A popular aphorism holds that, to master any creative endeavor, you have to practice for 10,000 hours.
Think about the implication: you have to work for 10,000 hours before you produce anything worthwhile. That’s 10,000 hours of sub-par product. 10,000 hours of goofy writing that will never see the light of day. 10,000 hours of performing so badly in your chosen field that your own mother gazes upon your efforts and declares: “I have no child.” What a stark concept!
I don’t know about the cut-and-dried 10,000-hour requirement, but I agree with the general sentiment. Anyone who has ever gotten good at something spent a lot of time being very, very bad at it. Perhaps writers should bear that in mind before indulging in their characteristic fits of depression–not only is sucking not shameful, it’s actually necessary. By extension, that feeling you get when you look back at your earlier work and want to jump into a wood chipper–that’s also necessary. (The feeling, not the jumping into a wood chipper. That’s almost never necessary. Though far be it from me to pass judgment on your lifestyle choices.) It means you’ve gotten better.
I have a proposal for everyone: let’s stop being ashamed of our crappy writing. Hell, let’s revel in it. Let’s dig out our ancient manuscripts, hold them high and declare: “I wrote this piece of crap! Look on it, ye mighty, and despair!” Because you came by that piece of crap honestly. You sat down, opened your computer, and spent hours making the best piece of crap you could possibly make. There are plenty of people out there who are too scared to make their own piece of crap, but you made yours. And you know something? That’s awesome.
My Piece of Crap
In the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I present the single crappiest manuscript I was able to find buried among my old school books.
When I was 13 years old, I wanted to write “edgy” “grown-up” stories about “exciting” car “chases.” There’s nothing I can say that will make the following passage okay. Just know that, in a story that also included six juvenile delinquents hiding in a porta-John, off-color references to Britney Spears, and an underage mother giving birth in the woods, this is basically the least stupid thing that happens.
Oliver switched the car into reverse and started to back up.
“Dude,” Wes said. “If you get us out of this one, I swear I will never rip on you again!”
Slowly, forever slowly, they crept backward…backward…backward…
The police car came into view, lights flashing going full speed.
“Screw it!” Oliver yelled.
Without warning, he slammed his foot down on the pedal and went flying backward. All six of them screamed grabbing onto anything they could find, including each other and the sides of the car. It went swerving wildly across the path of the police car and careened into a Mister Rubbish Curbcart, which toppled over and spilled all over the neighbor’s driveway. Everyone was thrown forward from the force.
“S**T YOU SUCK!” Wes yelled.
Oliver shifted the car into forward and sped off, ignoring Wes’ yelling.
“I HOPE YOU ALL REMEMBERED YOUR SEATBELTS!” Oliver hollered over the sound of the ensuing police car, “BECAUSE THIS IS GONNA BE A WILD F**KING RIDE!”
Oliver spun the wheel to make an out of control left turn, in which he took out a streetlight and another curbcart. He accelerated to 90 MPH.
“Are you trying to KILL US?!” Ellie shrieked, holding on to the dashboard.
“SHUT UP ELLIE I’M TRYING TO DRIVE!”
He spun the wheel again and turned right. The police car had no trouble keeping up. He accelerated up to 105 MPH.
“ARE YOU INSANE?!” Reggie asked. “THIS IS TOO FAST! WE’RE GONNA ROLL IT AND IF YOU RECALL THIS THING HAS NO F**KING ROOF!”
“WE’VE GOT BIGGER PROBLEMS!” Marin screamed. “THIS STREET GOES NOWHERE!”
They all stared in horror at the lone sign at the end of the street. “Dead End”. Just beyond it was the traintracks, with the train honking in the distance.
For a second, Oliver debated whether or not to go for it. If he stopped, they’d probably be arrested. If he tried to beat the train, they’d probably be…dead.
He looked back at the gaining police car. He was not going to jail. Not tonight.
“HANG ONTO YOUR ASSES!” he yelled, “’CAUSE WE’RE GOIN’ FOR IT!”
“OLIVER NO! OH MY GOD NO!” Ellie shrieked. “YOU ARE NOT GONNA DO THIS DON’T YOU DARE EVEN TRY IT!”
“HE’S TRYING IT!” Bree sobbed. “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! I LOVE YOU WES!”
Whoosh! Oliver drove straight past the Dead End sign and onto the grass. The lights of the oncoming train were clearly visible, cutting through the night darkness. It was only ten yards away.
“HERE WE GOOOOOO!” Oliver screamed.
He pushed down even harder on the pedal. The second they hit the tracks, life seemed to go in slow motion. The car was airborn for a second, it’s petrified occupants lifted out of their seats. The train whistled at them, unable to stop. Bree and Wes screamed and hugged each other tightly. Marin and Reggie hugged the seats in front of them. Oliver was the only one remaining perfectly calm, his hands tightly gripping the steering wheel.
Then the car went down, returning to earth. They went down screaming slowly, with the train whistling at them. WHAM! They hit the concrete of the anime store parking lot. The car bounced and flew through the air again for about three feet. Their heads snapped back and then forward again. The card died, presumably from the impact. They watched as the train passed behind them.
Yes, it was behind them. And before them was freedom, before them was open road, before them was…
An entire army of cops pointing loaded guns!
All of this happened because the main characters prank-called Hungry Howie’s. I was not being ironic.
Is anyone brave enough to join me in the Posting-Old-Work-for-Derisive-and-Cathartic-Effect revolution? If so, leave a passage in the comments, send it in an email, or slap it on your own blog. Let’s abolish Writers’ Shame forever!