Monday, November 18, 2013

How Do You Know If You're Good?

Okay, so many of you know I'm querying. And if you didn't, you do now! Of course, I'm getting rejected. It's part of the business. But as the rejections have been coming in, I'm always left with one question: How do you know if you're a good writer?

Is it because people tell you you are? Is it because you have an agent? A lot of sales? A deal?

I'm not sure, because I've read books that win big, major awards and I walk away from them because I don't like them. I've read books that are brilliant that no one else seems to be talking about. I've read books that sold for a lot of money and found them boring.

So how do you know if you're a good writer? What's the measurement?

I hate stuff like this, because I am a concrete person. I want a plan, a method, to know. Like, I can count my calories and know how much I've eaten. I can see the weight coming off the scale (BTW, I'm down 10 pounds now! Just started a couple of weeks ago). I know how to measure the success.

But with publishing, I don't.

I think that might be the most frustrating thing of all. I don't want to publish something bad, something poorly written or imagined, something poorly executed. But I don't know how to tell what's "good" and what's "bad."

So how do you know if you're a good writer?


L.L. Muir said...

I don't think you can know. I'd rather think that none of us are, that we'll only be good to some people. Just like the big names that some people don't care for.
Does that help?
PS. Sorry I missed you on Saturday!

Blair B. Burke said...

I like concrete, measurable things as well, but I've come to believe that writing isn't one of them. There isn't a quantifiable 'good'. So, instead, I focus on enjoying my own writing and satisfying myself. Then just hope some others might be satisfied as well.

Blair B. Burke said...

I like concrete, measurable things as well, but I've come to believe that writing isn't one of them. There isn't a quantifiable 'good'. So, instead, I focus on enjoying my own writing and satisfying myself. Then just hope some others might be satisfied as well.

mshatch said...

"good" is extremely subjective. I always liked the advice to write what you want to read.

Jemi Fraser said...

Such a difficult question! I don't know if I'll ever feel 'good' or 'good enough' - it's a very individual thing for sure!

Carrie Butler said...

I think you're a good writer if:

1. Your stories are engaging, memorable, and capable of evoking emotion.

2. You learn from critique--and not just the fluffy kind.

3. You keep working on a story after most (sane) people would've given up. ;)

Kimberly said...

Congrats on being down 10 lbs - that's not easy to do.

I don't know how you know. But I like the idea of writing what you love. Chances are others will like it too.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Congrats on losing 10 pounds. I'm working on that too.

I so wish there was a more concrete measurement of what makes a writer good too. Sometimes it feels like we think a writer is good because everyone says so and their book is everywhere. But I don't think that's right. I think we have to have an internal sense that we're good when we see ourselves growing as writers whether agents and publishers agree. Because it's all so dang subjective.

Hang in there. I love your books and know you're a good writer.

Emma Adams said...

It's a tricky question, and I'm not sure there's an answer! I think there's a difference between whether you're a good writer and whether your work appeals to a particular reader's taste (which is why it's tricky to predict whether readers will like a book, even if it's been published by a big-name publisher!). But of course it's a question of self-confidence. I've had two books picked up by small presses, but the idea of submitting my current book (which my CP's and beta readers assure me is great) to agents is terrifying! Sometimes it's hard to see the merit in your own work, especially when you're getting rejections. The best thing to do is write a book you love, and be open-minded when it comes to criticism. :)

Janet Johnson said...

While I definitely think there is a minimum threshold for "good," I agree that it's an amazingly subjective word. I liked Carrie's 3 points. Because just because someone likes it does not mean it's good. And just because someone doesn't like it, does not mean it's bad. I guess there comes a point that you go with your gut. Difficult stuff!

And huge congrats on the weight loss! Very cool. :)

L.T. Elliot said...

Way to go on the 10 lbs! And way to go on querying! *hugs*

As for the other question, I have no idea. It's something I struggle with too. But here's the thing: people read you. People said beautiful things about your work. (You have a whole line of blurbs over there-->) And yes, sometimes people lie. But not all people. You're not a fluke, E. You're talented and hard working. You'll rise up to the top and own this. Just keep at it and you'll see. You're better than you think you are.

Melissa West said...

I actually think there is a difference between being a good writer and producing a good story. I've read lots of books that I felt were well written that I couldn't get into.

As for you, it's easy. Go look at your five star reviews. They tell it all. Clearly, you're a good writer. You just have to find that agent now that sees it.

Best of luck with querying! I found the 2nd time much easier--and faster! Thank, God! :)

i'm erin. said...

You know you're good when Erin Summerill reads your stuff and she says, holy frick Elana, this is ridiculously good...and then she stalks you until you meet with her on Mondays to write...

Just saying.

Leigh Ann said...

You're good. You are. Only a fraction of querying success has anything to do with whether you're a good writer.

I know you know this, because I know it too. Somehow, amidst all the glowing reviews and fans, there's still a small part of us that manages to invade and destroy everything else like a cancer. That part says we're not good writers, we never were, we're lucky or a fluke or we hit a hot spot in the market.

That voice is wrong. You are a good writer. Hang in there.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I don't know if it's a matter of good so much as appealing to the right person at the right time -- and the "right" person is defined as someone who can get your book to print, agent or editor.

That puts an awful amount of luck into the formula that is difficult to accept as a hard-working author!

Yvonne Osborne said...

You can tell when you reread something and you get goose bumps. When you're reading your own story and you can't stop. When it gives you shivers or whatever you want to call it, you can tell, Elana. You can tell that you're good.

Angela Brown said...

Three cheers for the weight loss :-)

Now, to your question. I honestly don't know that I'm a good writer. I know I have a passion, a story that wants to be shared and I work on writing it to the best of my ability. I do re-reads of things I've written and surprise myself when I'm thrilled at a scene, only to remember I am the one that wrote it. Or I'm tickled by some one liner tossed out by the villain that just makes me want to choke them or admire them...again remembering I wrote it.

Whether that means I'm good or not, I'm not sure. But it means I'm getting to do something I love.

If it wasn't clear before, it should be clear by now that things with publishing, and the way to measure success and the not-so-formula-way to get there, is muddled by shades of gray (pun intended)

Melissa Sarno said...

Man, I wish I knew how to tell. But I don't think it should be measured by sales or agent or editor interest or another's opinion. If you're honest with yourself about your work, if your heart is in the pages, if you've done all you can to put your personal best writing out there, maybe that's the way to know.

Kimberley Montpetit said...

Books are completely subjective - that's what makes this business SO HARD. But, I've learned that it's not so much about being good as about connecting in some emotional way with someone, the agent first, then an editor, and then readers. When we write from our heart our work WILL eventually connect. Hang in there! And congrats on the 10 lbs!

Martha Ramirez said...

This is so true and part of why it is frustrating for me as well. I'm very goal-oriented but the publishing industry rests on subjective opinions which make it hard. Like you said about certain award winning books and not resonating with them and vice versa.How can someone really tell if they are a good writer if it's all based on opinions. Just like movies. One person might not care for a blockbuster movie and another person will. IMHO what makes a good writer is resonating with at least one person profoundly. Well, at least that's what I consider success in my eyes.

Congrats on losing 10 lbs! That's an awesome accomplishment.

BTW I don't believe you are getting rejections. You are the QUEEN of QUERIES! I think the best is yet to come for you and fate is just weeding the wrong agents/pubs from your path :-)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

In writing I have to believe it's good enough first and then believe the readers will too. I will never publish something I know I'd never want to read. Glad you're moving forward Elana.

Susanne Drazic said...

Elana, you are a good writer. I think Carrie Butler shared some wonderful points in her comment.

CONGRATS on the weightloss! That is AWESOME!

Best wishes with the querying process!

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I asked this same question myself a while ago and wrote about it on my blog. After reading your post, I went and looked up what I wrote and found this paragraph that may or may not be helpful to you. I still find it helpful to me, and I needed to hear it again, so thanks for the reminder about this issue!

"There is no magical touchstone on top of which we set our work and get a yes or a no on whether it’s good or not. There is no ultimate weighing scale. It is what it is, and the only opinion that I feel truly matters is your own and anyone helping you to get your work out there. If you’re a writer, that would be your beta readers, your agent, publisher, editor, etc. For me, readers are absolutely 100% essential, and while I respect their opinions and care about the general feedback on my work, I don’t think they should ever act as a measuring stick. As a reader myself, I’ve read three books in the past week and a half, and while I liked one more than the others, I would never expect my opinions of any of the works to determine the value to the author."

Whatever your path, Elana, I hope you can find an inner peace with your writing. :)

See Elana's recent blog posts

Recent Posts Widget