If I can manage to make sleeping, a basic human function which I have done almost every day for my entire existence, difficult, then it really shouldn’t be surprising when I fall down the stairs or slip in the bathtub, or burn an egg, or just write something that’s not very good.

And then I’ll just tumble into infinity

One of the most damaging misconceptions my students tend to have about their writing is that it will be good. This is not to say that they are bad writers. I don’t think there are bad writers, just bad drafts and people who either are or are not willing to work on them. However, it’s dangerous for my students to think they’re writing will be good because I have seen a lot of early drafts, and I can say with certainty that many of them are total shit, even the ones that turn into amazing papers after a few revision stages. If they expect their writing to be great, then they’re going to be disappointed when they see a clunky, underdeveloped draft after they’ve put all that work in. They don’t see the potential for a great piece, they see something they worked hard on that would probably get them a low B.

I’m the same way. If I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work into something I’m writing, I’m profoundly annoyed when I finish it and notice it’s kind of shitty. There are so few things that work this way. When you’re cooking dinner, if you put in a lot of work and stick to what you need to do, generally the product will be tasty. I have rarely had to revise a stirfry unless that means adding a little extra salt and sesame seeds, but I think the written equivalent of that would just be spellcheck. Writing is unique in that even if you try your hardest, it’s probably still going to suck until you work on it again.

Grammarly never noticed if I’ve forgotten to add the garlic

But writing doesn’t always turn out well. Even if you like the piece, have hurled your best work at it, driven yourself into the ground trying to make it work, sometimes you just need to turn your back on it and never look at it again, treat it like your Myspace account.

This was the second post I wrote for today. The first one was last night, and in it I tried explaining the wild rage I’ve been feeling because it turns out I have to wait until I’ve been working for 3 weeks before either of my jobs will pay me. I’ve never written something that managed to use the words “bureaucrat” and “fuck” so much, but it amounted to an inarticulate jumble of fury that would probably only be appealing to other people who have been fucked over by the rusty clockwork of academia wherein I am a tiny, apparently irrelevant gear in a machine that will continue unperturbed without me. Fucking bureaucrat nonsense, I have bills motherfuckers… Yeah, today wasn’t long enough after the infuriating impetus for that little post.

What’s that? You want to get paid for the work you’ve done? Hmm we don’t really do that here. Have you considered fucking off?

Not everything we write is good. It’s usually not even adequate until it has been revised, left to settle, and revisited with a new way of thinking. I’ve been trying to tell my students that for years, but I expect I’m still going to see that they wrote it all in a night and their revisions were just spelling my name a little less wrong this time.

19 Replies to “Maybe I Forgot How Often I’m Bad at Writing”

  1. I rarely write something I like; maybe five of my last 100 blog posts. But they are usually the ones I spend a few days on. Didn’t Zinsser say , “Rewriting is the essence of writing well?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same. I think I’ve got a bit over 200 posts now, and I actually enjoy only a few. Yeah he did! He also wrote that writing is hard and can be treated more like a job than a craft, and I really like that way of thinking. Zinsser is my guy

      Liked by 1 person

  2. > Writing is unique in that even if you try your hardest, it’s probably still going to suck until you work on it again.

    This. So much this. I spent years of my life not writing because I expected things to be good as soon as I finished writing them. Now I just expect them not to suck enough to make my readers want to gouge out their eyes with their fingernails. And then I work on making whatever I’m writing this non-sucky. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I watched a video with Judy Blume recently, and she said something that struck me and made me think. Roughly, that when people asked her if she was a writer, she said no, but she was a great rewriter. I think we’re all pretty much in the same boat (and now I have to dig up some of her books and see if I’ve ever read any, her name sounds super familiar, but my memory for names goes only as far as not forgetting my own).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Her name does sound really familiar, but I have no idea if I’ve ever read something by her. However, that line is wonderful and a much kinder way of looking at writing than saying “I’m utter shit but sometimes it’s good if I cry at it enough.”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Looks like she writes YA and children’s books. I’m not big on YA, so I’m pretty sure if I read anything by her, it was something in my childhood. Still gonna have to dig them all and find out if/when/with which names they were published in Portuguese.

        Basically, I get to be a private detective. For things nobody really needs to know. 😀

        And it is a very kind way of putting the struggle. It makes us feel like we don’t suck that much. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The first teaching job I had out of college paid once a month on the last weekday of that month. We started mid-August, but the first paycheck didn’t come until September 30th. My husband and I were newly married, had just moved literally half way across the country away from all family and friends because he was starting grad school, and we had no money. I literally cried when my mom came to visit at the beginning of September and filled my refrigerator with groceries. I totally feel your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My brother and sister in law gave me a bunch of groceries, and I definitely wouldn’t have been doing too well without them. This is an infuriating time that I didn’t realize so many teachers have to deal with.

      Like

  4. I’ve always struggled mightily with this, not just in writing but in almost everything in my life. My brain is always trying to make things as black and white as possible. I’m either good at something or I’m bad at it. I either love the process or I hate it. I’ll either throw all of myself into something, or I’ll abandon it completely and perhaps forever. I’m trying not to be that way anymore…not least of all because I’m running out of space to store all the crap that I keep amassing every time I jump to a new hobby / endeavor.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m definitely that way in a lot of my life, writing or really anything that can be looked at by other people. I have all these loud, nagging iterations of myself yelling that everything has to be perfect or people will know I’m beyond flawed and can be disposed of without any net loss to the world… but I’m getting a bit better with it.

      Liked by 2 people

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