How do you know if your writing is any good?

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Mira
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How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by Mira » June 9th, 2012, 4:33 pm

It's sort of a terrible thing that it's hard to judge the quality of your own writing.

I've been sharing my writing in public lately, and it's scary. I write something, and I really can't tell if anyone else will like it or not. Until I get some feedback, and I'm totally on tenterhooks until I do, I have no idea if it's any good or not. So far, I've gotten good feedback, but every single time, I worry that I've put something awful out into the light of day.

Does anyone else experience this? How do you handle it? If anyone had any tips or thoughts I'd really appreciate it.

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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by polymath » June 9th, 2012, 7:30 pm

I read the competitions' works to see how they're doing. Never published, published once, published a few times, made a breakout then didn't stay in the vanguard, running in the pelaton for a while, at the top of the pyramid and a tall order to surmount that writer's success metric. I look to see what they're doing that works marvelous and what passes muster and what falls on deaf ears, doesn't work. Then compare my writing by those marks.

I finally put a handle on voice, so look out world, here I come. Let's say the voice I've been trying for is that of in medias res, In the middle of the action as it unfolds, and how to do it artfully. The other foundation stone is portraying a major problem wanting satisfaction, a craft basic, in other words. How long does it take a writer to introduce a problem wanting satisfaction, if ever, is what I gauge a story's craft by, and does it hold up until the bitter end.
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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by Beethovenfan » June 10th, 2012, 2:57 am

When I write sometimes I think,"Wow. That's pretty good!" Then I'm tempted to go right out and show it to someone. Then the doubts start setting in and I'll decide to edit it a bit first. Then I change my mind about showing it to anyone and think, "How could I have ever thought I could be a writer!"

But, I keep plugging away because that story just HAS to be told. Along the way I'll show it to a few trusted people, those who I know won't crucify me (or the work). Then I'll keep editing so that eventually I feel OK enough to have someone critique it. It's hard to put your work out there to purposely have someone rip it apart! But we do it so that it can be even stronger after.

It's all very, very stressful!
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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by HillaryJ » June 11th, 2012, 12:52 am

Mira wrote:It's sort of a terrible thing that it's hard to judge the quality of your own writing.

I've been sharing my writing in public lately, and it's scary. I write something, and I really can't tell if anyone else will like it or not. Until I get some feedback, and I'm totally on tenterhooks until I do, I have no idea if it's any good or not. So far, I've gotten good feedback, but every single time, I worry that I've put something awful out into the light of day.

Does anyone else experience this? How do you handle it? If anyone had any tips or thoughts I'd really appreciate it.

How do we know?! :?
It is difficult to judge, and it is scary, and I'm sorry to say that I don't know that you ever fully get past it.

I find that posting something to a public forum, even if it's a writer-specific forum leads to a much wider array of responses than are useful. Some people like to critique or are convincing in their responses, but their critiques might not actually be useful.

What I found most useful was working with critique groups or forums until I found some people who seemed to "get" my style. You can write the best story in the world, but if someone dislikes or never reads your genre, you likely aren't going to get good feedback from them. So, find people that you trust and try to set up a mutual beta-reading relationship with them. That, and keep writing. The more you produce and get feedback, the more you will improve. :)
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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by Hillsy » June 11th, 2012, 7:57 am

Mira wrote:So far, I've gotten good feedback,
OK, I'm going to go a bit zen here for a minute....to believe good feedback you must already believe you deserve it.

...aaaannnd we're back in the room. So what do I mean by that little circular bit of BS? Basically, at the point you can use feedback to measure the quality of your work, you largely don't need it. What a wonderful irony, eh? I've found that self-doubt (In terms of doubting your own opinion) effectively will taint everything to whatever degree. So if you have a lot of self doubt about yourself, searching for external validation will only return external data distorted through the prism of that same self doubt. It's inescapable.

Why? Well, there's a scientific word/theory/idea called paradigm shift. In really basic terms it means that an idea (like the world is flat) can establish fundamental and workable principles and everything that doesn't follow is considered an error. This continues until the errors become great enough that someone rejcts the flat-earth "paradaigm" and builds a new idea (Like the world is round) that builds its own set of principles. The important part is that this shift IS NOT POSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND when using the original principles.

So how does this apply? Well, if you start with the principle that your own opinion is flawed, and then look for external opinions, you're then struck with a problem: everyone's opinions must also be flawed (some more than others obviously). So how do you then value judge the level of flawedness (?), especially when you yourself already distrust your own ability to value judge? So you seek opinions on the opinions you've just asked for......and now you see the problem. You're stuck in a paradigm of doubt. From there the path leads to searching of objective, absolute, flawless fact where there basically arn't any.

Therefore, the only way to escape is to step outside of the original principles, say "My Opinion is as valid as anyone elses" and rebuild from there. The upshot should be that you stop worrying about whether the feedback says "You are good/bad/ok/weird etc", because you've already made that judgment yourself. You can then focus on the why's and the how's that feedback came about, and hopefully divine some fundamental facts about your writing that you can then apply during any edits.

As much as I understand the process, I haven't even got close. For the first time I'm in the process of critiquing at the moment and I'm doing my damnedest to not treat it as a qualitive excercise: How many people say "it's good"! Some days are better than others. Somedays I doubt everything, so negative feedback I discount as a misunderstood or mistaken, and positive feedback as just meaningless cheerleading. To be honest I don't think I'll ever succeed and be able to trust my own assessment of my writing, but I'm hoping I can fake it effectively...=0)

Sheesh, I ramble! - Anyway, to surmise, trying to self-evaluate is kinda pointless: you either can or you can't. Either way you're better off ignoring the "Is it working" feedback and concentrate on the "Why is/isn't it working" elements. Because regardless of the overall quality of the writing, those things will always matter.

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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by Sommer Leigh » June 11th, 2012, 10:57 am

I have no idea.

I do a lot of finger crossing and hoping for the best. Sometimes I think I'm amazing, sometimes I think I should fire myself.

Interestingly enough, I usually find it impossible to believe or accept positive feedback if it doesn't come padded with negative feedback. Like, the person didn't look hard enough if they didn't find anything wrong, so their positive feedback becomes meaningless.
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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by dios4vida » June 11th, 2012, 11:16 am

I'm pretty sure we all doubt ourselves more often than not. Sometimes I can't believe I wrote a section because it's so freakin' good! Other times I'm ashamed I wrote a section because how could I have even thought that was decent enough to leave in a first draft? I think that's part of being a writer.

I'm about to give my third novel to my critique partner - the first time another writer will have ever read an entire story of mine - and I'm terrified he's gonna wonder why I've bothered, that he'll think it's terrible, and that he suggests (or secretly hopes) that I'll never write another word as long as I live. I worry this because deep down, despite the praise I've received in the past, I'm still afraid I'm not a very good writer.

But here's my own little secret for working through that: I tell myself it doesn't matter if my writing is any good or not. I feel compelled to write. It's what I feel I'm supposed to do with this life. So I write stories. They may or may not be any good, but I'm doing what I feel I should be doing, and I enjoy it.

And with every word I write, genius or crap, I get better. I learn, I grow, I recognize things to do and not to do and I apply them. Every day I improve.

That, I think, is the essence of writing. We may not be all that good, but we all have to start somewhere. The writers who become authors are those who persevered through the crap to get to the gold.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by polymath » June 11th, 2012, 11:16 am

Hillsy,

You break down a cognitive dissonance that's tough to reconcile. Having doubts causes greater doubts when doubts' principal usefulness is from aesthetic hunches something's off the mark. Critiquing got me over the hurdle. Not just critiquing projects in progress, critiquing published writing. I was at first surprised when backs stiffened when I critiqued critically acclaimed narratives. As if they are sacred. Hah. Shakespeare, Homer, Flaubert, Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and popularly acclaimed narratives, Heinlien, Asimov, Verne, Orwell, Bradley, Bradbury, Cherryh, Meyer, Rowling, Franzen, etc. It's published; therefore, it's excelllent. Perfect even. I didn't understand, they accused. Nonsense. If I stand on their shoulders I ought to be at least as effective a writer, if not more so.

I developed an objective set of criteria based on defined qualities, qualities defined by poeticists, by readers, by writers, by teachers, by narratologists, semioticians, semanticists, linguists, grammarians, critics who came before me, which I critique for their writing principle shortcomings as well, developing my own parameters that enhance what's come before. New knowledge. I think for myself, critically, consciously, conscientiously.

Does it have an accessible plot, a voice? How much effort does it take a reader to understand meaning and intent and access the creative vision? The number one, bar none writing principle is facilitate reading and comprehension ease. A major part of that is engaging readers. Promise an interesting if not enthralling reading experience, an emotionally stimulating experience, and deliver. A simple approach to sussing out whether delivering promise is why what's working or not working matters.

My projects and my personal self also suffer a considerable amount of criticism. I won't be micromanaged, value judged, nor have my creative vision imposed upon. I will not surrender ownership of my creative vision. A significant amount of criticism I suffer is thinly veiled artistic jealousy and ownership poaching. Useful criticism first demonstrates an understanding of meaning and intent and creative vision.

There's usually a kernel of validity underlying the insufferable commentary, though oftentimes inaccessible from the harshness of the commentary and selfish personal agendas. I'm sure that it's jealousy and poaching, because the context under fire as not working, but not the why, turns up in the critic's writing soon thereafter, usually less effectively implemented. But I too borrow from others, reinventing though, to make it my own.

Comparing my writing to others' writing principles has made all the difference.
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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by wilderness » June 11th, 2012, 1:15 pm

Sommer Leigh wrote:
I do a lot of finger crossing and hoping for the best. Sometimes I think I'm amazing, sometimes I think I should fire myself.
Haha, As I get nearer to the end of my WIP, I feel the exact same way. However, I do think *good* is a subjective term. Good by what standard? Good enough to get picked up by a major publisher? Good enough to sell copies? Good enough to generate positive reviews, either from professionals or by the masses on goodreads? Good enough to have literary value? Good enough to have longevity? Or good enough to simply entertain those in your target audience?

Personally, I strive for the last. But you see, the doubts will always come, no matter where you are in the process, no matter if you go traditional or self-pub. And I think all writers strive to improve, and they do improve with practice. Even the most successful of writers will say reading their older, early stuff is painful.
Sommer Leigh wrote:
Interestingly enough, I usually find it impossible to believe or accept positive feedback if it doesn't come padded with negative feedback. Like, the person didn't look hard enough if they didn't find anything wrong, so their positive feedback becomes meaningless.
I agree, but that just makes good sense. It can help you to distinguish the cheerleaders from those with a more genuine eye. I was pleased that my critique group actually seemed to want to read more. However, I think in general they are very positive and they will offer a writer advice appropriate for where they are, a newbie or seasoned writer -- which makes it hard to tell where they think I am in the process, but that's okay. I do think beta readers are essential and if you are not sure whether you're getting true critiques, you may want to find a different group. Or you can always throw it out to the wolves (aka agents or kindle readers) and see what sticks!
Last edited by wilderness on June 11th, 2012, 1:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by wilderness » June 11th, 2012, 1:20 pm

polymath wrote:
My projects and my personal self also suffer a considerable amount of criticism. I won't be micromanaged, value judged, nor have my creative vision imposed upon. I will not surrender ownership of my creative vision. A significant amount of criticism I suffer is thinly veiled artistic jealousy and ownership poaching. Useful criticism first demonstrates an understanding of meaning and intent and creative vision.

There's usually a kernel of validity underlying the insufferable commentary, though oftentimes inaccessible from the harshness of the commentary and selfish personal agendas. I'm sure that it's jealousy and poaching, because the context under fire as not working, but not the why, turns up in the critic's writing soon thereafter, usually less effectively implemented. But I too borrow from others, reinventing though, to make it my own.
Polymath, I think you need a more positive critique group! This doesn't sound good at all. I do find that how criticism is delivered is very important to your self-esteem. The exact same advice delivered gently as opposed to harshly is much easier to swallow.

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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by Mark.W.Carson » June 11th, 2012, 2:31 pm

I'll chime in here.

I do believe you have to value your work. After all, you are the one who toils at the writing pad, laptop, keyboard, typewriter, etc. If you don't like it, I suggest you don't do it.

However, that being said, if you reach a point where someone, or perhaps several someones have commented on how good the story is, and engaging, and how various aspects turned out in a way they didn't expect, but were pleasantly surprised, or were otherwise moved, then you are a good writer. A writer captivates their audience. They make them want to turn pages, not to get to the end already, but because that last page is both an accomplishment and a sadness that the story is over. Manage that, and you are good.

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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by BevS » June 11th, 2012, 2:43 pm

I will chime in...I really value my writing group. We have talked about our writing and agreed on how we want to give and receive feedback. We are each different so our requests for feedback varies. I have found that when I have a fresh new piece, I am more concerned about it so I specify what feedback I want. After I have worked on it some, then I open up to any feedback suggestions. My writing has improved and I am less sensitive through this experience. I am now willing to show it to others who are not in my writing group and get feedback.

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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by polymath » June 11th, 2012, 3:22 pm

wilderness wrote: Polymath, I think you need a more positive critique group! This doesn't sound good at all. I do find that how criticism is delivered is very important to your self-esteem. The exact same advice delivered gently as opposed to harshly is much easier to swallow.
I learned a profound truth about audience reception and therefore appeal from my writing studies this past year. I wish for approval, acclaim, applause for my writing but suffer negativity. Why? Because audience accessibilty to meaning and intent falls shy of an expectation mark. The First Principle failure: ineffective facility with writing for reading and comprehension ease. Don't write to an audience, expectation or otherwise; write for audience ease but provide a meaningful, enthralling, and fully-realized reading experience.

I would not have learned that without negative criticism, and can now see through negativity to kernels of validity.
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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by Philabuster » June 11th, 2012, 4:28 pm

How do you know if your writing is any good? A very easy question to ask and an easier one to answer (at least for me). The answer: you don't.

Like many of the other people who have posted in this thread I find that most of the positive comments I receive I tend to brush off as "cheerleading". I don't get too many negative comments but that's mainly because only a handful of people really read my work, and that handful tends to be my closest friends who would never say anything bad about something they know I work so hard on.

I guess the only real way to determine would be to have a large group of people read your work unprovoked and then hear their reaction to it on some other medium (such as reviews on the internet) but of course to get to that point you would have had to attract at least a couple readers; and if you attract one reader than at very least one reader thinks your writing is good.

I try not to let it bother me. You can go crazy thinking about whether or not you'll ever be good enough. I just write my own stuff with my own voice and if one person down the line reads it an enjoys it then I succeeded as a writer.

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Re: How do you know if your writing is any good?

Post by Amy Moran » June 12th, 2012, 6:25 pm

Keep in mind that it's very subjective. Even bestsellers are thought to be amazing by one person and utter crap by someone else. Some of the best literature leaves me cold.

I think we all go back and forth with our own work. Sometimes I think I'm brilliant, sometimes I think I'm awful, and sometimes I think both at the same time (which is really confusing).

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