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Is Your Writing Good Enough?

Do you ever wonder if your writing is good enough? Like, every day? Do you sometimes wonder whether it’s not the publishing industry but YOU that is the problem? That maybe you don’t have it in you to succeed as a writer? That maybe you should have gone to law school after all? You could, after all be making $100+k ($200+ as a doctor!), taking vacations to Hawaii, and spending your weekends doing fun things like hiking and sailing instead of trying to squeeze blood from a computer.

Hawaii, writing, creative writing, publishing, fiction

Photo courtesy of **Mary** via Creative Commons

I have the fortune to work at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto with many talented (mostly published) authors. That’s both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to rub shoulders with successful writers multiple times a week. On the other hand, the talent and success of those writers serves to remind me that I have not yet published a full-length book of my own (My short memoir, Runway, however, is for sale on Amazon for just $2.99 and you should drop everything and buy it right now. Then read it, write a review on Amazon, and meet me back here in two hours…)

You’re back! Great. Let’s continue…

So, how do I cope? I remind myself that “There is no such thing as a good or bad writer, just good and bad writing.” Everyone writes crappy sentences. Successful authors just have the experience to recognize they’re crappy and cut them. And when they don’t, their editors do. And successful authors spend a LOT of time writing. A LOT. They don’t piss away the hours on Facebook and Pinterest. They write. And write. And write some more. That’s how they get good. Someone once told me if you take enough photos, you’re going to get some great ones. The same goes for writing. If you write enough material, you can throw out all the crap and still have some wonderful stories.

writing, creative writing, craft of writing, publishing

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Raymond via Creative Commons

But back to every writer’s fear that he isn’t good enough. Walter Mosley once said that when he read the masters, he felt he could never write like them. But when he read The Color Purple, he thought, “I can do that.” And he did. We can’t compare ourselves to the greats. All we can do is write the best we can and work every day to improve upon that. And just think: it may be your story that inspires some aspiring young writer to one day think , “I can do that” and go out and do it.

What about you? Do you think your writing is “good enough” or do you suffer from self-doubt like every other writer in the world (including the published ones)?

26 comments to Is Your Writing Good Enough?

  • Your book is awesome. I just finished it and I'll be posting a review in the next couple of days.

    • Meghan Ward

      Thanks so much, Brian! Honestly, I feel like it's a butchered version of my book. So much detail and description was removed to get the word count down to 10k words. But I'm happy it's out there nevertheless!

      • Why did you want it to be only 10K? I kept thinking I wanted to read more.

        In other news, you may want to stop by my blog tomorrow. I'm starting a week long promotion on Henry Wood Detective Agency and attempting to make the New York Times list. I'm planning on hourly updates with lots of data and analysis. You may find it interesting.

        • My book was published by Shebooks, and all their books are about 10,000 words. I do still hope to publish the longer version though! Tomorrow I’ll be out all day for Mother’s Day. Can I stop by Monday, or will that be too late?

          • Monday would be awesome, too. I'm actually planning on making about 20 hourly updates to the post over a 5-day period.

            I think it is time that we teach you how to do the publishing. I'm happy to run you through it. It takes far less time than you're imagining.

  • aditi raychoudhury

    i enjoy your written pieces – and i am waiting for the full-length memoir – sometimes, its just a matter of some agent/publisher putting their faith in you – what i have found helpful (as an illustrator) – outside of practice practice practice (which, I don't do enough of) – is that there is a lot of published work – that I don't care for at all (i.e. I think my work is better than theirs), and then there are others that i think are just so much better than mine – and it totally shakes my confidence. But, those are the works I look at for learning, inspiration and improving my own work – i try to study their techniques and try to "copy" it, but in a very personal way – so that it is still me – so, just because you don't have a full-length novel/memoir published yet – doesn't mean you are a crappy writer at all – b/c there are a lot of crappy books/illustrations out there. its a matter of finding someone who believes in you.

    • Meghan Ward

      Aditi – I never meant to suggest I thought I was a crappy writer! I just know that ALL writers go through periods of self-doubt when they wonder whether their writing is really up to snuff. Maybe I didn't make that clear. As for the longer version of my book, it's all about the marketing and whether a memoir about fashion that's set in the 80s/90s with an 18-year-old protagonist can sell. That's really what it comes down to. Which is why authors often just have to move on and write the next book, and the next, until one happens to sell.

      • aditi raychoudhury

        i think EVERYONE goes through self doubt, not simply writers or artists – successful or not – i watched this Tom Ford interview in which, he talks about why he left fashion at the height of his success and made A Single man (which is about his self-doubt/and major mid-life crisis caught on screen)! its mothers, daughters, sons, dads, friends…. coders (if u watch silicon Valley – there is some of that captured in there) – scientists… every body – i think, as you say, one just needs to move on to something else without judging their last work for too long… some people are naturally better at moving on quickly – with others (like me) – its a skill one has to constantly practice and get better at. Keeping fingers crossed for the memoir someday and good luck with your new endeavors!

  • Sierra Godfrey

    In addition to writing a lot, I think you must read a lot. You know good writing –and you learn from it — when you see it. Take the time to really think about why it's good. And not just "it's lyrical" or "She has a certain way with words." Be specific. Are the metaphors smart and timely? Are the words common or does the author do something magical? That kind of thing.

    I do think every writer goes through the self-doubt, even after they're published. I don't think it ever goes away. I think it eases a bit when you please people and when people read your work and genuinely like it (and say so).

    Certainly the longer I spend being a writer, the more tools I have at my disposal and the greater my wisdom is toward self-editing. But by what measure are we ever going to be great writers? The NYT bestseller list? A hundred fawning fan letters? An editor at a big publishing house drooling over your work? A Pulitzer prize (probably). Or your dad patting you on the back and saying, "I read this and I'm amazed. You are really good"?

    • Meghan Ward

      Well, if success is having your dad read your book and say it's really good, then I've achieved success 🙂 But you're right, Sierra. Success is so subjective. And "good" is subjective. Really. Some crappy books do incredibly well and other great books not so well – all because if the market. Which is why I don't think we can spend too much time on one book. In the end, we need to move on to the next one and the next one. Until one hits the right combination of good writing and a timely subject matter, etc. What's so tough is that it takes years to write just one book. Argh!

    • Meghan Ward

      By the way, I whole heartedly agree that reading is a must. One MFA professor told me that he's had students who have never written before sit down and write great stories because they read so much. They had absorbed all the key elements of storytelling by reading great books. Not that writers shouldn't practice writing every day as well!

  • Hi Meghan! I remember reading the book by Stephen King about his experience writing. He said there are only a few truly great writers. There are only a few really terrible writers. The rest can expect to get to the 'pretty good' stage by practice, practice,practice. I hope to be pretty good someday!

    • Meghan Ward

      That's so true, Ceil. I think "On Writing" is the title of his book (I probably have it around here somewhere.) We all need to remember those very true words!

  • This post resonates. I feel like lately, I think every day that I should have become something different so I don't have to deal with all this rejection all the time! But, call me a cynic, I do think my writing isn't entirely to blame, because I believe that some of my writing is in fact very good, and still not–eek–marketable in this very tricky, very very tricky market. I was talking with a friend the other day about digging in your heels and standing by your work no matter how "sellable" it is, and how maybe, if you really believe in that work, and really really work hard at it, one day it will become sellable and/or the right person will love it for being different. I don't know. I guess the other idea is to start creating work that fits the market. I don't always feel savvy enough for that, but I'm learning. And I know that now I have digressed greatly. : ) Congratulations on your book, which is on my to-read list.

    • Meghan Ward

      Thanks, Susie, The risk is writing for the market is that by the time it's done, the market may have changed. Or your book may be one of thousands that are similar. And if you're not passionate about the topic, that will show through (IMHO). That said, spending years on a book that will not sell is no fun either. I don't know the answers. It's a frustrating time to be a writer.

      • I agree. It is a frustrating time, and I've been feeling a kinship with you through your journey as I go through my own. Thanks for the clarification on the e-book; I will figure it out and look forward to reading it.

  • Any way to read your book sans-Kindle?

    • Meghan Ward

      You don't need a Kindle, just a computer or any tablet or smart phone and you just download the free Kindle app. I have it on my iPad. And thanks for buying/reading my book! Let me know what you think.

  • dailywellbeing

    I think that part of being a good writer is understanding the need for a good editor. Sometimes you get so invested in your story it's hard to see outside of it and understand that the audience might not need/want all the details you'd like to share (an example is my acne story that we edited for hours in class). In writing my ebook, I have access to a couple of really great editors, which actually makes me feel freer in my writing process. I can just spit out everything I want to say, go over it to polish it a bit, and then send it to another set of eyes to catch what I've missed. I don't always get a second set of eyes on a blog post, but I'm always happy when I do.

  • I just found your blog and I'm in love. My heart started racing when I read the title "Is Your Writing Good Enough?" Like you were really going to hand over a judgement about my writing at the end.

    I just started blogging and pushing myself to write all the time, with the same mentality that if I do it enough, eventaully something will be good enough. My biggest flaw is that I over-edit. I'll look over something before I'm even halfway finished and trash it. Once I gave myself over to the inevidablitly that some of my writing was going to suck, I was OK with it. Now I realize that I can go back and edit it later, maybe even merge it with a different piece, but at least it is there on paper now, I can move on and write better things.

    Thanks so much for the article, I think I'm quickly becoming a devoted follower!

  • Nancy

    Never thought I will say that helped me improve upon my writing but have to do this! I really spend a LOT of time writing – it cleaned up my mind and gave little income

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