Your Style Sucks… But You Can Change That!

This column will change your life: Mediocrity sucks, but who cares?

Your Style Sucks… But You Can Change That!

Academic philosophers are often legitimately accused of ignoring the questions that matter in the real world, so I was pleased to see how Gloria Origgi, a specialist in the philosophy of mind, writing on Edge.

org in answer to its annual challenge to thinkers, phrases the question that motivates her research: “Why does life suck so much?” Her answer, regrettably, goes by the awkward label “kakonomics”, from the Greek “kako-“, meaning harsh or incorrect (sucky, basically), and the suffix “-nomics”, meaning “give me a lucrative book deal”. But whatever you call it, it's an illuminating way to reconsider human behaviour, as it suggests – against conventional wisdom – that we often tacitly want the organisations we work for, along with our friends and even partners, to be mediocre and not deliver what they promise.

Few of us, whether cynics or optimists, think of human nature this way.

According to game theory, the economic approach Origgi is adapting, people are out for themselves: they'll do whatever they can to maximise personal gain while seizing every opportunity to slack off at others' expense.

Critics object that we're not so nasty: in experiments, people stubbornly refuse to act as selfishly as game theory predicts. But both sides agree we want other people to give their best.

Suppose you're a manager: whether or not you'd rather be selfishly lazy, you'd surely want your underlings to do a stellar job of briefing you for the big meeting or fetching coffee. wise, you'd prefer it if friends or lovers brought their best to your relationship. Wouldn't you?

Kakonomics replies: maybe not.

The reason is guilt: other people not delivering what they'd promised frees us from having to deliver what we'd promised. Mediocre colleagues facilitate our own mediocrity; a friend or partner's half-arsedness towards us makes us feel better about ours.

We learn to trust each other's untrustworthiness – to feel confident that promises, whether to strain every sinew for the company or always be there for a friend, won't be insisted upon. Thus emerges a web of silent agreements to do a poor job.

Origgi, in a paper co-authored with Diego Gambetta, argues that in Italy the situation has reached an extreme – a “cocktail of confusion, sloppiness and broken promises”. (She quotes an American friend renovating a house there: “Italian builders never deliver when they promise, but the good thing is they do not expect you to pay them when you promise, either.

“) The result is comfortable for both parties, in the short term. But over the long term, and on a macro-level, it causes organisations to sink into underachievement, for friendships and romances to wither and die.

This won't seem revolutionary to therapists, who know that almost every behaviour carries a psychological payoff, even if we're desperate to eradicate it.

We break diets, or procrastinate, partly for the feeling of autonomy we derive from resisting rules, even if we wrote the rules ourselves. The feeling of guiltless laziness when we kakonomically agree to underperform is similar.

Giving your all, whether to a friendship or work project, carries the risk of unpleasant emotions: no wonder it's tempting to avoid that.

Seeing life through the lens of such payoffs clarifies much: seemingly irrational behaviour reveals itself as rational, even if ultimately self-defeating – and so instead of pointlessly demanding that it stop, we can devise ways to address it. I mean, if we can be bothered. Shall we all just agree to head down the pub instead?

• A collection of Oliver Burkeman's columns, Help!: How To Become Slightly Happier And Get A Bit More Done, is published by Canongate at £12.99. To order a copy for £10.39 (including free UK mainland p&p), go to bookshop, or call 0330 333 6846.


• This article was amended on 22 February 2011 to credit the original source of Gloria Origgi's work.

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Three Excuses You Give (When You Know Your Art Sucks)

Your Style Sucks… But You Can Change That!
Jun 19, 2013 · 8 min read

“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. “
— Ira Glass

Your art sucks.

Whatever your reflexive response to that statement is, as long as it isn’t “Yeah, I know”, you are an artist. (Actually, you still are even if you thought that. You’re just a beaten-down artist.) More to the point: you are an artist, so your art by definition sucks.

You don’t suck — you’re cool — it’s just your art.

You want to fix that, of course, but it’s hard. Fixing it will take some time. After all, you have to identify WHY your art sucks, and then do something to fix the suck.

The good news is that you already know why your art sucks. It’s in the excuses you give when someone tells you your art sucks. If you hear yourself giving one of these excuses listed below? You’ve just identified why your art sucks, and better yet, you’ll figure out how you can fix it.

… and even if you don’t hear your voice in these excuses, try taking some of the advice anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?

“It’s My Style!”

When you are starting out, the only thing you have is style. That’s because you don’t have an actual style yet. You have a pile of mistakes stored on paper as a visual record of your attempts. As you get better, you will correct some mistakes, and other mistakes will remain.

Those mistakes that remain after years of craft, even after you’ve tried to improve? They’re your style.

Over time, your art will improve. You’ll still have a distinct style, though. You’ll have fixed just enough of your mistakes to let the few that remain breathe proper air.

Your art wears your mistakes the same way you wear accessories . The fewer you have on, the better the ones that remain look on you.

(You know what fixing all your mistakes looks ? Imagine being a forensic artist or the house style for Marvel / DC. Your work is interchangeable with any other artist’s work in the house. Aspire to it, by all means. But remember: if your work is interchangeable and indistinguishable, so are you.)

The Fix: Collect and compare your work over time

Same Artist, 5 years apart. And I wasn’t exactly a “shitty artist” back in 2010, either…

The real reason claiming something is “your style” is such a dirty, filthy lie? It implies you’ve ALWAYS drawn this way. Which isn’t true — no matter how good you think your art is, you didn’t start out drawing that.

Do yourself a favor and get your hands on one of these “Year in Art” memes over on DeviantArt and fill it out with your art . Go back and fill them out for previous years if you can, too! You’ll see that over time, your art DOES change and improve. You’ll see that “your style” is a fluid, living thing. It can and does change, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

If, by some fluke, you see no progress or differences in your work… well, you must be just starting out then! You’re going to be doing this meme for a while. After all, if you plan on improving your artwork, you have to see where you’ve been before, right?

“You just hate [Insert Art Medium Here]!”

  • It is possible to draw good comic books.
  • It is possible to draw good cartoons.
  • It is possible to draw good manga.
  • It is possible to draw good ponies.
  • It is possible to draw good furry art.

I know this because at some point in my career I’ve drawn all of these things, and I think I did a pretty decent job of it.

Most people who draw those? They draw complete garbage.

(Yes, Sturgeon’s Law touches everything. Since these are among the most popular art to make, they’re also the bulk of the garbage.)

You and your art are not defined by your medium of choice or the content of your artwork. Even if your content is in fact rotten? If it’s the sort of thing that gets passed around on imageboards full of people trying to troll each other? The actual technical execution of that artwork exists independent of the content.

People who tell you to stop drawing a certain piece of content or limiting yourself to a certain medium? They’re not passing a value judgement on your content.

They’re telling you that you have a fixation towards drawing that content. You need to draw something else.

The Fix: Break free of your tunnel vision

One of my early attempts at shading with halftones. I work in color 90% of the time. Having to work within the constraints of black and white made for a novel challenge.

Know why tunnel vision is bad? In focusing on what you , you ignore all the other things that may be important about drawing . Things shading, proportion, anatomy, color theory, volume, texture.

The kind of stuff you might not learn because you’re stuck in your stylized rut. You’re nervous that if you deviate from that rut, your artwork might suck again.

The truth? Your art didn’t begin to suck again because you decided to try something new. You just found a blind spot in your style where you’ve been sucking all along.

In other words, your art sucks because you failed to take on this blind spot sooner than you did.

If you suck at landscapes? Draw some. Dependent on Blambot fonts? Try some hand-lettering. Used to drawing lineart in Adobe Illustrator? Try painting in Sketchbook Pro. Give DeviantArt Muro a try, even! Take a stab at imitating another artist’s style.

Hate still life? Hate drawing people? Do it anyway. Better yet, do it in public. Somewhere where you have to get the general gestures and shapes down fast.

I mean before the people you’re drawing move your line of vision or change poses too much for you to continue.

Just trying out new stuff is more important than the actual work you make, at least until you get the hang of it. It’s about the control you have over your medium and your work that matters.

A size comparison chart of several of the primary characters in Last Res0rt.

Rob Liefield has talent. Justin Bieber has talent. Honey Boo Boo has talent. Everyone who appears on America’s Got Talent has talent. Yes, even the ones that get all (three? four?) X’s within the first thirty seconds.They may suck, but it still takes an immense level of bravery to get up there and make a fool themselves on stage.

Talent is the willingness to do something you suck at until you become skilled enough to stop sucking.

Talent is a good thing to have. Necessary, even! Without this ‘talent’ to persist even in the face of suck, you never get past the suck. If you don’t get past the suck, you will continue to suck. You’ll never get to the “actually being good at something” part.

Yes, I have talent. I had to have talent to get past the point in my work where I knew I was awful and sought out improvement. I’m sure in another year I’ll consider my current work awful. I will be glad to have been awful, because I know I’m still getting better.

The good news is that everyone is already born with talent . Most people will let a toddler get away with just about anything that won’t kill the kid. Thus, the kid has permission to suck. Over time we’ve had this ‘talent’ beaten us.

We began to care about things conformity and shame. We decided the only way to win friends and influence people was to chip away at ourselves. To sand off the rough edges.

To give up the necessary talent to transition from having talent to having skill.

Your art doesn’t suck because you don’t have talent. You have talent, because you’re putting artwork out there. The real problem is that a willingness to suck doesn’t make you stop sucking.

A willingness to learn does.

Learning is painful. It requires you to accept the idea that you’re making mistakes and doing things wrong. You have to change things about what you’re doing to stop making those mistakes. Sometimes the things you change make things worse instead of better. The point is, you’re trying things. You’re adjusting your approach with the end goal of improvement.

The Fix: You make better art by making lots of art

To be more specific: you make lots of art, and you use each new piece as a learning experience and a stepping stone. It helps if you start a project a webcomic or a deck of cards that requires you to make lots of art. It gives you an incentive to ignore the individual works and look at the project as a whole.

Over time you’ll try different things. You’ll learn where certain tricks make things faster, or makes certain parts look better. Some of these will be little things. Things learning to draw faces using curves instead of straight lines.

After all, heads are round objects, as opposed to flat cubes. Others will be big things. Things learning how to use layers in a modern piece of digital art software Photoshop. Other things will be fixes to these new tricks you’ve learned.

Things labelling your Photoshop layers so you can tell which layer you’re on in the first place.

But over time, depending on how fast you produce art? How much you’re willing to experiment along the way? Your art will improve, and suck less.

It’s the only way you’ll stop making excuses.

N E X T ➤ How to Get Your Life Back (for only Twenty-Five Cents)!

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How a Simple Thought Got Me Back on My Feet After a Cruel Blow of Bad Luck

Your Style Sucks… But You Can Change That!

It never rains; it pours.

Never a truer word said.

It seems bad luck comes in spurts, usually in a row of three – in my experience.

Is this the way life works, or do we simply attract more bad luck because we slip into a negative spiral?

Is the law of attraction at play? Is it all about maintaining a positive mindset and creating an alternative perception of “luck”?

To a degree, perhaps.

But no one is immune to bad things happening in life. No one can avoid loss and upset.

But sometimes it does feel life is conspiring against us.

Sometimes my life sucks, and I'm sure yours does sometimes, too.

Just recently I experienced a huge loss. A financial one.

An aspect of my business I had built up over 4 years was ripped away from under my feet in one cruel blow.

Worst of all, the circumstances were my control. There was nothing I could do about it. Gone. Just that.

A week of anxiety ensued, mainly at night when all was quiet and the wolves came out to feast on my thoughts.

I wasn't so much worried for myself. I've always been a bit of a ducker and a diver. I have always found a way to get back on my feet and stay proficiently above the proverbial waterline.

But I have a young child: Nursery isn't cheap, nor is rent, food, and the rest that comes with being Dad.

It isn't so much the ‘now' that you think about at 2AM; it's the future…

…What will I do if [insert any given negative scenario here].

I won't get into the specifics of what happened, but it was around 40% of my income and enough to cause a lot of worry.

One saving grace was that I'd been here before. Not in this specific situation, but I knew that I had to endure a process.

First: the shock and upset.

Second: the fear and anxiety of what the future might bring

Third: the blame and anger.

Fourth:  the questioning of life; why me? I'm a good person!

Fifth: the junction…

No matter who you are, you will go through these stages and experience similar thoughts and emotions, even if you've been there and done it all before.

No matter how many people say; “Don't worry, it'll be alright; things will get better, I promise”, you'll still go through the motions.

Meditation helps. Exercise helps. Loved ones and friends help. But by and large, fighting off the wolves is a process that you have to accept and endure.

And after a week or two, you'll arrive at “the junction”.

If you're going through hell; keep going.

the quote I started with, never a truer word has been spoken.

“The junction” is the penultimate point in the process: you've wept, been anxious, angry, bitter, and felt very sorry for yourself.

But now it's crunch time.

You have a choice: You either rise a phoenix from the ashes, or drag yourself further down into a hole of gloom and negativity.

In that hole is where more bad luck resides (some would say this is where the law of attraction comes into play).

It is where more anxiety and more fear are ready to thrive on your weakness. It is where anger and depression can take hold.

It is a spiral that can lead to dark thoughts, addiction and other negative escapism.

Your back is against the ropes. You can either go down on the canvas or come out fighting.

When I reached that junction, I went for a run in the fields.

It was there, looking at the evening sun beaming off the long grass, that I saw this situation in a different light.

I thought about my life in the sense of physical existence. I thought about it in the context of every other sentient being.

The reality is that Mother Nature couldn't care less about finances: salary, savings, pensions, university fees, car running costs, etc.

Things live and they die. How they choose to spend the time they live is not important to her.

It doesn't matter to her if I sit down in a hole and wait to die, or get up a make a damn good go at getting myself back into the positive position I was in previously.

She's going to take my life at some point anyway.

She has been lying in wait for my day of reckoning since the moment I was born.

This is the nature of all things.

Whether I sat in that long grass or kept running, she'd still make the sun rise and set, the rains fall and the winds blow.

So it is up to me. I can rise up again or sit down and wallow in self-pity.

What's done is done. It's pointless to rue the past.

I have no choice. I must keep going. I have to let go of the past and open myself up to new opportunity.

And as a starting point I decided to focus on the many positives in my life.

I am running in the fields. I am able. I am thinking freely. I am free. I am loved. I can love too.


20 Warning Signs That Your Content Sucks

Your Style Sucks… But You Can Change That!

Admit it … you’ve wondered.

You’re writing and writing and writing, and a few people say they it, but you’re just not getting results. Traffic is coming in at a trickle, links are hard to come by, and your comments section is about as lively as a nightclub at breakfast.

And you can’t help wondering …

Do you just need to be patient, waiting for your traffic to snowball?

Or could it be possible that, really, your content sucks (thereby breaking the first rule of Copyblogger), and everyone is just being nice so as not to hurt your delicate artistic feelings?

The hard truth: there’s no way to know for sure

For one, we’re talking about quality, which is subjective by definition. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and all that jazz.

It’s also a matter of scale. This isn’t American Idol, where you have 30 million people voting, transforming a singer into a superstar through the power of public consensus.

If you’re a beginning blogger, you might have fewer than 100 regular readers, and 20 of them are your friends and family. And let’s face it; your mother is going to everything you do, no matter how bad it is. That’s her job.

So who are you supposed to listen to?

Well … nobody, and everybody, all at the same time. The maddening thing about creating anything is no one can tell you how to do it, and yet everyone’s opinion can teach you something.

There aren’t any rules, no, but there are warnings. If your content sucks, you’ll see dozens, maybe hundreds of telltale signs, hinting that something is wrong.

I’ve collected 20 of the most common here. Take a look through them, and see if any describe you:

1. You think your content is “good enough”

If you had to rate your content on a scale of 1 to 10, what would you give it? A 6? A 7? That’s what most bloggers say.

But here’s the problem: you can’t really grade content on a scale. You’re either blowing people’s minds or putting them to sleep, and there’s nothing in between.

Put another way, content graded as a 6 or 7 gets the same reaction as a 1. It’s a waste of time to publish it.

2. Your posts read journal entries

Not too long ago, most people used their blog as a sort of online journal, where people took a few minutes every day to write down their thoughts. But blogs have evolved beyond that. Now they’re more online magazines, with highly polished content.

If your posts look more “Dear Diary” than a magazine you would see at the newsstand, you’ve probably got a problem.

3. You’re not getting many (or any) comments

Comments are one of the best ways to measure reader engagement. If you have a few hundred subscribers, and yet none of them are commenting, then it might be because they find your content unworthy of their attention.

Translation: it sucks.

4. Your visitors stay less than two minutes, on average

Install Google Analytics, and look at the average amount of time visitors are staying on your website.

For most traffic sources, anything less than two minutes is bad. If you are at less than one minute, then your content is repelling people. You can do better.

5. You spend less than an hour on each post

Yes, it’s possible to write a great blog post in 15 minutes, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that it doesn’t happen very often. Most of the popular bloggers I know spend anywhere from 2 to 10 hours on each blog post they write. If you’re not, you should be.

6. You’ve never received fan mail

If your content is good, people will go their way to tell you how good it is. We’re not just talking about nice little tweets; we’re talking about five page e-mails where they tell you their life story and thank God for your existence.

No, you won’t get much of it when you’re a beginner, but you will get some. If you haven’t, then your content isn’t as good as it should be.

7. You’ve never received hate mail

The opposite is also true. If your content is good, you’ll always have a small but vocal group of people who think you’re wrong, rude, or inconsiderate. They are the righteous majority for moral authority, and nothing you can say will appease them.

So don’t try. Their mockery and screams of outrage are merely signs that you’re headed in the right direction.

8. You focus on SEO before you get your first link

Whenever a newbie starts asking me about SEO before they’ve even written a post, I always know they’re doomed. There is no better way to write horrible, crappy content than to deliberately stuff it with keywords in an attempt to boost your search engine rankings, when what you really need is for people to link to you in the first place.

If this is you, immediately throw salt over your shoulder, turn around three times, and spit. Then forget everything you think you know about SEO. Study smart SEO instead. (But pay attention to the next item.)

9. You believe SEO is the secret to building a popular blog

First, let me set the record straight. I am a big fan of SEO. I’m just not a fan of the pedestal many beginners put it on.

SEO can’t, by itself, make a popular blog. First, you need remarkable content, and then you optimize it for search engines. Skip the remarkable part, and all the optimization in the world won’t help you.

10. You’re saving your best ideas for later

Are you planning to do an e-book or course, and you’re holding back all of your best ideas, waiting for your blog to get popular before you publish them and make gobs of money?

If so, stop. To riff on Warren Buffett, waiting until your blog is popular to publish your best ideas is waiting until you’re old to have sex. Get your good stuff published today.

11. Your blog is about … well … everything

One of the quickest ways to frustrate your readers is to write about everything that’s on your mind.

Here’s why: people don’t come to your blog to find out what you think. They come to your blog for solutions to their problems. The moment you stop talking about them is the moment they stop reading.

12. You don’t know the benefit

Pop quiz: one year from now, how will your readers’ lives be better? What specific, measurable results will you have helped them obtain?

We are not talking about “Having a greater sense of fulfillment and prosperity.” We’re talking about “They’ve lost 20 pounds” or “They’ve brought in five high-quality new clients.”

If you can’t put your content in these terms, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

13. You think you deserve more traffic than you’re getting

Do you feel annoyed that no one appreciates the value of the knowledge that you’re giving away for free?

I know I used to, and it took several years of struggling to realize no one is entitled to attention.

You have to earn it, day in and day out. No exceptions.

14. You have a science, engineering, or technology background

I know, it sounds horribly prejudiced. But here’s the deal: scientists, engineers, and other types of technologists are trained to be objective, passive, and detached — all three of which will destroy you as a blogger.

No, you’re not doomed if you have a background in one of these disciplines. But it is a handicap, and you need to be aware of it.

15. You’ve never read a book on copywriting

Writing a blog post without studying copywriting is hunting for buried treasure without a map. You might be able to do it, but you’ll have to get astoundingly lucky.

If you haven’t studied copywriting, you should. right now.

16. You have no idea what keeps your readers up at night

Great writing is about intimacy, and nothing is more intimate than knowing what keeps your readers up at night.

Find out what makes them afraid, find out what makes them excited, find out what’s going through their minds at 2 a.m. Then use it in your blog posts. You’ll be communicating with them on such a deep, emotional level that it will be impossible for them to ignore you.

17. You write less than 1,000 words per day

Of all the warning signs, this is probably the biggest. If you’re not writing at least 1,000 words per day, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for you to write anything but mediocre content.

Try writing at least 1000 words every day for 30 days, and see what an impact it has on your writing. You’ll be astounded.

18. You read less than 10 hours per week

Besides writing a lot, you also need to read a lot. It exposes you to different writing styles to learn from; it gives you new stories and metaphors; it keeps you abreast of what’s going on in your field.

In my opinion, 10 hours a week is a bare minimum. If you really want to be good, think more in the range of 20-40 hours a week.

19. You’ve never talked to a reader on the phone or in person

A one-hour conversation with one of your most ardent readers will teach you more about how to communicate with your audience than anything else you can do. If you’re not doing it at least once every month or two, there’s a good chance you’re falling touch.

20. You’ve been blogging for less than six months

Okay, we’re at the end, so I’ll go ahead and admit it: not everything is your fault. If you’ve been blogging for less than six months, there’s almost nothing you can do; your content is going to suck to some degree.

Keep your chin up, expect to be ignored, and just keep going. You’ll get good soon.

The bottom line

I’d love to tell you that producing great content is easy. I’d love to tell you that there are shortcuts. I’d love to tell you you can do it with your brain on auto pilot.

But I won’t, because we’re being honest here, right?

Producing great content is work. No, it’s not building a pyramid or putting a man on the moon or curing cancer, but it does take time, energy, and dedication.

If you’re sitting here, right now, worrying about whether your content sucks or not, that’s actually a good sign. If you’re worrying about it at 2 in the morning, that’s even better.

Achieving greatness in blogging is the same as anything else. You have to work your butt off.

If you’re willing to do that, then there will always be a place for you on the web. You’ll always be in demand. You’ll always be able to stand out.

It’s tough, yes, but it’s worth it.

So, what are you waiting for?

Hurry up and get started.

About the Jon Morrow is Associate Editor of Copyblogger. Get more from him on .