The Fear of Sucking

The key to good writing is sucking. For a long time.  Then, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, it will hopefully pay off.  Hey, nobody wants to write on spec in their mother’s basement forever, am I right?  Matthew Beans is our newly minted Robot Chicken writer, and he wants to give all of you young aspiring writers a few pointers as you make your way into the jungle.

don'tfail

 

I haven’t been a professional writer very long but I’ve already noticed a new trend in how others perceive my work. These days I’m identified as a person who “made it” in a competitive field, so some aspiring writers have started asking me if I have any advice to give. I find this hilarious, ‘cuz while I have worked hard to get where I am, the fact is that I’ve also been given a significant leg up by circumstances outside of my control. You have heard the “right place, right time” cliché, right? Well, it’s true. Still, when I’m asked for advice, there is one thing I typically say: I try to encourage aspiring writers not to fear writing bad work.

See, I am a writing coward. Seriously. I’m not saying that to be funny.  It’s something I know about myself. I experience a ton of anxiety when I write because I view each assignment as a test of my ability. And I fear discovering that I suck at writing. Now before you laugh at me for this, consider how I got into this mindset. I have pursued the dream of professional writing for fifteen years and have made a lot of sacrifices to achieve it. For a decade and a half I have had to carve out hours and hours in my schedule to devote to the craft. That means getting up at the crack of dawn. That means not traveling very much. That means that on countless weekends, while other guys were out meeting girls, I stayed in and metaphorically made out with my laptop. I gave up all of these things and many others because I want to be a good writer. So I’m regularly haunted by the notion that if I fail to reach my goal, then all of my sacrifices were in vain, which makes me a single, thirty-something nobody who has to… I don’t know, become a telemarketer. Well, I don’t want to be a telemarketer. I fear being a telemarketer (sorry telemarketers; that job just seems like a real bummer to me). So every time I write – even now as I type out this blog – there is an insidious voice in my head that whispers, “Don’t fail. Don’t fail. Don’t fail.” I listen to that stupid voice all the time and guard myself against the failure it forebodes. Usually I do this by refusing to risk writing something bad, which means waiting to put any words on the page until I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that they will be incredible. So I wait for great ideas. And wait. And wait.

The irony is that acting on my fear of failure contributes most to my failure, because writing is all about risk-taking. See, I realize now (especially from working on Robot Chicken) that good ideas never spring up, pristine, in my mind, before I begin. Instead, I actually have to take the risky leap of faith – to start the writing process, clutching an anvil of clichés and lame concepts, and hope that in the free fall my brain will make the observations and connections that will save me. Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I fail. But when I don’t take the risk, my success rate drops to zero.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it must find us working,” and my experience confirms he was right. All the times that I spend fearing bad writing, I end up staring at my computer getting stressed out. But when I accept that the writing might suck and get started, I often come across a little nugget of inspiration that unlocks my creativity. Nothing happens until I start the process though, and I can’t do that until I stop being afraid that I might suck. That’s just the hard and beautiful truth of it.

So, to any aspiring writers out there, please give yourself permission to be bad at the craft. When you get worried that your ideas suck, start anyway. My experience tells me that that’s just the way it goes.

All right, I think I’ve pushed the boundaries of sincerity as far as a Robot Chicken blog can bear. I’m off to write poop jokes.

 -BEANS