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Reality Check Is what I've written really any good?

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Rich.

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This is an important question. And I have the feeling it's not one we ask ourselves enough. I mean, I know we're all plagued by self-doubt, but that's not the same thing as actually stepping back and objectively taking a view: Is what I've written really any good?

We might try to give the question a bit of context. We should ground it in all that stuff about knowing our genre, our audience, and the current state of the market. And we should guard against bitterness at what we perceive to be crimes against literature that other authors get away with. The question isn't about them. It's about us: Is what I've written really any good?

If you've received a hundred rejections, it may be that luck has deserted you or that you haven't found the right agent or audience. Or it may be that what you've written isn't any good. Being able to discern the difference, it seems to me, is as important a skill for an author as any other.

I've only completed one novel, and with it I've been once through the traditional submissions process. I sent out twenty-four pitches, received three full-manuscript requests, and, in due course, was rejected by every agent I approached. One of them did take time to give me some feedback (just a little). They said, in so many words, that my characters were two-dimensional – great story, competent writing, slick plot, but flat characters. Ouch. Oh, how I raged. But then... but then I got a grip on myself and went hunting for the problems this agent had identified. And boy were they right. My characters were nothing but recycled tropes from a thousand other stories. They were painted in the most trivial way. They were plot pawns and nothing more. What I'd written was, I now saw with clarity, not good enough.

So, faced with such defeat, should we give up? No, of course not. But we should accept that maybe we're not good enough yet – that's it's not the publishing world's fault but ours. And we should strive to get better. And we should probably, honestly, for the sake of all that is good, do it by writing something new – not a sequel, not a rehash, but something genuinely new. Don't waste your life flogging the proverbial equine. Write something else. Write something new. Push yourself. Experiment. Accept that that one wasn't good enough, that it never will be. But this next one, this new one, oh gosh, this next one's going to set the world on fire.
 

KateESal

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I think it is important to recognise when one's work isn't good enough, and getting to that point is part of a journey I suspect all committed authors make. And for the writer, gaining that recognition is a learning journey in itself.

I made the classic beginner's mistake of sending out my first completed manuscript before it was ready, but I was too inexperienced to realise it. After a bunch of rejections, I paid for a professional appraisal of the MS and it was a huge eye-opener. Not because I had been too arrogant to spot my own missteps, but because I simply hadn't been aware of them. After a few more redrafts (including a follow-up appraisal from the first literary editor I'd approachedI, I paid for another appraisal with another editor. It was clear my novel had benefited massively from the work I'd already put in, but there were still areas of improvement. I redrafted again...and again.

I'm now musing over the book's readiness for submission, or whether to go through the appraisal process one more time first. SO WHY HAVEN'T I DUMPED THIS PROJECT AND STARTED ON A NEW ONE, THINKING THAT THE WRITING SIMPLY ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH?

1. I have been working on other projects, which have also benefitted from the analysis and subsequent rewrites of the first.

2. I've kept faith with the original project because I still firmly believe the idea is a good one and has got commercial potential, even if the writing isn't good enough YET.
Why am I convinced of that? Because even in its original, extremely unpolished form, children love the story, respond to it with enormous enthusiasm and invariably want more. And they are the readers I'm targeting.

Interestingly, I recently bought two new picture books for my kids, which had been self-published. With the benefit of the knowledge I've acquired from my own literary travails, I suspect those books would not find a traditional publisher in their current form. There were some engaging ideas, but the stories didn't really hang together, the plots needed work and the text would have benefitted greatly from a few redrafts. Did my kids notice any flaws in the stories, were they put off by the writing not being good enough (yet)? Not a bit of it.

In fact, with the rise of self-publishing, I reckon there's a lot of published writing that many of us who are busy honing our craft would consider as not good enough...but not good enough for whom? If the idea is strong enough, these books can and do find a readership, despite their flaws — and some have been colossally successful.

So when we say writing isn't good enough, do we just mean it's not considered good enough for publication via the traditional route...which presumably means the publishing industry doesn't think it's a commercially viable project? And does that commercial/not commercial judgement always correlate with the quality of the writing?

I think not.

Publishers have to put a lot of money into launching a new title, and literary agents have to put in a lot of time (which may not be paid, if the project isn't deemed viable), so I guess they have to rule out as many reasons as possible for the project not being commercially successful. Including writing they judge is not good enough. Or, at least, writing whose flaws can't be countered by other aspects of the project (a real zinger of an idea, celebrity author etc.)

I think the whole question of whether writing is "good enough" is more nuanced than making a judgement based purely on craft.

But personally, I'd rather have a well-crafted book published, so I'll keep working on it.
 

CageSage

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whether writing is "good enough" is more nuanced than making a judgement based purely on craft.
With this I agree wholeheartedly - the craft should be good, but readers read for the story, and it's the story that counts. Give them a good story, and use the craft skills to make it 'well told' - then you've got 'em.

I just made the short-list on a sub to a publisher, and I've been working at both sides of the equation (good story, well told - premise, craft) for some time. The submission is likely to need revision and editing, but someone liked the story. A reader liked the story.
That'll do - I can always tidy up the craft issues, but the idea, and how it comes together to make a 'mind-movie' is number one to the reader, so it's number one to me.
 

Geoff

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Purely my opinion, but I think we all write because we believe we are good enough to eventually get published / recognised. If we thought we weren't up to it, what would be the point of writing? Yes there is always writing for fun, etc, but I don't thing that applies to anyone who sends out submissions. I also don't think it is down purely to skill, or the ability to tell a story that people want to read. Much of it is luck, right submission, right agent, right time. I had an agent offer to represent me about two years ago, I mentioned it here. But after asking me to change a lot of what I had written, he told me, a year and a half later, that it was too difficult for him to find a publisher who would take the risk on a newbie. A waste of time, not sure. Frustrating, yes, but I will persist, like we all do …. one, day, yes, one day.
 

Tim James

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Is what I write good enough? I have my doubts.
I like what I have written and I think the stories are interesting and the quality of the writing, while not sparkling, is perhaps passable.
But then a long while back I thought that about some of my earlier work which I now regard as embarrassingly awful.
That shows how far my writing has improved over the years and may also indicate how far it still has to go.
As yet I have not sent out any submissions to either agents or publishers, whether I will in the near future remains to be seen. For now I'm happy to write new stuff and post some of it here for people to comment on. Hopefully I can improve my writing craft so that when that killer story idea occurs to me, all the stars will align and I will produce something worth pushing out to an agent or two.
But I'm in no hurry just yet.
 

Steve C

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I have the advantage of knowing my stuff is not good enough so have no illusions. I am learning though for which much credit goes to this site and it's members and hope to soon produce something that is good enough. If I were in your shoes @Rich. after such positive feedback I would work on the characters rather than ditch the whole thing.
 

Rich.

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I'm glad to see this thread has generated debate. It's worth restating the point that the OP wasn't about dealing with rejection. It was about the fact that...
... it is important to recognise when one's work isn't good enough, and getting to that point is part of a journey I suspect all committed authors make. And for the writer, gaining that recognition is a learning journey in itself.
And that...
... when we say writing isn't good enough, do we just mean it's not considered good enough for publication via the traditional route ... ?
No, we don't mean that. We mean, is it good enough for the goals we've set ourselves?
I think the whole question of whether writing is "good enough" is more nuanced than making a judgement based purely on craft.
I think so too. I think that...
... readers read for the story, and it's the story that counts.
What would you give Bob Dylan, out of ten, as a singer, as a songwriter? It wouldn't be the same score, would it?

As for craft, if you're a carpenter and you know your saw skills are a bit ropey, you can practice. But if you don't know what a saw is, you've got a problem (which is one reason why writers' communities like this one are so valuable).

--

On a more personal note...
If I were in your shoes @Rich. after such positive feedback I would work on the characters rather than ditch the whole thing.
And there would be a strong argument for you to do so. But, for what it's worth, I'll share my reasons for not doing that. They're only my reasons. They're not universal truths.

One day I would like to be traditionally published because I think (perhaps wrongly) that traditional publishing still offers more opportunities than self-publishing. I would also like to have more than one novel published. So, if and when I get my break, there will be pressure on me to produce the next novel within a time frame that currently doesn't apply (I can take as long as I like to write the first one). At that crucial point, I'd rather have ten novels in the drawer than an empty drawer and a single novel in the publisher's hands.

I do think my failed novel (failed by my own standards) contains a great premise and a solid story. But I also trust myself that I can come up with more – many more – of both. I think being a storyteller and being a writer are not the same things – the first is about composition, the second is closer to performance (that's not an original thought – I read it somewhere).

So, as I come up with stories and then write them down, I'll keep asking myself: Is what I've written really any good? And I'll keep writing new stuff until I think the answer is yes. But that's only my strategy. Yours may be different. Yours may be better. The important thing is that we keep asking ourselves the question.

This is where I find the Flash Club to be a fantastic resource. I feel I'm stretched in every direction. (And it's most enjoyable: like being at the best buffet ever, and being able to try out all sort of interesting things you would never try ordinarily).
A thousand times yes! :)
 

georginaK

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This is an important question. And I have the feeling it's not one we ask ourselves enough. I mean, I know we're all plagued by self-doubt, but that's not the same thing as actually stepping back and objectively taking a view: Is what I've written really any good?

We might try to give the question a bit of context. We should ground it in all that stuff about knowing our genre, our audience, and the current state of the market. And we should guard against bitterness at what we perceive to be crimes against literature that other authors get away with. The question isn't about them. It's about us: Is what I've written really any good?

If you've received a hundred rejections, it may be that luck has deserted you or that you haven't found the right agent or audience. Or it may be that what you've written isn't any good. Being able to discern the difference, it seems to me, is as important a skill for an author as any other.

I've only completed one novel, and with it I've been once through the traditional submissions process. I sent out twenty-four pitches, received three full-manuscript requests, and, in due course, was rejected by every agent I approached. One of them did take time to give me some feedback (just a little). They said, in so many words, that my characters were two-dimensional – great story, competent writing, slick plot, but flat characters. Ouch. Oh, how I raged. But then... but then I got a grip on myself and went hunting for the problems this agent had identified. And boy were they right. My characters were nothing but recycled tropes from a thousand other stories. They were painted in the most trivial way. They were plot pawns and nothing more. What I'd written was, I now saw with clarity, not good enough.

So, faced with such defeat, should we give up? No, of course not. But we should accept that maybe we're not good enough yet – that's it's not the publishing world's fault but ours. And we should strive to get better. And we should probably, honestly, for the sake of all that is good, do it by writing something new – not a sequel, not a rehash, but something genuinely new. Don't waste your life flogging the proverbial equine. Write something else. Write something new. Push yourself. Experiment. Accept that that one wasn't good enough, that it never will be. But this next one, this new one, oh gosh, this next one's going to set the world on fire.
I hear you—it’s so hard to let a book go that you’ve worked on for so long, especially when it’s your first (I too have written only one—so far).
 

Lex Black

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I maintain, as I always have, that my writing is terrible.

But others whom I trust and respect insist this is not the case.

So I keep trying.
 

RK Capps

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If ain't good enough, so be it. I enjoy writing

This is so true.

I think The Creative Penn (youtube) said (I paraphrase, I may have condensed the message, I saw it a few years ago) every writer is different, every writer has their own goal. Decide what your goal is. We all have our own aspirations and should respect every writer for who they are and what they want.

This personal decision determines whether your writing is good enough. The question should be is my story working? (like Cage mentions) Will it entertain my target audience? And writers should accept the time it takes to create the story we like.

I was contemplating my own journey yesterday. Like @KateESal, my personal goal is to traditionally publish. I'm drawn toward the support, given my position, my lack of movement. I self published once and it's too much work for me, I haven't the time to devote to self publishing between physio and speech and kids. But I'm glad for the experience.

I also fell into the enthusiasm trap and submitted my first novel. Of course rejections flooded in. However, I abandoned it, started on another. This I think of my practice novel, that's how I cope with the question, 'is my writing good enough?' While writing this, I wrote another, and this is where my story is unusual. Within a week of sending it out Curtis Brown rejected it, but another Australian-reputable agent signed it. They didn't work with me to improve it, they started shopping it around straight away. Unfortunately, the cruel reality of cold hard cash entered the ring. Publishers liked it, but felt it a too niche market for them to make money. My agent recommended I self publish (and that's what I did).

Our readers ultimately decide if our writing is good enough, don't they? For those that self publish, it's the number of people outside our circle of family/friends that pay cold hard cash (I've read the circle of friends number is 300). For those who wish to traditionally publish, it's getting through agent-gatekeepers to find those willing to pay cold hard cash.
 
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