Q: How do I know I’m a good writer?
A: Have you read the internet lately?
I read a lot. More than the average person, though perhaps less than my most brilliant friends.
But all that time with my nose buried in
a book (hmm…that metaphor doesn’t work as well in a digital world) my iPad has taught me one thing: there are all kinds of writers out there. And forget about self-published writers—some of the work being put out by major publishing houses would have barely gotten a 73 at my high school.
We fetishize published writers. But just because some company gives a writer an advance and slaps their work between hard covers before refusing to spend a dime to publicize it…Sorry, where was I? Right: Just because a writer scores a publishing contract doesn’t mean the writing is any good.
Read. Read widely. You’ll see what I mean.
Some writers encrust great ideas in so much turgid prose that you need to spend 20 minutes chipping it away before you can begin to see the dim outlines of the argument. Yet those writers get published. Others write clear, breezy, amusing prose that’s utterly devoid of ideas. They get published too.
I’m not naming names—God knows, someone could mine this blog for plenty of examples of less-than-stellar prose. But I will be using some published passages in my upcoming master class on revision. (You can get a taste of it in a free webinar on June 21st.)
A good writer ships
So if you find yourself making a distinction between yourself and “real” writers (and we both know when you say “real” you mean “published”)—stop. Just stop.
You know what the difference is between you and the “real” writers? They shipped. They shoved their work out of the nest. They shared it, opened themselves up for criticism, yes. And also for praise. Undoubtedly, they deserved some of each—most of us do.
So how do you know if you’re a good writer? You write. You revise. You ship. And then you listen—to people you trust, to people whose writing is as good as or (preferably) better than yours. And you revise again.
But put your work out in the world. Especially if one of your trusted advisors says it’s time.
You’re probably a better writer than you think you are. Better, even, than some “real” writers. So go ahead—ship it.
Writing is just the first part of the process. Revising—that’s the secret sauce that gives your writing zing. Join my free webinar on revising.
Also published on Medium.