Permission to Suck

The Ugly Baby

Something that is probably useful to know about me is that I am absolutely an NPR junkie.  Several years ago I made the decision to stop listening to music and instead use that time to catch up on the worlds events.  There is a concept among NPR listeners, called the “driveway moment” where you have reached your destination but you cannot leave the car because you are enthralled by whatever is happening on the radio.  Yesterday I had one of these and in a way I found it extremely relatable to the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  Ed Catmull is most well known for being one of the founders of Pixar Animation Studios.  Yesterday afternoon on the Diane Rehm show, he was talking about his new book.  But he dwelled upon a specific chapter, and I was able to dig up the same basic discussion in the youtube video above.

The chapter of the book is “The Ugly Baby and The Hungry Beast”.  In his example the “Hungry Beast” is the part of Pixar or any creative studio that is the most productive.  They are the ones churning through content and making things happen.  The front of the studio, the creative side however is the “Ugly Baby”.  He said that when Pixar starts a new project the output is always horrible.  Nothing looks quite right, nothing fits together, and generally speaking it is rather ugly.  The creative ideas need time to grow into something fully fleshed out, and during this period they need to be protected and given time to nurture.  When you are just starting out blogging, your blog is this Ugly Baby.  Nothing quite works the way you want it to, things don’t quite flow, but you have a vision for where it can be and you have to give it time to mature.

Permission to Suck

One of the hardest things about creating anything, be it a blog or a web comic or a podcast is giving yourself permission to suck.  We intellectually see failure as being a necessary part of the creative process, because it allows us to grow and change.  However as people…  we never want anything we do to fail, because culturally we have placed all of this weight upon that happening and attached all sorts of meanings to it.  In order to make a blog work, you have to give yourself permission to suck, and to not know all the answers.  Like most things in life you can figure things out as you go.  My blog has evolved over time into what it is, because quite frankly the first two years of it were pretty lousy.  Still on a daily basis as I sit down at my desktop and put fingers to keyboard each morning, I question if I know what the hell I am doing.

As a writer you need to create enough space around your work to allow it to grow and mature into what it can be.  At least when you are getting your feet about you, you need this judgment free zone.  Realize that in six months most of what you create today, is going to embarrass you.  That is part of the process and if you somehow manage to get everything right immediately… then you are some sort of freakish prodigy.  That said… no one gets everything right immediately.  Blogging is one of those things where you learn more by doing, and doing often.  I don’t feel like I really learned much about myself or the process until I was forcing myself to do it every single day.  While I don’t suggest anyone follow me down that path of madness I do suggest you pick a schedule and stick to it.  This can either be a fixed number of posts per week, or an actual schedule like Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

Just Write Anything

There are going to be days where you are scheduled to write something and you don’t have a clue in the world what you are going to say.  I’ve found it is important to observe the routine, and brute force your way through the issue.  If you look through my blog there are massive several month long lapses in content.  Each and every single one of those started with a day when I just could not think of anything to say.  I used to get to the point where I would feel like, each time I made one of these lapses that I would need an extremely epic post to start back up again.  As sort of a payoff for those who still had me in their RSS feeds, that I needed to make a really good one to make the outage worth it.  Problem is… this only complicated the process and make it all the more unlikely that I would be making a post to start things up again.

When I have days where I am quite literally experiencing writers block, I just start writing.  I might rattle off three paragraphs of completely banal bullshit, but there is something about the act of writing that gets the process started.  Flowing words out onto the page, somehow clears the logjam in your head and within a few paragraphs of crap you start seeing genuine content.  So when this happens I keep writing my way through the post, and end up deleting most of the “bullshit header”.  Ultimately relying on inspiration is not sustainable, so many times you have to make your own inspiration.  This could be playing a game that inspires you, or crawling through your RSS feed looking at what others are writing… or it could be just forcing yourself to produce content by sheer will alone.  In any case, the more you force yourself to write, the better your content will be and the more mature your blog will become.

New Challengers

In many ways “winning” NaNoWriMo has forever changed the way I look at things like the Newbie Blogger Initiative.  While I still have so much editing to do, the focus of that exercise was not necessarily to write really amazing content, but instead to focus on getting my 1500+ words a night.  During the Newbie Blogger Initiative I really see the focus on getting your blog off the ground, and posting content regularly.  The content can be horrible, but the act of doing it over and over will improve your own personal process… and similarly improve your blog.  So far the Class of 2014 seems to be busting down all expectations I might have for them and producing some really great posts.  Additionally there have been several new people added to the mix since my last post so I wanted to post an updated roster.

I highly suggest you check them all out and add them to your RSS reader.  We have a few that are on their first or second post, but we have quite a few that are cranking them out on a pretty regular basis.  Just remember to give yourself room to post things that you don’t immediately like.  Cranking out the posts is the only real way you can develop your own process.  The Newbie Blogger Initiative is this great judgment free zone, where each and every established blogger wants you to succeed.  Use the hell out of this space to experiment and try new things.  Figure out what it means for “you” to write “your” blog.  This experience is worth what you get out of it, it is like an optional boot camp, and those who really take that to heart seem to be well served by it.  As I look out on the class of 2012 and 2013 I see many well established voices, and I look forward to being able to say the same about 2014.

9 thoughts on “Permission to Suck

  1. I broadly agree with a lot of your points but I think you are way off when you say “Realize that in six months most of what you create today, is going to embarrass you.

    I’ve recently been wading through my older posts as I have to fix some formatting issues. As I’m doing this I’m correcting typos and reading through material I wrote as far back as 2008. On occasions I think the work is better than some of the content I write today. I was far more enthusiastic back then.

    Everyone’s blogging journey is different and although I do not refute your assertion of personal improvement, I don’t think we can arbitrarily dismiss ones early work and being universally bad.

  2. “Realize that in six months most of what you create today, is going to embarrass you.”

    I wonder what I will think in 6months. But Im starting to realise, that I dont need to try an be formal and so “correct”. I’m starting to give a sock, and just write. I have had the philosophy of writing content for me and not others, but ofc you have in the back of your head that, omg ppl are actually gonna read it.

    Write write write, and you will get better, as with everything, practice makes better (not perfect) Even tho people might not enjoy everything, YOU have enjoyed it 😀

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