This is part of a my series on common writer concerns. The other week, I wrote about “What If Someone Steals My Ideas?” That’s a worry that’s usually specific to new writers.
Today, I’m writing about perhaps one of the most basic worries, shared both by new writers and by more experienced writers who have hit a string of rejections. How do you know if your writing is good enough?
When people worry about this, they’re often also wondering things like, “How do I know if I have any talent?” “What if I actually just suck at writing?”
Why is this a worry? Two reasons: people don’t want to make fools of themselves, and they don’t want to waste their time. So let’s talk about those reasons first.
What if I’m making a fool of myself?
When we’re writing, it’s easy to feel that we’re being constantly judged. We imagine that editors not only decline our work. We suspect the friends we talked to about writing a novel three years ago are wondering why we don’t have a novel published.
In fact, most people aren’t spending much time thinking about whether we’re a good writer. They’re too busy thinking about their own lives. The whole idea of “making a fool of yourself” doesn’t hold up when no one’s really watching you, anyway.
But beyond that, we have to stop equating the quality of our writing with our worth as a person.
This is a difficult and painful topic, because many creative people were drawn to creating precisely because they had poor self-worth. Their talent was the one thing that earned them praise at home or at school. It was their way of proving that, despite their other shortcomings — their unattractiveness, their awkwardness, their learning disability, and so on — they had a right to be in the world.
I’ve blogged about this before, but you belong and you’re an amazing human being no matter what. You don’t have any lack to make up for. You could write terrible stories and poems your whole life and still be a fantastic, worthwhile, important person. The two things aren’t even connected.
What if I’m wasting my time?
Here’s something a lot of new writers do: they try to figure out a stop loss for their writing ambition. “If I don’t have a novel published with a Big Five publisher in five years’ time, I’m quitting.” (Never mind that many published authors would still be unpublished if they’d set that rule for themselves.)
They embrace things like NaNoWriMo (which I love, by the way), because they figure they’ll complete a novel without wasting too much time. (Of course, virtually no one has a finished, decent draft of a novel at the close of NaNoWriMo.)
Worrying about the time put into writing versus results is unfortunately just the wrong approach. It takes most of us a very long time to learn how to write, and external markers of success are not guaranteed.
Publishing is a tough game. If you have a mindset that the time will only be worth it if you get a book deal, or if you can support yourself with your self-publishing in just a year or two, then you might, in fact, be wasting your time.
If you love writing, though, then you’re never wasting your time doing it, any more than you’d be wasting your time doing any of the things you love.
But you still might be wondering…
How Do I Know If I Have Any Talent?
There are probably a lot of endeavors in which raw talent is a huge factor. Writing just isn’t one of them.
I’ve seen naturally gifted writers never manage to get much of anything done. And I’ve seen writers with what I considered so-so talent go on to hit the bestseller lists.
Most of us develop our ability through hard work and going beyond our comfort zone. We read lots of books and paying attention to what other writers do. We learn about story structure and experiment with different kinds of outlining and planning techniques. We seek out good beta readers and listen to what they have to say (and for a specific project, beta readers are a big way we can tell what’s working and what isn’t in a story.)
When we’re caught up in the process of creating, we have less time to worry.
Most writers worry more when they’re not actually writing. The more we embrace and enjoy the process, the less time we’re concerning ourselves with some kind of objective standard of creativity that, frankly, doesn’t even exist.
Have you worried about whether your writing was any good? How did you deal with it? Help fellow writers out by sharing your thoughts in the comments! Thanks for reading, and have a great week!