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.