Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?

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Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?

Post by sjp » July 14th, 2010, 3:30 pm

Following up on Nathan's blog: Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?


One: The Grand Canyon
People go to the Grand Canyon, take out their cameras and think that they can capture its grandeur...or even a powerful two dimensional facsimile of said grandeur. Which of course they cannot. And the reason that thousands of tourists do this every year (beyond the pedestrian desire to record that "I was there") is because most people think they can easily/effortlessly translate a 'vision' into a 'powerful visual representation' of said vision. Which of course is why most people aren't artists and why most artists aren't great artists. A simple (or not so simple) disconnect in imagination and ability.
When we look at a human hand (for example), anyone who attempts to reproduce it visually via a drawing/painting thinks (at first) that they can turn that image--with nothing intervening in terms of an intellectual/artistic/spiritual effort--into an adequate representation of said image. And why not? It's right there in front of us. We can see the world--we can see a blank page--we can move a pencil over said page. What's the problem?
The problem is that adaquately/passionately/powerfully reproducing form/beauty/structure requires massive amounts of INVISIBLE work...because an artistic translation isn't a simple 'recording' of the world. Because seeing something powerful--being passionately moved by something powerful--isn't the same thing as having the ability to recreate that vision in a capable, powerful way.
Being moved heart and soul by a powerful novel/movie/symphony/painting etc. is easy...so easy in fact, that it feels like a birthright. And in many ways it is a birthright. The problem is we (or a great many of us) believe that this simple, human birthright and the 'easy quality' of these feelings can be reproduced with a similar effortlessness...and it simply cannot.

Given the above, it should be fairly obvious that reproducing GREAT form/beauty/structure (like a Beethoven/DiVinci/Einstein etc.) is therefore (for the most part) impossible for anyone without the fundamental ability of a Beethoven/DiVinci/Einstein. (Fully and adequately defining that ability--that talent/intelligence/wisdom--is the subject of another post).

Second, people are unable/unwilling to assess their own abilities--or lack thereof: Google, open and read this excellent and highly recommended Journal article:
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
1999, Vol. 77, No. 6. ] 121-1134
Copyright 1999 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments
Justin Kruger and David Dunning

Three: Please are unwilling to make a total commitment to their Art.
Simply (or not so simply), because most people's commitment is less than complete (for any number of good/less than good/bad reasons), because a total comitment is fundamental to a full realization of one's artistic abilities, so do most people fail to see the discrepancy between their 'vision' (as what they see/feel about a given artistic project) and how that project has been ultimately realized.
Without a total commitment (or something closely akin to that totality), people will see the grandeur of the Grand Canyon whenever they look at their 5 x 7 snapshot, failing to see the discrepancy between their 'vision' and the final 'visual representation' (as 'Art') of said vision.

Four: We don't appreciate the fundamental work required to 'put the world together'; to create a working facsimile of the Universe (or our local part of it) within our intellect. Simply (or not so simply), infants see the world in an entirely different way than adults do, and most adults are unaware of 1. the differences and 2. the work required to create these differences. Most adults think the world--as we know it--comes complete. This is not the case.
And because we fail to see the work that went into creating our own 'sensible world', we (generally speaking) fail to see the work involved in recursively recreating this self-same process as an 'Artistic representation' of 'our world'.
Last edited by sjp on July 29th, 2010, 9:07 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?

Post by polymath » July 14th, 2010, 7:23 pm

A prose writer wears the hundreds of hats of a big budget Hollywood film cast and crew. Narrative came first though. There are narrative methods movies can't reproduce without potentially intrusive alienation effect narrator voiceover interior monologues; character spoken dramatic monologues, or spoken aloud self-reflexive soliloquies. Introspection writing mode in particular, which is one of narrative arts' greatest strengths.

A filtering tool for a writer to determine writing merit examines balance and flow of narrator reporting, reported viewpoint character sensation and introspection, and reported conversation. Causal action, reaction, and dialogue.

Good narrative reality is nonetheless a reported proxy reality that seems so real it can be lived in by proxy, and is often preferable to the everyday routine realities of primary reality setting existence. Take me away from here and I'll buy and fly.

DIANE'S SECRET writing modes: Description, Introspection, Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization, Exposition, Conversation, Retrospection, Explanation, And Transition. SPICE for structural flavor, Setting, Plot, Idea, Character, and Event. Rhetoric and attitude, tone, mood, tenor, and register for voice aesthetics. To name a few of the tens of thousands of writing skills a writer consciously or nonconsciously chooses to apply.
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Re: Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?

Post by jfw » July 17th, 2010, 11:52 am

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I had gotten quite a bit of positive feedback from my advanced composition professor in college but my life went in a different direction and I never considered writing anything for 30 years. I had had this idea for a novel kicking around in my noodle for the past few years but always thought I just didn't have what it takes to write one. Then last year I saw this Youtube video of a previously little known, middle-aged Englishwoman with a voice that would make angels weep it was so beautiful. I realized I may have been hiding my light under a bushel, as Susan Boyle had, and I ought to take a stab at that novel idea. Nanowrimo got me to the first 50K and I finished the first draft this past April. Then I went hunting around for writing websites.
Some of the excerpts written by others that I read on these sites convinced me that my writing was pretty wonderful. I wasn't plagued by the questions many of the other amateurs had about creating a scenes, developing characters, etc. So I was feeling pretty good till I found these forums. The samples of writing I've found here were just so much better than what I had done that I started feeling like my WIP was worthless. It's clear to me then that the stuff you are currently reading has a strong influence over how good you perceive your own stuff to be. That I avoided reading any other fiction while I was writing the novel ensured that my perception of it would be skewed.
I also think that one needs to feel positive about one's writing in order to accomplish anything at all. The egotism keeps you going. There is an important aspect to writing that that college professor often spoke about: writing with authority. No reader wants to follow a writer that isn't sure of the words he's putting down. A novel especially is a journey in which the author is guiding the reader through an unknown landscape. Who would follow a guide who isn't sure of himself?
So it's hard to be realistic about your own writing, impossible perhaps because of the lack of an absolute standard in this craft. I've decided to take both my good and my bad impressions with a grain of salt, to function happily in a cloud of unknowing, and to at least aim for perfect awareness but with the understanding that it's unachievable.

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Re: Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?

Post by sjp » July 19th, 2010, 4:29 pm

jfw wrote:...it's hard to be realistic about your own writing, impossible perhaps because of the lack of an absolute standard in this craft.
Yes, there is a 'lack of an absolute standard' in writing, but this is true and fundamental to all Art. Art as an expression of beauty is not amenable to the intellectual standards of Science. Simply (or not so simply), Art, Love, Beauty do not function in a fundamentally intellect way (although of course, there is an intellectual component to them, given an intellectual component to the human individual).

The forms/structures of a Novel (or any Art for that matter) cannot be defined in the same way that we define a good theorem (or Theory). We do not define things with our heart. We love them. And Love is not--and never will be--Reason. (Although love may in fact be 'reasonable'; i.e. have a 'reasonable' component to it).

Which of course is part of the reason that it's '...So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good'.

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Re: Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?

Post by JustineDell » July 19th, 2010, 6:03 pm

I think a lot of people over think it. You've got the basics: the grammar, sentence structure, the plot, the arc, the character development, etc, etc (of course I'm talking novels here and not poems or anything) If you know how to do each of these things individually (understand the concepts, learn to draw the reader in, keep them interested, etc, etc) and then put them together--you can write.

Whether or not what you write is "good" is subjective. I've hated some of the writing in best sellers, yet I've loved some non-published stories online. Subjective is the key. Not everyone likes everything. A lot of writers are good, but still doesn't mean everyone will like it. 'Course, that's just me little ol' unpublished 2 cents. ;-)



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Re: Why is it So Hard to Tell if Our Writing is Good?

Post by Erica75 » July 20th, 2010, 2:57 pm

I agree with Justine's unpublished 2 cents. Most (maybe all) published authors were rejected by agents and editors. So, when did they become "good"?
we blog - erica and christy - http://lynneawest.blogspot.com/

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