This article has two purposes: The first is to discuss a specific question. The question, in its most simple form, is how do you know whether your writing is any good? Specifically, are you good enough to publish your first book and expect to be able to attract and satisfy readers and, if you aren’t, how do you figure out what areas to focus on improving to get there?
The post’s second purpose is to make sure you’re aware of the Indies Unlimited Fans Facebook page and how it might be valuable to you. This second subject might not seem related to the first, but the question came from IU reader David Tarpenning in that Facebook group which inspired this post. It’s a place where the IU reader community and the IU minions can ask each other questions like David did, on subjects of interest to indie authors and wannabes, and if it is a good question like David’s, it will generate a lot of valuable discussion. Some might call it using the “hive mind.” Grab some of that discussion for a post like I did and some might call it plagiarism. But I prefer the term crowd-sourcing. Regardless of what you call it, thanks to all who participated in the discussion. I’m not going to attempt to give credit to those who came up with the various ideas, but will try to summarize the discussion. If you want to know who said what and try to figure out what, if anything, I added to the discussion in my summarization here, you can look at the original post in the group once you’re a member. The group is currently closed to keep it a safe place for writers to discuss and ask anything away from the eyes of trolls.
The first suggestion in response to David’s question was to find and join a critique group. For those who don’t know, this is a group of other authors and authors-to-be who meet, either in person or online, and critique each other’s writing. This can give you an idea as to where you need to improve and a way to gauge the quality of your writing.
While most of the authors who had experience with critique groups thought they were positive, they also expressed some caution. You need to carefully evaluate the critiques you receive. If it feels wrong, feel free to ignore it. (Unless you keep hearing the same thing from multiple people, it is “just one person’s opinion.”) As you get to know the members of the group, you’ll get an idea of which members have the most valuable feedback, giving lots of good advice, and which are “one-note songs,” possibly saying everyone does the same thing wrong (maybe “telling instead of showing”). That could be because they’re really good at spotting that problem or it could be that they always see that problem whether it exists or not. To find critique groups, IU fans suggested Google (this would work for online groups and local groups with a web presence of some kind), searching on Meetup.com, and even starting your own group.
Another advantage of critique groups is that by evaluating the work of others, figuring out what works and what doesn’t and why, it’s going to make you a better writer. All that evaluation practice will also put you in a better position to look at and examine your own work more objectively.
The next suggestion is reading books on the craft of writing. These are helpful for improving your own writing and also helpful in evaluating others. One recommended by multiple authors was The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird. Two other books recommended are a little bit about craft and a little bit author memoir, which I think is valuable for getting into the author’s head or the mindset these successful authors bring to their writing. These recommendations are Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott and On Writing by Stephen King. That I, who claims not to be a writer, have read both books is curious. (I agree with the recommendations.)
Another suggestion was to actually hire an editor. If you think you’re close, you might try getting an editor to read and critique the initial chapter of your book, which is something that some will do cheaply (maybe even free) as part of their marketing effort. [Note from the admin – you should always get a free eval whether it’s 10 pages or the first chapter – before hiring an editor.] Getting beta readers to read your book and give feedback is another suggestion that makes sense if you think you’re close.
The last suggestion is to enter your work in writing contests. Assuming they are legitimate contests (be suspicious if “winning” requires you to spend money), and if you get mentioned among the top entries, you should be able to take that as a positive sign and get the confidence to move forward.
Some of you who aren’t in the IU Fans group (go take care of that now) or missed this discussion may have other ideas for the question being addressed. Give us your ideas in the comments below.
6 thoughts on “How Do I Know if My Writing…. Sucks?”
Thanks, Big Al.
Critique groups offer valuable advice. You’re right about evaluating the advice, but beginning writers often can’t distinguish between good and bad because they’ve been exposed to so much misleading information on the internet.
Doing a cold read of a WIP after putting it away for several days (or weeks or months) helps pinpoint potential problems–or brilliance.
Thanks for the comment, Kathy.
I like your idea of a cold read after putting the writing away for some number of days. But not necessarily for the purposes this post is aimed at addressing, although I can see it being worthwhile there as well to a point. A little distance in time helps see what you’ve written in a new light for sure. I find that for editing, not only does my content make sense and read reasonably well, but also for proofreading type errors, that this helps a lot. However, for someone who hasn’t written much for publication and doesn’t know if they’re up to standards, I think a lot of the time the problem is a lack of confidence in their ability to gauge the quality of their own writing.
Isn’t Big Al two names?
Not the way I spell it, John. 🙂
I find a cold read after six months to be very valuable. Of course, that means you have to have enough other projects going that you can afford to shelve each one for long periods of time. Which is one of the signs of an active author, I suppose.
All those ways of getting advice from others, especially friends and other amateurs, is rather iffy. Your mother always likes your books. Your younger brother (or whoever) always hates them, although that opinion is probably worth more. If you can afford an editor, that’s great. Call me 🙂
A dangerous alternative; just keep writing and reading and comparing and doing all that other stuff, on the theory that you’ll get better by osmosis. Of course, you could be running down a blind alley…
Thanks for the comment, Gordon. As I said above to Kathy, I think the person I was trying to address needs the outside feedback. However, when you’re putting something on the shelf for six months like you propose then maybe that works. Or maybe not.
I’m thinking about my 15 year old granddaughter who likes to draw. She looks at her drawings from 6 or months or a year ago which I think are pretty good and she sees all the “mistakes” and issues with them relative to her skill level today. Six months from now she’ll look at what she’s doing today and see those as inferior. As long as she keeps improving the same pattern will continue.
This same thing could happen to a writer. But what he or she did six months ago might be good enough. Maybe taking another pass at it today to add a little more polish, bringing it closer to today’s skill level and then releasing it might make sense. The issue is being able to gauge what is good enough to let out into the world. Your mom or younger brother might not be the place to go, but someone somewhere hopefully is. (And mom and your brother might be good first steps to get a feel for where you are, just don’t take either one as gospel.)
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