The letter came via snail mail. The author is 39 years old. I will call her “Ashley” because that is her name.

“Sean, I have a book that I want to write, but I don’t know how to get started or what I’m even doing. What’s wrong with me? When will writing get easier? I don’t know what I’m doing. I want to branch out and be a writer someday, but I don’t know how to get off the ground. My writing sucks. I suck. Help me.”

Let me start by saying that I don’t normally answer writing questions here, for two very important reasons: (1) when you write a column about the professional craft of writing, your credibility can be utterly destroyed if you have so much as one typo, and (2) i’m not grate with speling

Furthermore, I too suck at writing.

To my knowledge, I have never read anything I’ve written and said to myself, “Wow, that doesn’t suck.” Normally I read my own work, wad up the page and I say, “Make mine a double on the rocks, please.”

But I have some very good news for you. There is a secret I’ve learned in my time as a fledgling professional writer, and this little tidbit has helped me immensely:

Everyone else sucks, too.

SSSSSSHHHH! Don’t tell anyone!

The professionals really don’t want you to know they suck. Many writers spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to convince people they don’t suck. But them’s the facts, ma’am.

And the fact is, everyone sucks equally. Because we’re human beings. Sucking is what we do. We’re experts at sucking. Sure, occasionally one of us humans might accidentally crank out “War and Peace.” But eventually, we’ll go back to sucking again. We always do.

Even many classic works of literature suck, going by the general consensus. If you don’t believe me, just ask an auditorium of high-schoolers what they think of “Moby Dick.” Most will tell you flatly, it stinks. Others will accompany this statement with elaborate armpit sounds.

And just think, in a few years, these teens will be running the country.

The truth is, if someone wrote “Moby Dick” in today’s fiction market, word for word, that person would be living in a refrigerator carton.

So it is my firm belief that you probably don’t suck any more or less than any other writer alive. Or any other human for that matter. You just happen to be more aware of your suckage than the average Joe because you are a writer.

Writing, you see, is essentially the act of examining stuff. Be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or writing instruction manuals for Japanese electric toasters. You’re always examining. Tearing apart. Probing. Constantly scrutinizing.

How does this character feel? How does this scene drive the plot forward? Why would any Japanese corporation manufacture a toaster which heats up to 12,160 degrees fahrenheit?

Moreover, you’re probably drawn to writing because you actually LIKE examining things. You’re probably GOOD at examining stuff. You probably walk down the street silently correcting the grammar on various signs and posters in commercial districts. Like the sign I saw yesterday which read:

“ILLEGALLY PARKED CARS WILL BE FINE.”

Although this sign was nothing compared to the sign I saw in West Virginia last summer which read:

“ALL SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE PROSTITUTED.”

We word lovers have a knack for examining things. We love to dissect. So it’s only natural that you would occasionally dissect yourself, too. Which is a dangerous thing to do.

Because you are a person. You are flawed. You are real and imperfect. You have bad hair days. You perspire. Your body creates unpleasant smells. You make unwise decisions. You can be selfish, egocentric and self-centered just like the rest of us.

You don’t need me to tell you these things, you already know this about yourself.

The problem is, you know it too well. And whenever you examine your work, this is what you’re thinking about. That means you aren’t really judging your writing per se. You’re judging yourself.

I would venture to say that when you read your own prose, most of the time you’re scrutinizing the person who wrote it instead of the content.

“Jeez!” you say to yourself. “What an idiot!”

But here’s the thing. It’s not your job to call yourself an idiot. Plenty of high-schoolers will be happy to do this for you.

So here’s my advice: allow yourself suck. Suck with all your heart. Write the worst book ever written. Make the worst art known to humankind. But just do it. You don’t have to be great. You don’t even have to be good. You have only one job in this world, and that is to love what you love.

So start with yourself.

45 comments

  1. Glenda E Hulbert - April 7, 2022 7:38 am

    Great read!!!

    Reply
    • mary - April 7, 2022 7:29 pm

      How soon after a comment do you see it? i posted an hour or so ago & still dont see it. Ty in advance. All the best☀🌻🐝🦋

      Reply
  2. James Hooker - April 7, 2022 7:48 am

    Good morning Sean.

    How about those times you write a line or passage that left-hooks and sets your face on fire? Then, with the chill still in your bones and maybe a little moisture in eye, you look around the room – up and down – and say to yourself: “Wow! I. Did. NOT. Write. That”. Cool, ain’t it?
    Take Care
    James

    Reply
  3. Nell Thomas - April 7, 2022 9:19 am

    Sean- Great advice to the young author.

    Reply
    • Mary - April 7, 2022 6:43 pm

      Hi Sean😊
      Our main library in Palatka, Florida and four other branches including our Public Library in Crescent City Florida did a wall display. Our librarian oh, a page, and a clerk worked on ours which is a wall display taken from your book, Winston Brown. Their display was of a ball field called Winston Field.
      I want to send you some pictures of it but I’m not quite sure how to do that.
      I’m also not sure if you always read your comments sometimes almost never, LOL.
      So, if you read this please let me know. I will try messaging on FB oh, though I have messaged before and it doesn’t look like it was read. I’ll also try Twitter, Instagram, Etc.
      All the very best☀️🌻🐝🦋
      mary~

      Reply
  4. Lander - April 7, 2022 10:25 am

    Yep. And it’s true if any expression of art or creativity. You’ve got to be willing to suck at it long enough to get a little better. And then you keep doing it. Still might suck. Keep doing it.

    Reply
  5. Debbie - April 7, 2022 11:43 am

    As most have doubts at times, this is an important reminder to those of us who do. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  6. Lucy Merrill - April 7, 2022 11:49 am

    Having just received my very first bad review on Amazon, this is the pep talk I needed. I suck! So what? Get back to the keyboard and crank out more suckage. It’s what I do!

    Reply
  7. Anne Arthur - April 7, 2022 12:10 pm

    To the point, and applicable to anyone who wants to write a line or create any kind of art. Or, simply wants to live a non-suck life. You nailed it, Sean.

    Reply
  8. Eliz - April 7, 2022 12:11 pm

    Wow! Fantastic!

    Reply
  9. Karen Mixon - April 7, 2022 12:23 pm

    I needed this today. Yesterday was tough. Thank you for sucking so hard at what you do…because it is brilliant. Now…off to go suck at my job with my chin up today. ❤️ P.S. I obviously don’t think you suck at all which is why I’ve been reading your columns since early on and have done two “evenings with…” Keep reading my mind. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Jan - April 7, 2022 12:24 pm

    Excellent advice needed by everyone at some point in their life! Thank you.

    Reply
  11. franfluker - April 7, 2022 12:26 pm

    young people use it without a thought or consideration: but ‘suck’ is a Four Letter word, and not suited for polite company. I was horrified when my daughters, now nearing 40, came in throwing it into every other sentence.

    Reply
    • sue - April 7, 2022 2:53 pm

      My thoughts exactly franfluker! I have heard it so much lately in places where it shocked me. I looked it up and OED calls it usage “Informal.” I guess my thoughts about this and other things part of becoming an “old fogey.”

      Reply
    • Jo - April 7, 2022 3:13 pm

      franfluker, you are right on!

      Reply
  12. Pingback: Sean of the South: You Suck | The Trussville Tribune

  13. muthahun - April 7, 2022 1:10 pm

    In the immortal words of Shari Broder, a friend and Life Coach, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth sucking at it.” This is how I got up the courage to do Zumba!

    Reply
  14. Lori Shepard - April 7, 2022 1:13 pm

    I really needed to hear this today, Sean. Thank you.

    Reply
  15. Shelton A. - April 7, 2022 1:34 pm

    Great advice and so well given to Ashley. Ashley, the man is right. Don’t judge yourself or your writing…too many others will be happy to do that for you. Just do your best. Your heart will tell you if you did your best or not. Do that and don’t worry about anything else. Sean told you the truth. We are all flawed. Just do your best and you won’t suck. Promise! Blessings and peace

    Reply
  16. Anne - April 7, 2022 1:36 pm

    I, too, like to observe signs… like the one I encountered at the end of a sidewalk that said “Sidewalk Ends.” Why did some government entity spend my hard-earned tax money to produce a sign, put it on a pole, and pay someone to install it at the end of that sidewalk? And then there is the sign I saw when I was driving along a rather bumpy road that said “Rough Road.” I already knew that, so why did they have to tell me? And what do they want me to do about it? Turn around and go back? And why didn’t they just spend that money on fixing the road instead? (I am a retired economist, in case you can’t tell. My observations almost always point out foolish spending.)

    Reply
  17. dolphindigs - April 7, 2022 1:53 pm

    I just had to share this one. Thirty six years ago my five year old daughter taped a note to her two year old brother on her bedroom door: No boys allowed. Prosecutors will be violated. Over the years, I’ve told many a person about that note. Everyone’s (especially lawyers) response is, “I wouldn’t go in there!” Fast forward. Today she has a law degree and a master of fine arts in writing.

    Reply
  18. Paul McCutchen - April 7, 2022 1:56 pm

    I do wish there were some things I didn’t “suck” doing. I try hard but I have never got the hang at some things. At seventy I try to hang with the things I am “fairly good” at and not worry about the other things as much. Confused yet?

    Reply
  19. Steve Scott - April 7, 2022 2:12 pm

    Part of your post really hit me. (And whenever you examine your work, this is what you’re thinking about. That means you aren’t really judging your writing per se. You’re judging yourself. I would venture to say that when you read your own prose, most of the time you’re scrutinizing the person who wrote it instead of the content). At 79 I am amazed that I never realized this before. Five children’s books published and a book of silly “pomes” ready to publish and many short stories, etc., I have been critiquing myself more than the work. Thanks Sean

    Reply
  20. Ruth Mitchell - April 7, 2022 2:34 pm

    I think you’re so right with your words of wisdom.

    Reply
  21. realgrammarqueen43@gmail.com - April 7, 2022 2:39 pm

    Sean, I have sent your columns to so many people, and to a person, they all thank me while jumping up and down over having found a writer they really love. Keep sucking. You make their day for so many people, you deserve the Nobel Proze. Yes, I suck at spelling, too. And I sometimes carry a red pen or marker with me to correct the spelling on signs and posters! What a gift you are to our world. Thank you, God, for sending Sean Dietrich to us. Amen!

    Reply
  22. AlaRedClayGirl - April 7, 2022 2:44 pm

    Great advice! I remember reading the “classics” in high school and wondering what idiot decided these books were classics. Yes, some were good, but others could have been written by my catnip-drugged cat.

    Reply
  23. Jo - April 7, 2022 3:16 pm

    Coarse language not becoming to your good postings.

    Reply
  24. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - April 7, 2022 3:17 pm

    Reply
  25. johnallenberry - April 7, 2022 3:24 pm

    Well said, my friend! Fun fact? Moby Dick was a commercial failure at the time it came out! It was only popular once the scholars ran across it later. lol.

    I’ve written poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and instructions, although not for Japanese Toasters… I feel seen. 🙂

    Reply
  26. johnallenberry - April 7, 2022 3:24 pm

    Well said, my friend! Fun fact? Moby Dick was a commercial failure at the time it came out! It was only popular once the scholars ran across it later. lol.

    I’ve written poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and instructions, although not for Japanese Toasters… I feel seen. 🙂

    Ph.Dude

    Reply
  27. Pat Underwood - April 7, 2022 3:35 pm

    Sean, I’m a recent subscriber. I’ve really been enjoying these articles. Especially this one.
    I used to go fishing a lot. Then I found out that I really sucked at it. So much, that I have practically quit. But now, I realize that it’s ok to suck at something you like to do……. I’m going fishing. Thanks for the day off!

    Reply
  28. Jimmie N Painter - April 7, 2022 3:38 pm

    Good reply to her question…..good encouragement. I just hate this new term “sucks”! It grates on me. I think “stinks” is sufficient.

    Reply
  29. maxnayagus - April 7, 2022 4:42 pm

    Heart Eyes to you for this, Dear Sean! Trisha xo

    Reply
  30. Vince - April 7, 2022 5:08 pm

    Moby Dick was ok.. I have not reread it so it wasn’t that great. ‘Classics’ the stink to high Heaven? Top of the list has to be Intruder in the Dust followed closely by Lord of the Files. One with no punctuation is like getting button holed by the non stopper talker at a company event. The other.. the ending was obvious from the beginning… booooring. Now, your stuff Sean… excellent. Heart warming, heart rending, thought inducing and your sense of humor is the cherry on top!

    Reply
  31. Diane Bailey - April 7, 2022 5:34 pm

    She read the post from Sean of the South, as she sat on the beach and sipped a libation from stemware.

    sigh…”Thank you” she whispered to no one who could hear her.

    Then, stood with red chair marks on the back of her legs and returned to her Laltop.

    Reply
  32. Verna Kays - April 7, 2022 7:26 pm

    O,Sean!!!!You are making me smile again today..I’m recovering Very Slowly from surgery and nearly a month so far in my bed..
    But every single day I search your posts ,and darn it..,grouchy and” down in the dumps” in pain that I am,..you my dear sir,make me feel better..

    And I Ever So Thank You.

    Verna Montgomery-Kays

    Reply
  33. MAM - April 7, 2022 10:29 pm

    Sean, as I am a writer, too, I have to say that was probably the most profound article you have ever written. Writers are ALWAYS their worst critics. I have written so many words in my lifetime (a long one, still going!) that I do very little editing when I reread. Some yes, but mostly I’m simply proofreading for those little typos that wayward fingers or AUTO- CORRECT can cause. I’m not a huge fan of auto-corekt. 🙂

    Reply
  34. Donna - April 8, 2022 2:01 am

    Well I laughed out loud at least 4 times while reading this post AND I believe it’s one of your best. So true!

    Reply
  35. Slimpicker - April 8, 2022 2:57 am

    Sean, all that sucking made me think of on old Johnny Cask song, “Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog”..

    Reply
  36. Debbie g - April 8, 2022 4:22 am

    Love your self. Hard thought but so true thanks again dear Sean love to all

    Reply
  37. Lani Wilson - April 8, 2022 1:47 pm

    My advice is the only one who doesn’t suck is the Holy Spirit so get acquainted with the Holy Spirit and when the Spirit wants to express itself through you then what you express will absolutely NOT suck!!! Works every time❤️

    Reply
  38. Susan - April 8, 2022 2:28 pm

    ♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️♥️I can not possibly love this enough. Not a writer but an artist AND a bookaholic… I truly love words! Well done, Sean. Well, done!
    See ya Saturday night! Looking SO very forward to this!!!!!

    Reply
  39. Denise DeVries - April 8, 2022 3:07 pm

    It seems like every column you write, I come out with it’s the best. Sean you are wonderful in your viewpoint on life. Please don’t lose that.
    When are you coming back to Pensacola area?.

    Reply
  40. Debora Bettis - April 11, 2022 6:28 pm

    Yes, Sean. We writers do judge ourselves quite harshly. I have deleted oceans of words, disgusted they did not sparkle and shine with that magic I intended. But a day or so later, there I sat, pounding out more words, more phrases, more sentences. Why? Because I am a writer. It is like “a fire, shut up within my bones”. I write because I must. And whether or not my written endeavors ever see the light of day, I hope to continue to write, as long as possible. The stuff that may stink, as well as the stuff that may have the scent of heavenly places. Thank you for your words that encourage us all.

    Reply

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