By popular request, I’m reposting this from my “Ask Me Anything” thread. Harlow Cyan Fallon had a SPECTACULAR question. Here it is along with my response.
Harlow Cyan Fallon: “Is there a way to recognize whether your own writing is good or not? It seems I don’t have the capacity to discern it myself. I may write a story or a novel and think: this is crap. But others think it’s fantastic. Then I write something I think is good, but others who read it think it’s not so hot. Is there a way to develop the capacity to look at your own work and know it’s good writing or bad writing? I realize that there will always be people who like it and people who don’t, but I’m talking about personally being able to judge your own work in an objective manner (or as objective as is possible). I’m really struggling with this.”
Susan Kaye Quinn: There’s this idea that we all need external validation – from tradpub editors or readers/reviewers – and that it’s impossible for an artist to be objective about their work.
I disagree with this. Deeply.
Here’s why: I think there’s an evolution in your artistry – and all artists go through this – where eventually you get to a point where you can objectively evaluate your own work. It requires a lot of working through your own fears and learning how to value your own opinion, but everyone has the capacity to get there… and it’s a natural part of the process (I believe).
I’ve believed this since pretty early on, even before I was able to judge my work myself – I just had the feeling that at some point, I would.
There’s an interesting article in Psychology Today about the Creative Personality that speaks to this (and many other things):
“Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well. Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility.”
A writer can certainly think that everything they produce is blindingly brilliant the moment it leaves their fingertips… but these people are usually confusing the *feeling* they have during creation (which is truly transcendent) and the actual product that makes it to the page. They have to move past that point in order to grow in their craft.
Similarly, a writer can think that everything they produce is crap. This is again a *feeling* induced by insecurity, and not an actual reflection of the product itself.
When you can start to discern the difference between the euphoria of creation and the experience a reader will have upon reading your work… when you can move past all your fears and insecurities and see the work as a reader who enjoys your style and type of story… when you’ve fought enough of your own creative demons and understand yourself enough as an artist to know what you’re actually trying to accomplish with a particular work… that’s when you start to be capable of objectivity with respect to your art.
I recently put out a book under Penname that I knew was good. I knew as I was creating it and as I got set to publish it that it was one of my finer works under that Penname. I knew the readers would love it too (and they did) – because I knew what I wanted to accomplish with the book and I got there.
I had no outside input on that work. Zero.
I’m currently working on final edits for a book under SKQ. I wrote this manuscript almost a year ago. It’s gone through revisions, a professional developmental editor, and seven critique partners. And when I finally dove into the edits, I could see the problems manifest in it. Not just the ones identified by the “outside feedback” (some of that was spot on; some of it was wildly wrong), but the lessons I had learned in my own craft over the year since I had first written the thing. It’s taking longer to edit than I expected because it needs to be up to my standards – MY standards – before publication.
When I’m done with it, I won’t need any objective outside feedback to tell me it’s good. I expect readers will love it, but if they hated it, I would still know that it was precisely the story I wanted to tell, exactly the way I wanted to tell it.
To Harlow and every writer – you’ll get there with your work. You might have to slay a few demons first, but if you try, you can get there.