Permission To Suck

Written by Parker Gates
Posted December 18, 2015

Some of the best advice (both professional and personal) I’ve ever received comes from a friend at the d.school. I was yammering on one night to some guys about how I was “gonna” write something in the near future but that I was a little nervous and scared of judgement, and therefore hadn’t really gotten around to it. I’d been giving this same lip service to anyone who would listen for quite some time. Years.

My friend Scott laughed, shook his head, and said “man, you just gotta start cranking out some awful shit. Just write that first crappy story right now. And it’s gonna suck.”

The somewhat embarrassing thing here is that I give incredibly similar advice to our students and clients on a really regular basis but hadn’t yet absorbed it myself at a cellular level. When Scott offered up this guidance I felt, for the very first time, permission to write something without it being perfect. Unconsciously I was so hung up on being a “good” writer that I never got around to actually writing anything. Much less that shitty first draft that Anne Lamott famously talks about.

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So what’s my truth here? What’s the honesty of my experience that I’d like to share?

A couple of things: Getting my first draft done was fucking invigorating. And when I emailed it off to Adam and Scott for feedback the first time I was both terrified and elated. Somewhere between being naked in front of a girl for the first time and jumping off a really tall cliff. Giddy. Maybe even manic to some degree. It was truly a pioneer moment for me. Vulnerable, alone, and oddly proud. Not proud of the writing, proud that I’d actually written and was willing to show it to someone. To face this fear.

The story stood all on it’s own, it was not an extension of my self worth. It didn’t need self deprecating humor or an introduction. It was just text and could be judged as such. Who I was, the way I am, how I live….none of those things mattered.

Yet, I was comfortable. I believe that I was at ease because Scott let me know that it was supposed to be shitty. It’s supposed to suck. I’m not supposed to be an amazing writer if I’ve never written anything.

So here’s to more of those moments when we feel both terrified and elated. To feeling proud of our process even though we may not yet be proud of the work itself. Here’s to cranking out that first draft in honor of all the edits and iterations to follow. And here’s to reaching to friends we trust when we’re afraid of a much needed push.

Thanks for the permission to suck dude. Without it, I never would’ve gotten started.


  • David Baird Architect

    Rapid prototyping in words!

  • !!! Love this. I start most things with a big word somewhere on a blank page near the start. “DRAFT.” I often write it in caps like that. And then I start slinging. Glad to hear I am not alone in the need to focus on progress vs perfect. Stoked for you to have shipped. Love shipping. Onward.

  • Adam Miller

    Inspiring stuff, Parker. And well written too! Brings to mind a great quote…”Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”