Is This Good?

If you befriend a writer, they’ll ask you, “Am I any good?” Writers are desperate for validation and obsessed with the idea of “good”. Sometimes, I think we want the answer to be no, we’re not good, so we can give up on writing. It’d fulfill our natural desire for conflict and tension, and it would mean we could quit guiltlessly.

This morning I realized this kind of thinking is hella flawed. First of all, good is a subjective thing, and there are a lot of metrics for good. Plot, character development, themes, cohesion, scenes, descriptions, word choice, pacing. You could be good at any one of those things and bad at another. There’s no guarantee the person reading your piece will zone in on what you’re good at. You might also be an amazing fantasy writer, but the reader likes mystery stories. Are you good then? It depends, which is an irritating answer, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say we’re asking the wrong question.

So how about this one: “Am I working hard on this piece, and is this the best I can do?” Alright, so that’s two I slammed together. Sue me.

The difference here is that your best is both a measurable thing—you know when you’re working at your highest level—and something to aim for. If you’re always striving to do your best work, you’ll always be improving, and that bar will constantly move. It also takes the measure of your success out of the subjective hands of someone else and puts it back in yours. It makes you responsible for your own work. Only you know if you’re doing your best.

So stop asking, “Is this good?” because I can’t tell you that. Instead, start asking, “Is this the best I can do?” If it’s not, work harder.

One comment

  • Sounds like something my dad used to say, “Always ask yourself, ‘What can I do better?'” It drove me nuts when I was a kid, but as I’ve grown older I find myself trying to figure out what I could have done to receive a better outcome or what I could have done to make my life easier.

    Love the post! Great advice!

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