After putting on the finishing touches to my article, I shared it with my editor. A day or so later, he sent edits back. While I expected some grammatical errors and minor changes, I found out my writing wasn’t as good as I thought it was.
“There were several sections where I saw you rephrasing the same thought two or three times in a row,” he told me.
He continued, saying my phrases are too wordy, and I go off on tangents. The language I used was “corporate” with vague words like maybe, may, might, could, and should. I sprinkled the word “that” throughout my work a little too liberally.
Fine then, Mr. Editor. I shared another piece with him and hoped for better feedback.
“This one is definitely weaker than the other two.”
Ugh. Kill me.
My writing had all sorts of problems. It wasn’t great and it needed plenty of work. I’ll admit: It sucked.
Fast forward a few months. While my writing still has problems, the problems are much different. I graduated past (most of) the more basic problems and onto more “advanced” problems. The only way I could get from where I was (sucking) to where I am now (not as sucky) is to give myself permission to suck at first, then see what happened.
Progress Requires Sucking
This is how progress works: When you first start anything, you suck. With a bit of work, you trade in your newbie challenges for better challenges.
That talented saxophone player on TV didn’t just show up there. There was a period where she didn’t know a quarter note from a half note. Her knowledge was at zero. Playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” from start to finish was one of the most difficult things she’d ever done, and just as difficult for others to listen to.
Once she was good at that song, she moved to a harder one. Fast forward a bunch of years and she plays “A Night in Tunisia” in a way that makes Coltrane weep with joy.
Louis CK sells out large venues now, but not at first. In 1984, CK tried stand up for the first time at a local comedy club’s open mic night. He bombed miserably, and stayed away from comedy for the next two years. When he returned, he quickly became a big part of the Boston scene. As the comedy scene grew, his career grew.
Being bad allows you to benchmark yourself. You need to try something first to discover where your shortcomings are. Sure, benchmarking reveals a gap — a gap between where you are and where you want to be — and it can look more like a grand canyon filled with shards of glass than a “gap”.
If you’re bold enough, you’ll cross that canyon a day at a time.
The gap also works in your favor. Some want the result immediately and don’t want to do the work. Those people will walk away and try something they think is easier. (They’ll do this a lot. Watch ‘em.)
When they walk away, it’s great for you. Less competition means you’ll have a greater chance of succeeding.
It’s Not Easy
Crossing that chasm isn’t easy. Along the way, you’ll hit problems you didn’t plan for or wouldn’t have known to look for. You might even begin to believe that a long forgotten enemy conjured up the tormented soul of a bratty kid to follow you around and screw your shit up.
This adversity is good. People will give up here too, thinning out the competition even more.
Only some will make it to the other side of the gap. The ones who want it bad enough stick with it, come hell or high water. They’ll be the ones getting recognition for how amazing they are now. But they have to take the trek through Suckville and stick with it no matter what.
Today, my writing still isn’t the best it could be, and my editor’s notes on one of my latest drafts confirmed this. However, he offered a glimmer of hope.
You‘re probably going to look at this and feel like “Shit! I haven’t learned anything!” but YOU HAVE. I can see your improvements by the types of mistakes you’re making. Some smart person said something along those lines once… skilled people don’t get everything right, they just make better mistakes. That’s where you’re at. So don’t freak out.
I might have freaked out a bit. But, I’m closing my gap one word at a time. You can too.
Now, I’m off to make better mistakes.
(If you want to make better mistakes with me, check out the No BS Writer’s Club, where I help writers become better writers.)