Permission to Suck

If you’ve ever created anything, you know what it’s like to feel like it’s not good enough. As you’re outlining and typing, or taping and painting, or cutting and hammering, or chopping and measuring and mixing, or lining up the shot and checking the lighting, there’s a voice in the back of your head going through the list of everything that’s wrong with your creation. Look at this, it says. Look at all the things you did wrong here. Who’s going to want this piece of trash?

Then the voice raises the stakes. It brings to mind the craftsmen you admire, those you’ve seen effortlessly doing whatever you’re trying to do, and says They wouldn’t have done that. They would never make that mistake.

And if you keep working, if you ignore the criticisms and comparisons, the voice gets personal. It’s not good enough. Come to think of it, neither are you. You think you’ll ever call yourself a craftsman? You couldn’t even wash a craftsman’s socks. A six-year-old could do better. In fact, you know what? You suck. You might as well give up.

When the voice says that, you start to understand what it’s really after. It wants nothing less than for you to quit. Because quitting is easier than trying. Your lizard brain–that part of your mind that doesn’t think, doesn’t create, that knows nothing except how to avoid pain–is firing wildly, panicking because you are doing something hard, something that might not come out like you want it to. Something that might expose you to criticism and rejection and pain.

And there’s a point in every project where the voice is right. There’s a point in every project when you can look at your work and say wow. This sucks. Others might not even notice the flaws you see, or care if you point them out, but they’re there for you. And the voice, the lizard brain, goes crazy.

That’s when you have to make a choice: give up or keep going? Do you abandon your project to protect yourself from criticism, to keep others from knowing how badly you suck, or do you keep going, crafting the best you know how?

The choice is a moment of courage. If you quit, you can go back to your comfortable bubble, back to your TV, and avoid the pain of creating something. But you’ll never grow. If you keep going, you guarantee yourself pain–but you will grow as your creation does, and at the end something will exist that didn’t before, and you will have created it.

But to get there, you have to be willing to suck. Let the pain of growth and creation guide your hands, let them make your creation better. And the next one better than this one. And the next one better than that.

Every craftsman begins as an apprentice. Everyone sucks the first time they try to create. The master is the one who has endured more pain and created more work and sucked more than anyone else.

Give yourself permission to suck. Then keep working until your creation is complete. That’s how you get better.

And that’s the only way to make the world better.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • Ken Davis

    Welcome back! We’re out here reading and need your message.

    • H. Scott Dalton

      Thanks, my friend. I’ll do my best to make it a good one!

  • Oh my gosh – it’s my lizard brain! So thankful to have a name for that voice. It also creeps up when the project is finished – or as finished as it ever will be – and it’s time to share. This is great.

    • H. Scott Dalton

      The lizard brain is sneaky and very persuasive, Alyson. After all, it thinks it has your best interests in mind! I learned about it from Seth Godin, who has mentioned it in a few of his books. Check his work out if you want more!

  • Jim Tupper

    Great advice! Best wishes with your writing! I’m still struggling to find time to get back to my writing. The creative engine never stops for me and I manage to find time for the writing; it is the editing that is the bane of my existence. I’m still sitting on the manuscript of novel #1 in need of one more full editing pass before I finally expose it to others, while I have full drafts of novels #2 and #3 (one partially edited, the other raw) already waiting in the on-deck circle.

    • H. Scott Dalton

      Thanks, Jim! Just remember that slow progress is progress. As frustrating as it can be not to be able to work as fast as you want, working slowly is better than not working at all.
      And if it’s fear that’s keeping you in endless editing cycles instead of getting your manuscript out there, resolve to give it to someone you trust this week. Giving yourself an imminent deadline really helps you push past the fear.