Writer Worries: How Do I Know If My Writing Is Good?

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 (Never mind that many published authors would still be unpublished if they’d set that rule for themselves.)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!

 

 

 

25 thoughts on “Writer Worries: How Do I Know If My Writing Is Good?”

  1. Hi Bryn! I suffer from depression, social anxiety, and low self-esteem, and I have some tips that may help your readers worried that their writing’s not good enough. One little trick I use is to keep a list of nice things people have said about my writing in a file on my computer. When I am struggling with a scene, smarting from rejections, or otherwise feeling down about my writing, I go back to that file and review some of the comments. It really helps.
    Another trick I use is to distance myself from the writing altogether. I am very character-focused in my writing, and while I can get down on myself and my ability, I love my characters deeply. So I don’t ask “do I deserve to get published?” but “does Claire’s story deserve to be read?” It helps me push through the blocks and self-doubts to give her the story I think she deserves.
    I hope these suggestions help!

    1. Hi Kimberly. I love both of these pieces of advice! Really brilliant. I feel like I could use the file idea for my day job when I’m getting discouraged, too. 🙂 Thank you!

  2. I am new to writing. I consider myself a perfectionist. I have read about story, plot, creating scenes, character arcs, and outlining. I seem to have bogged myself down about outlines. In school, I considered outlines as anal. I never used one. My writing was good. I had professors share my work with the whole class.
    I am pleased I was reminded about not equating my self worth with my writing. There are some people who are not going to like me. Accept that and move forward.

    1. Hi Joe! I spent years trying to write before I finally broke down and started outlining. For me, outlines work, but they aren’t for everybody, of course! I think there is so much wisdom in your last two sentences: “There are some people who are not going to like me. Accept that and move forward.” Thank you for commenting!

  3. Love this and you are so spot on. When I first started writing, I had zero talent, but a drive, so I wrote my first short book. I wrote another that was pretty bad as well, but hired an editor who was fabulous in helping me see so many things I was completely unaware of. That book was self published, but even as I write the current project, I see how bad the published one was. So, it’s got to be about the drive to continue to do your best and learn from your mistakes. There is no timeline for that. I believe the current project I am working on is my best yet, but it comes with hard work and many years of practice. Thanks for your support. I thoroughly enjoy this and the last post you posted.

    1. Hi there! Thanks for commenting! Did you have zero talent, or zero experience? I bet it was the latter. 🙂 It took me a long time to understand why my early work was so bad, hahaha. I totally agree that there’s no timeline for learning from one’s mistakes, and it’s so satisfying to know that you’re getting better and better, isn’t it? Thanks for the kind words!

  4. I’ve never worried if my writing was any good. It was more of a compulsion. I always believed the more I wrote, the more feedback I received, the better I would write – and that has happened. However, I have always known that once I started writing, it would take over my life. That the other things I enjoyed, sewing, planning and attending events with friends, and gardening, would be shoved into an ‘as needed’ area of my life. And that has happened, too.

    No regrets, though.

  5. When I read On Writing by Stephen King, I remember he said something along the lines of, if you aren’t a naturally talented writer, you never will be. Basically that it can’t be learned. (Not his exact words, but that is the gist I took from it.) That was kind of depressing, coming from someone of his success, especially in a book that was otherwise inspiring. I hope he’s completely wrong, and that I can get a lot better!

    1. Hey sis 🙂 I disagree vehemently with a few things in that book, and I know from personal observation that that particular thing isn’t true! Being a good writer and a good teacher are two different skill sets…

  6. I write because I can. After all, it’s my home, my computer, my story. First, I write my story, put it away, write another, and another and over time I’ve studied or taken creative writing classes, all the time learning, studying books of my genre, subscribing to blogs on writing.
    After six months or a year, I open the document or print it, or download a PDF to iBooks and read the story. I’ve read all my life (60yrs), I think I’ll be able to tell if my story sucks. I have a worksheet of questions I’ve collected from writing classes I use to improve my story. I’m my worst critic.
    In the meantime I downloaded Grammarly and ProWriting Aid to help me clean up. Then I put it away again and one day, I’ll bring it out for revision. At that point I have to decide to query agents.
    I won’t self-publish because my husband gifts me a three week getaway for my birthday every year, which is the same cost as self-publishing. I’ll never give that up.
    If I think my story is good enough I’ll email friends and family or Beta readers, with a PDF. And if an agent regards my story worth a published investment then that’s the bonus.
    Getting published by a company is a joint venture and I recently read an article on Career Authors, “If you want to make money, get a job or keep your job because writing does not support even the expenses you put out promoting your book.” In other words, a publisher my pay to print, but you pay for promoting and you never regain in royalties what you spent in promoting. That’s why I write for my pleasure and who knows what the future may bring. Most of all, I’m stress free.

  7. This is very timely and much needed. Thank you Bryn.
    One thing that I do when I feel terrible is look at a list of positive feedback I’ve received for writing I’ve put on various sites over the last few years. When a piece of feedback touches me or makes me smile it, I save it. Then I go back and reread it when I feel like I suck at writing. It really helps.

    1. Hi Erin! I really do love this suggestion so much…and seriously, I’m going to start applying it to my day job, where I frequently get frustrated at my imperfections. It’s so smart!

      1. Glad I could help. I keep a list of “little wins” on my desk at work each day. Helps me feel like I’m doing better on days when I feel like crap. The visual reminder has been a huge help in the mental health area.

  8. Hi Bryn, this is a great article and has come at a great time for me. For the last couple of months I have been thinking along these lines about whether I should continue writing my book or not. I’m not worried too much about whether I’m a good writer or not because I have the story mostly worked out it my head and have already written down alot of ideas that come to mind. I do worry that if I was lucky enough to get published what would critics think and what if it turns out to be a flop. I would feel like a failure and then worry about embarrassing my family. Which is another thing which I am glad you have touched on in your article. Becoming rich and famous from getting published is not so important to me, it’s more about being able achieve my dream of completing a book and being fortunate enough to get published. I have always wanted to write since I was a kid and developed a love of reading. There have a few times where I have almost given up because I thought no one would even care whether I wrote a book or not. But now I’ve decided to keep going because if I don’t, I know that I would regret not doing it for the rest of my life. Not has the desire to write a book or even an interest in reading. I write because I can.

    1. Hi Katie! Well, I feel you. I’ve had a few books published and I’m still nervous about my book coming out this fall. It’s a somewhat different kind of story from what I’ve done before…and it’s the first original fiction release from the publishing division I started! I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of my boss and coworkers. But I know that it’s always a roll of the dice, and I’m not going to give up on myself no matter what. 🙂 I’m glad you’re not going to give up, either. We don’t want to have regrets! I hope we get to hear more about your writing journey. 🙂

  9. Truly a unique subject concerning writing. Good idea, Bryn.
    I kept a diary/journal for 40 years until I got married (then there were other matters). All that time I never thought about the quality of my scribbling. Heck, it was fun. Same thing with writing. Letting your imagination fly like with writing just can’t be matched.
    I’d tell the noobs to spend their energy writing instead of spending it fretting. Do an hour of writing then if they have a mind to do the self-flagellation thing, okay. Otherwise, do another hour of writing.
    After a while it adds up.
    There’s a song about “you are my favorite waste of time.” If writing is fun then it is never a waste of time. And the improvement one sees after doing it several times, show it was worthwhile too.

  10. Hello, Bryn. I have been writing as far back my preteens. I’m in my forties now. I was horribly bullied during my last years of school and because I had no one to turn to, writing was my outlet. I dove into it because of its cathartic benefits and although I have two published novels on the market, at times, I still find myself worrying about whether I’m a good enough writer. The worry isn’t chronic nor constant but comes in fleeting thought every now and again. Thank you for this post. It was the pep talk I had been looking for.

    I truly love the craft and would never dream of quitting just because I didn’t hit a certain milestone within a certain time frame.

  11. Hello, Bryn,
    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve had a passion for writing since my preteens. Because I was horribly bullied during my last six years of school and no one would listen when I needed to talk and release frustrations, I turned to writing as my only outlet. The cathartic benefits were endless and if I could not call out the people who were hurting me by talking about it, I could always write about it.

    I’m now in my forties and although I have two published books on the market, there are times when I do worry about whether I’m talented enough. The worry isn’t constant or chronic but more like a fleeting question which crosses my mind.

    I love the craft so much that I wouldn’t dream of quitting just because I didn’t hit a big milestone within a certain time frame. Again, thank you for addressing these issues.

    Sincerely,
    Cherie

  12. Bryn,

    This is probably one of the most uplifting things I’ve read about the subject. Your words are a great reminder to write for the love of writing and stop worrying (such a ‘creativity-quencher’). You are a great encouragement, thank you!

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