I was chatting with a friend recently who has begun writing, and things naturally came around to the one insecurity all writers face: What if my writing sucks?
I was of two minds on how to answer (I'm a Libra, so that's pretty much going to happen on ANY given topic but this was noteworthy even for me.) On the one hand, my thought was "Well, DUH! You're going to write something that sucks at least once in your life! You're a writer!" because we all have to drop one of those literary bombs at least once. On the other hand, I wanted to tell her "This is why you are going to be a good writer", because that insecurity is what makes a good writer "good". That unending quest to "make the story better", the never ceasing urge to edit that one word or sentence just so.
Which led me to remember two very important pieces of advice I was given, on two very unrelated subjects. One was very gentle, the other...not so much. So I'll get the slap in the face out of the way because not only did it come first, but it shapes the second bit of advice with its harshness.
Back in the late 80's, I was a very bright eyed young member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms. One of the things my 160 pound self could do well was archery. So I did that. A lot. So, when one day an older man shows up at the local archery practice with a beautiful, handmade bow, I was in awe. And, in that effort every newbie makes to try to identify with the old timer who's forgotten more about the subject than you and any six of your friends will ever know, I opened my mouth and said something less than brilliant.
"I've always wanted to make my own bow." I expected sage words of encouragement, or even an approving nod. What I got was...unexpected.
"No, you haven't." My little 19 year old ego was crushed like a bug against the windshield of his bluntness. I must have heard him say variants of the same thing all afternoon. Finally, feeling about an inch tall, I caught up to him after practice, and asked him what he meant.
"If you had wanted to build your own bow, you already would have," he told me. "If you really want to do something, you'll do it. You'll keep on doing it and keep on doing it until you get it right. You won't let anything keep you from it. Not even yourself."
That holds true for anything. Especially writing. I'm not even officially published yet, but every time the subject of my book comes up, I hear something similar. "I always wanted to write a book." And I hear in my head: "No, you haven't." But I don't say it. I'm not that cool yet.
Not long after that, I was at my first SCA event, and found myself enamored of the art of juggling. After spending more money than I should have on juggling balls, I finally got the juggler who had performed at the feast and at court to help me get started. The first thing he did was have me take one of the practice balls in my hand and throw it on the ground. Then he had me pick it up. He had me repeat that a few times, and said I was getting pretty good at it, that I needed to work a little on my technique but that I had completed my first lesson in how to juggle. I gave him the stupid look.
"The first thing you learn to do when you start juggling is to pick up the stuff you drop. You're gonna do it a lot, and you're gonna have to get used to it. You have to be okay with dropping the ball, and you have to pick it up at least one more time." In other words, give yourself permission to not be perfect. Learn to be okay with failing sometimes. So long as you are gentle with yourself, and keep picking the ball back up, you'll be okay. You'll get better every time you pick it back up.
So, if you're afraid your work will suck, good. That means you have it in you to take the craft of storytelling seriously. And you WILL write something that sucks. Don't let it stop you. In fact, I recommend you write something deliberately bad. Vandalize the English language, Pillage the purple section of the prose department, loot the lurid details section of your imagination. Throw caution (and good grammar) to the wind, and slaughter the sacred cows of writing. Make your main character a Mary Sue, and all your supporting characters cardboard cut out that make 2 dimensional characters look deep and introspective by comparison. And when you've laid waste to the literary landscape with your intentional ode to odious narration....sleep comfortably in the knowledge that NOTHING you ever write after that will be anywhere close to THAT bad.
Then write a little better. Then again, a little better, and again.
Write fearlessly, and use your mistakes to teach yourself how to write well. Write relentlessly, and never stop. Because the biggest difference between a published author and an aspiring writer is persistence...and a damn good story.