Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Embracing the Suck

by Jonterri Gadson

I assure you this is not a whining post. I read a great article last night that really speaks to my feeling about some of my most recent work. The article is by Nancy Rawlinson and it's called "Writing Advice: How to Embrace the Suck". Here's the part that really got to me:

So what I’m saying here is: a succession of sucky writing days can be a signal that you are not acknowledging some truth about your work. If you stop banging your head against the keyboard for a minute and instead think about what that truth might be, you’ll probably be able to get yourself going again.

I totally get this. I've been feeling like my daily writing has been sentimental crap that I can't really use. The piece I had workshopped this week was noted as being borderline sentimental. I'm cool with acknowledging the suck but I'm not sure how to make the leap from this acknowledgement to knowing what to do to fix it. Maybe I should ask Nancy? lol

So what I'm doing is showing up at the page every day anyway. I'm trying to use more concrete details to convey my message. I'm hoping to get away from personal narrative/confessional stuff for awhile because that just brings out the sentimental in me. I'm also studying the mess out of people who do what I'm trying to do well (Sharon Olds & Jericho Brown for example).

Hmmmm...maybe if I journal more, like a diary type thing, I can have a place to get out the sentimental stuff so it won't feel the need to come out in my poems. Gonna try that. I'll let you all know how it goes. See, maybe embracing the suck really does work.


  1. Good post, JayTee! I had a sucky workshop poem last week too, but I bounced back this week and confused the pants off people (in a good way, I think). Stick to it - I think your commitment to keep writing even in the midst of suckage is the right tactic to take!

  2. "So what I'm doing is showing up at the page every day anyway."

    Keep putting in the work, J.T. It's collateral for the poem that will come out perfect, seemingly out of nowhere. I read somewhere (I can't remember where/who or I'd credit them) that all the effort we put in at the desk, particularly that effort that requires much struggle with little product, helps our subconcious to become clear and ready to receive, -- what else? -- gifts from the muse.

    I'd also like to note (J.T. and Emily) that I don't feel I've written my best work for the two poems (one for workshop and one for seminar)I've submitted this week. I feel I haven't settled into a routine yet or adjusted to this new lifestyle and that my writing is "thrown," almost, because of it. I believe, though, I'll fall into rhythm. Keep the faith.

  3. That's a good point, Monica. We are adjusting to a whole lot of stuff right now, and it is no wonder if stress (or anything else) throws off our writing for awhile. Just keep at it. That's why we're here!

  4. Thanks for the understanding, Monica and Emily. I love the idea of this unusable writing clearing my subconscious. I'm going to go back to writing my morning pages, which is like 3 handwritten pages that you write with out lifting the pen. I called it a brain dump. I have no patience for waiting for my subconscious to clear lol I'll do whatever I can to help it along.

  5. Fantastic post, showing up to the page is exactly what we need to keep doing to rescue the good from all the suck. As "the suck," well, at least it exists, so there's the potential for polish, unlike the empty page! Thanks for the reminder.

  6. i went through at least two really HUGE periods of suck during my MFA (and they happen afterwards as well!) but you'll have a light bulb moment where a change will come through, you will. I didn't believe it but it has happened to me more than once.

    sometimes writing from a specific exercise can help get you over the hump or trying some forms out :)

    Great post!

  7. Hi Jonterri -- I'm glad my advice column was helpful to you! You raise a good point when you say "...I'm not sure how to make the leap from this acknowledgment to knowing what to do to fix it."

    That leap is always hard. Showing up at the page is a great start. I'd also suggest that you investigate the origins of the emotions that are driving your work. Free write about them, use your morning pages, brainstorm, research, find other work that speaks to the same category of emotion -- whatever works. Dwell in that space, basically. Underneath what your fellow students were reading as "sentimental" there will be something sharp and original, I'm sure: a specific incident or an insight that is uniquely yours. If you can find that, you can transform material from sentimental to profound.

    This is my idea, anyway -- you don't need to get the sentimental stuff out of the way, just drill deeper into it, transmute it.

    Good luck!

  8. Thanks for this response, Nancy! Believe me, I'll let you all know once I make a breakthrough.


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