5 Unique Ways to Know You’re a Good Writer
Writers always want to know if we’re any good. But we have a dilemma: We know the publishing industry has its biases and is profit-oriented. Yet, we also assume that good writing naturally demands attention/publication. We think, too, that success translates into paychecks and big followings. So it’s difficult to know whether the system is the issue or we are. On top of that, we know there’s not necessarily any one single point where anybody can label us as a “good” writer. So we do not know how much potential we have or how much we have left to grow.
If you’re feeling a little rudderless against all this, ask if the following points apply to you. If they do, take courage, because you’re probably doing just fine.
1. You have multiple drafts of everything, everywhere.
Good writers recognize that their first drafts usually suck. But they are willing to work at those drafts over and over again to get it right. They don’t give up on the concepts just because they run into snags. So don’t worry if final.doc, revisedfinal.doc, seriouslyfinal.doc has become your life. As long as you know where the most recent draft is, you’re good.
Related to this, editing is usually fun for good writers. They know it can be tedious, but they take enjoyment in tweaking to get it right. They’re also serious enough to understand that changes for pacing, plot hole corrections, grammar/syntax, and similar elements all matter. You’re a good writer if eliminating errors on the page excites you and leaves you feeling like King Kong.
2. Others share or comment on your work.
Good writing will spur readers to some feeling or action. So if people are backlinking, leaving notes, or emailing you about their thoughts, you’ve done your job. Do not worry so much about the number of people doing this, because visibility will increase over time. Focus instead on the genuine nature of the message. It’s that honest response that indicates you really connected with the reader. In the same way, if people are making recommendations for you or making requests for additional work, that means they have faith that you can produce more excellent copy.
Additionally, if you’re a newbie sitting in writing groups, it’s a good sign when people call out areas to work on with real suggestions and solutions. This suggests that, even though they can see the flaws that still might be present in your drafts, the writing is totally workable. They can see what you’re trying to accomplish and want to give you a more legitimate path toward that goal. As a result, they give feedback in a larger context. They don’t just point out how they liked a single point or Sentence X, Y, or Z to be polite.
3. You can read your old work with surprise.
Most writers treat their works like their children–they’re all precious. But when you’ve written a draft months, years, or even decades ago and come back to it, you’re likely not going to remember everything. If you can take one of your manuscripts and feel a little distanced from yourself, as though the draft came from someone or somewhere else, if you can read like the reader would and finish wondering how that came out of you, you’re probably on the right track. Time and distance together offer a much more objective lens, and sometimes we can’t see how good our creations are until we’ve set them aside for a while.
4. You’re rejected with compliments.
Rejections don’t automatically mean writing is a train wreck. Many times, it means that the publisher/editor isn’t looking for that particular topic, has already spent their budget, is too busy to take on new writers/clients, doesn’t take freelance pieces, or that your work just isn’t a fit for that particular editor’s personal, highly subjective preferences. Doing your homework limits these situations. But that only goes so far. I’ve lost count of the websites that don’t even list the name of their acquisitions editors.
So rejections are going to happen even if you’re a query master/mistress. But over time, you should start getting some rejections that go beyond form letters. If the writing truly is of high quality, the editor will turn you down but encourage you to submit the piece elsewhere or flat out just say they think you’re an excellent writer. This shows they think the work has shown skill, even if they can’t publish it themselves.
5. Your sense of voice is balanced with an understanding of your audience/genre.
Great authors have a unique sound on the page. It creeps up off the paper and infests our ears in an altogether enjoyable way. But good writers also can be somewhat flexible based on who is going to read the work.
As an analogy, think about how you might talk to a kid versus a business CEO. Your core personality and way of thinking still shines through either way. But the approach is different. You’ll adapt elements like word choice and sentence length so the listener/reader can understand you better. Similarly, most of us have multiple roles (e.g., mother, cook, friend), and none of those singularly define who we are. In the same way, if you’re a good writer, you should be able to adjust without losing a sense that you’re speaking as “you”. Each adjustment shows a different side of you as a writer that has value, and none of those sides are any more or less authentic than another.