How to Tell If Your Writing Is Any Good.

Written by Emily Harstone | July 3, 2015

‘The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.’
– Sylvia Plath

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”
– Robert Hughes

The Editors of Authors Publish receive regular emails and Facebook messages that contain one or two sentences and are always the same in their intent, even though they are written by different people. The emails we receive usually say: “I wrote one or two short stories, I want to know if they are any good. Can you tell me?”

This is an interesting question but one I cannot answer. A question that no one person can really answer. I can tell you if your grammar works, or if your spelling is distracting but beyond that we leave the land of the objective and we enter the land of the subjective.

Almost everyone likes to think that they have good taste. I love Leo Tolstoy, Raymond Chandler, and Gabrial Garcia Marquez. All of them are respected and established authors. However, my long list of favorite authors is much more varied and includes a number of genre authors. Authors that would never win the Pulitzer, or even be nominated.

Besides that, there are a number of famous respected writers I do not like. I cannot abide Jonathan Franzen’s writing. I find Fyodor Dostoevsky and Charles Dickens very frustrating. Others love Franzen and despise Tolstoy. That is their right.

Obviously, some writers are a different caliber than other writers. No one would compare Stephenie Meyer and James Joyce’s literary abilities, except in jest. However, that does not diminish Meyer’s ability to sell books.

Besides, even great writers from Ray Bradbury to Ernest Hemingway have written books that even their adamant fans do not like. To be able to tell a writer’s skill based on one short story would be very difficult, as it would depend heavily on the story that was chosen.

Authors so often face self-doubt.  The fact that other people cannot tell you if you are good enough is not reassuring.

However, it is reassuring that most authors seem to doubt their own writing.

I know from personal experience that something I wrote yesterday and seemed terrific at the time can seem horrible the next day. This is more true of creative work than of an article or research based work.

Sometimes I encounter a published poem of mine and don’t like it. I wonder what I ever saw in it. But that critical eye is part of being an artist or a writer. The more I work on refining my writing, improving my craft, and judging my work, the less I am putting work out into the world that I am not proud of.

As you participate in critique groups and gain experience publishing your writing, you will learn more about how readers and other writers interact with your writing. This may give you more confidence in your writing, or it may cause you to question it. Most likely, the outside feedback will do both at different times.

Remember, specific feedback can be helpful. Advice about lines and cliches and character development can really improve your writing. But general statements such as “I like your writing” or “I dislike your writing” are ultimately unhelpful.

Ultimately I think it is important to keep Hemingway’s quote in your mind “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Don’t focus on the self doubt, focus on improving. And always remember that no one else can tell you definitively how good or bad you are.