It’s Okay to Suck

The internet is many things. Today I want to look at it through the lens of a creative artist. I am a writer, but this blog post could easily apply to any artist, craftsman, musician, or performer. The internet has given us access to so much information on how to improve our crafts. It opens up our world so that we can see other creatives from across the globe—

Therein lies the rub: For all the good the internet has done, it’s also allowed one hell of a shadow to fall over each and every one of us creative artists. 

It allows us to compare ourselves and our talent to anyone else in the world. 

When I was growing up, art was one of my favorite classes. I was alright (as a grade school artist), and this made me feel pretty good about myself. The only other artists that I saw were paintings in galleries or drawings in comic books. I didn’t compare myself to them, because I knew that they were far, far beyond me. Seeing a Da Vinci painting didn’t destroy my self worth. 

Now though, kids have access to the internet. They can see other artists their age (or older). The world is so much larger than a grade school art class, but I think that seeing too much of that is detrimental to most of us budding artists. It’s far too easy nowadays to compare ourselves to others, and to get bummed out in the process. 

I’m not advocating to get rid of the internet, but I am advocating that newbie creatives don’t be so harsh on themselves. 

When we’re new at something, it’s so easy to get discouraged. As a writer, we might look to one of the pinnacles of our genres and think that there’s no way we could ever write something like that. No way we could ever draw something like that, write a song that good, etc. 

What we don’t see is all the work that went into something. We don’t see the dozens of drafts or hundreds of sketches that went into making a comic book. There’s no label on these fantastic pieces of art saying, “Van Gogh took 100 hours and 100 canvases to make this.” 

It’s even worse than that though, because those artists have likely been practicing for years to even get to that level. You can’t compare yourself, who’s been writing or painting for a year to a professional artist that’s logged dozens of years and thousands of hours at something. The beginner runner doesn’t compare themself to the olympic marathoner—so why should we? 

“We develop taste long before we develop skill. In other words, we all know we suck way before there’s anything we can do about it.” —Matt Colville, “Leading a Creative Life”, 6:34 

When we’re starting out there is a huge discrepancy between what we want to create and what we have the skill to create. 

Let’s go back to our marathon analogy—it takes a long time to go from couch potato to marathoner. It takes hard work, perseverance. It takes a lot of focus and then internalizing the basics so they’re as natural as breathing. Creative pursuits are exactly the same. 

I like to think I have pretty cool ideas for sketches rattling around in my head. Can I put them on paper? No. I don’t practice. I haven’t even practiced enough to draw smooth lines! 

You can know all there is to know about running, but it takes time and consistent practice to turn a potato into a runner. 

I guess my point is, be kind to yourself. It’s okay to suck at something. In fact, everybody sucks at something when they start out. Even natural talent that some people seem to have only carries them so far. Time and dedication carries you much further. 

One day I’ll have to dig up some of my first drafts from when I was starting out. They read exactly like you would expect:

Like someone who sucked!

But now it’s been a few years, a few million words of hard work…

Now I’m not so bad.

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