PDA

View Full Version : How do you know you're a good writer?


Coco82
02-16-2005, 05:49 AM
Is it a feeling in each and every one of us? I feel I'm a capable and adept writer, w/o sounding arrogant. Do you just know it or what. Please elaborate as much as possible.

SRHowen
02-16-2005, 06:19 AM
Hmmm--I guess I always knew I was a good story teller, or I would n'thave spent so much time in the corner for talking about made up stuff.

I knew on my last novel that it was it. It was the one. Hard to explain--as it was a feeling.

Sorry, not much help. Guess it's when others say holly cow this is good, or when a beta reader can't find anything wrong.

Shawn

Deanna Lee
02-16-2005, 06:28 AM
Yep, I sure am. :D

It's probably arrogant, but I think to get to the point where you send material to editors and agents... you have to believe totally in yourself and in your work.

So go ahead...be arrogant.

Being shy and retiring sure didn't get Stephen King where he is now.

Mistook
02-16-2005, 06:40 AM
Okay, brag time! :Clap:

Let's put it this way, I have a long-lived reputation for being engaging, insightful, and clear.

---------

* In grade school, my ability to make milk shoot through the noses of my classmates was unprecidented.

* In high school, I was a straight A English student.

* Dropping out of college, my creative writing teacher gave me an A for her course even though I'd only shown up to three classes, and had taken no tests. She based it on what she'd seen of my work the semester before.

* As a drop-out, reading humorous-prose at coffeehouses in Chicago, I always brought down the house.

* As a web based nature-columnist (I did this on a whim, years before Blogger was invented) I had a small crowd of avid readers who would send e-mails literally begging me to write more often.

* As a maintenance man, I just received a raise purely because my work reports are the talk of the company. Apparently I really know how to tell the story of fixing a broken P-trap in 50 words or less.

--------

I know I can write. ;) The only question is, can I write fiction? And the answer is, yes. All it takes is time to learn the ropes, but I will be published.

Elizabeth
02-16-2005, 07:01 AM
So go ahead...be arrogant.

Being shy and retiring sure didn't get Stephen King where he is now.

I've been compiling a list of advice for myself as a new-ish writer. At the top of the list is "Get arrogant, stay arrogant". Stephen King and Harlan Ellison are my two role models on that one.

I'm talking about the youthful arrogance, of course. The arrogance that makes you take chances. That's the good stuff.

Azure Skye
02-16-2005, 07:03 AM
Probably. I don't know yet and I haven't reached the "arrogant" stage to say yes, I am. But daggummit, I'm aspirin'.

:Trophy:

Mistook
02-16-2005, 07:21 AM
Arrogant has a bad connotation. It implies you are blind in some way. I'd say get serious, get real, be brave, and stay confident.

John Ravenscroft
02-16-2005, 07:22 AM
Is it a feeling in each and every one of us? I feel I'm a capable and adept writer, w/o sounding arrogant. Do you just know it or what. Please elaborate as much as possible.

I'm not sure how many truly good writers would consider themselves to be truly good writers.

I think one of the factors involved in becoming a truly good writer is realizing just how difficult the job is to do well. How many hours you have to put in. How many words you have to write. And a truly good writer knows that s/he can still produce crap if s/he starts to run on automatic.

There are signs that you've become competent - one of the main ones being consistent, paid publication - but in my opinion an awful lot of writers who earn a decent living at the craft are not good writers.

There's a balance to be struck between terror and confidence, but I think any writer who is too convinced s/he is truly good is on a path that can all too easily lead to mediocrity.

PattiTheWicked
02-16-2005, 07:24 AM
I had a ms that I stuck in a drawer and forgot about, then pulled out a year later to review. I was halfway through it when I read a passage that was so well done it made me cry.

And then it occurred to me, "Holy crap, *I* wrote that!"

Seriously, I've always written. People have always told me I do it well. I'm the one that everyone calls up and says, "Okay, I have to do this presentation, tell me how this sounds," or "Help. I need an amusing anecdote about ______."

I think the best compliment I ever got was when someone was reading one of my manuscripts and called me at 3 am to tell me she hadnt been able to put it down until she was finished with it. I asked her if it was worth staying up for, and she laughed, saying, "Well, I had to call and TELL you, so yeah, it was."

triceretops
02-16-2005, 07:31 AM
Got a $500.00 grant from a publisher to inspire me to keep on keepin' on. Said I was a cross between Roald Dahl and King. Damned if that didn't make me blush and puff up a bit, no matter how exagerated the claim.

Triceratops

Vomaxx
02-16-2005, 07:56 AM
Dropping out of college, my creative writing teacher gave me an A... .

(Why did your teacher drop out of college?) :ROFL:

maestrowork
02-16-2005, 07:59 AM
How do you know you're a good person? You just do. The rest is just validation (although it's nice to be validated).

Mistook
02-16-2005, 08:05 AM
(Why did your teacher drop out of college?)


I inspired her to follow a more enlightened path :cool:

CACTUSWENDY
02-16-2005, 08:59 AM
Got a $500.00 grant from a publisher to inspire me to keep on keepin' on. Said I was a cross between Roald Dahl and King. Damned if that didn't make me blush and puff up a bit, no matter how exagerated the claim.

Triceratops.....:Hail: WOW...THAT IS COOL.....NEXT BOOK MAKE HIM PUT UP MORE MONEY.....LOL

CONGRATES.....I GUESS NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME TO ASK YOU FOR YOUR AUTOGRAPH....HUH?....JUST SAY 'TO WENDY.......WITHOUT HER I COULD NEVER....ETC...ETC..." :snoopy: (AT LEAST I CAN SAY I KNEW YOU WHEN....)

Writing Again
02-16-2005, 09:00 AM
John Ravenscroft,



Good to see you over here. I missed your insights and our debates, but I could not deal with the new forums on East of the Web.



I've never felt as though I was a good writer and I've never cared. My teachers told me I would never obtain a decent education until I started using my right hand and therefore would never be published.

When I was published I was told that the genre fiction I wrote, SF, mysteries, westerns, etc were all garbage that were polluting the minds of the youth of America and that I would be doing the world a singular service by remaining a ditch digger and leaving the writing to intelligent people who understood literature.

So now I'm back as a worthless hack and I still don't care.

Wottahell wottahell, there's a dance in the old dude yet.

John Ravenscroft
02-16-2005, 09:08 AM
Hi, WA.

I'm shaking my brains here. I'm sure we've met, but I have a dreadful memory. Oddly enough, I posted a piece about it here just yesterday:

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7965

Forgive me if I need a little prodding.

Euan H.
02-16-2005, 09:26 AM
I'm not sure how many truly good writers would consider themselves to be truly good writers.


I seem to remember Jim talking about Imposter Syndrome in the Learn Writing with Uncle Jim thread. There's something else on it here (http://fecolumnists.expressindia.com/full_column.php?content_id=32033)

John Ravenscroft
02-16-2005, 09:31 AM
Good article, Euan.

Thanks for the link.

Medievalist
02-16-2005, 09:47 AM
I'm not a good writer; I'm at best, competent. That's not false modesty, either. It's the truth. I'm a decent editor, though I can't spell. No, that's not a contradiction in terms, it just means I'm deeply suspicious about English orthography as a governing principle.

I'm a fabulous reader though.

Really <g>

I became an English major for the worst, most impractical, and down right stupid reasons. I like to read. I like to read all kinds of things. I like the way words and sentences and ideas work, and I like to think about them, and talk about them with other people.

I didn't really think about the other part of being an English major. The one where they make you write a lot.

katdad
02-16-2005, 10:00 AM
I suppose I'm an okay writer. I have a modest publishing history for non-fiction, mostly articles and reviews and such. And I've strung for two "real" newspapers in the past.

And for a number of years I supported myself quite comfortably with my technical writing, which peers regard as excellent.

Also I've now got my two finished novels at an agent, who's shopping them to publishers.

So when I see those novels sold,in print, and on the bookshelves, then I may have made the transition from "okay" to "good".

preyer
02-16-2005, 02:17 PM
anyone looking at your website, kd, wouldn't come away with the idea of linking the words 'katdad' and 'modesty' in the same sentence, lol. i'm just teasin' ya. seriously, i think of all the writers whose stuff i've looked at in part, you're one of the few that i can see being published, though i question your logic at times. otherwise i think you're a helluva writer on average.

and i've read plenty of people's stories and excerpts here that could probably be polished and sold. just a little bit of it makes me wonder what the hell that person was thinking wasting all that time on that story. as an aside, i guess, i feel that most of the stuff that has the potential to sell suffers the most from inconsistency and, well, poorly written material, but with good ideas. why are commas such a mystery to most people? lol.

anyway, i've gone back and read old stories. sometimes i've cringed, sometimes i impressed even myself (which isn't hard to do when you're your own biggest fan). an honest assessment of my ability is i broach competence more often than not. however average my practical writing skillz are, i feel my strength is being a hack. i'm master hack extraordinaire. were i actually proficient, i'd probably earn a good living being one of those guys who capitalizes on popular trends. what i should really do is write sequels and scripts for video games to be make into movies. (i'm constantly amazed at how you can screw up movies of 'house of the dead,' 'resident evil,' and 'mortal kombat II.')

it's difficult for me to feel arrogant about my stories knowing that at any given turn i could be blown out of the water, and that lesser stories than mine are pure and utter crap that doesn't deserve to be on the internut, and that's saying something. all indications are that i'm a middling writer with modest skill, a few decent ideas, and barely enough talent to make my future as a writer questionable at best. which puts me in with about 98% of the writers around, lol.

at least people love how i write short posts.

James D. Macdonald
02-16-2005, 03:04 PM
Your readers tell you.

They tell you with the sound of rapidly-turning pages. They tell you by asking you for more.

There isn't any other test.

John Ravenscroft
02-16-2005, 03:17 PM
James, I guess it depends on how you define the term 'good writer'.

If 'good writer' = a writer who sells his/her work regularly, then you're right. The readers define the term, and (perhaps) the more readers you have, the better you are.

But I think I'd argue that there are problems with that definition. Or at least that 'good writer' can be defined in ways that don't depend simply on readership loyalty and numbers.

'Good writer' can mean a writer who produces work of literary merit.

Of course, that opens up a whole new can of literary worms. One woman's merit is another man's arty-farty crap.

Nateskate
02-16-2005, 04:31 PM
I could boast about people that told me I should write for a living, and who’ve praised things I’ve written. But in reality, without people like Medievalist who have good grammar skills, and the ability to edit, I’d be dead in the water.

I couldn’t dream of having a “Fiction” career without someone who enjoys fixing other people’s mistakes. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. And I don’t mind admitting that I need other people’s strengths to compensate for my weaknesses. But this is life. If you are a one trick pony, you’d better have one heckuva trick.


If you grade creativity and grammar on scales of 1-10, my grammar scores would be embarrassingly low for a writer that presumes to be a published author of a bestseller. However, my creative ability, and knack for coming up with unique concepts, is relatively high. It always has been. When I wrote songs, I never had a writer’s block. And the feedback on my songs was always good. People recorded them, and also asked me to play (guitar) on their albums, because I could always come up with creative parts. I could have “Made it” in the music field if I didn’t choose a conventional family life instead.


Many writers here could edit for a living. Not me; but I’m convinced that with a great editor, I could write best sellers. And perhaps I’ll stand or fall on that basis, whether I’m pared with a talented editor who believes in my visions, and is willing to help me create a masterpiece.

Denis Castellan
02-16-2005, 04:48 PM
But I think I'd argue that there are problems with that definition. Or at least that 'good writer' can be defined in ways that don't depend simply on readership loyalty and numbers.

'Good writer' can mean a writer who produces work of literary merit.

Of course, that opens up a whole new can of literary worms. One woman's merit is another man's arty-farty crap.

It also depends on why you're writing, I guess.

If the way you tell your story is more important to you than the story itself, or if you just want your writing to serve (or at least not to deserve) your story.

I won't talk about numbers, but I surely would prefer good feedback from readers than being acclaimed by literary critics.

Well, having both would be fine, for sure, but I don't think I could feel like I'm a 'good writer' if readers wouldn't read my books despite their literary merits.

Not sure if I'm really clear but I hope you get my point :)

clotje
02-16-2005, 05:23 PM
**heavy sigh**

I wish I knew if I was a good writer. I know that people like to read my stories but since they are friends I can't trust their lavish praise.

I'm going to take a creative writing course just to find out if I'm a good writer.

At times I'm really proud of something I've written :Trophy: but then I write absolute shite and I think I'm useless, not fit to use a printer to print the pages I've just written. :Headbang:

Although I did qualify as a writer according to the link, that Katdad posted, from Jennifer Weiner (I think that was her name) Except that I have two cats, no dog....;)

John Ravenscroft
02-16-2005, 05:30 PM
It also depends on why you're writing, I guess.

Yup. I'd agree with that.

If the way you tell your story is more important to you than the story itself...

There's certainly some fiction that gives this impression. Fiction in which the writer seems so in love with the sound of the language that content has become less important than wrapping.

That's not what I'd call literary fiction (although some do).

I think good literary fiction can actually change the reader and goes far deeper than fiction that's written simply to entertain.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with fiction that entertains.

I just believe the best fiction is more than that.

Nateskate
02-16-2005, 06:21 PM
**heavy sigh**

I wish I knew if I was a good writer. I know that people like to read my stories but since they are friends I can't trust their lavish praise.

I'm going to take a creative writing course just to find out if I'm a good writer.

At times I'm really proud of something I've written :Trophy: but then I write absolute shite and I think I'm useless, not fit to use a printer to print the pages I've just written. :Headbang:

Although I did qualify as a writer according to the link, that Katdad posted, from Jennifer Weiner (I think that was her name) Except that I have two cats, no dog....;)

Such an impressive use of icons, I just had to say "Well done!"

azbikergirl
02-16-2005, 06:26 PM
I can put a sentence together, string a few sentences along into coherent paragraphs, pack them into scenes, and organize them into chapters. Not everyone has those skills. Some people who aspire to be authors lack those skills. I've written professionally for seven years, been published (non-fiction), and people have told me they love my stories. Does that make me a 'good writer?' <shrug>

when a beta reader can't find anything wrong.
Heh heh heh. I've never seen a piece of writing I couldn't poke at. But that doesn't mean it's not worthy of being published. There's a LOT of writing worthy of publication that simply doesn't make it because of marketing speculation. Clearly, published vs. not published is not the right yardstick to measure 'good writing.'

Guess the answer depends on who's defining the term.

clotje
02-16-2005, 06:43 PM
Hehehe, thanks for the compliment Nateskate :D I love the little buggers.

I do have a question (which will immediately betray my utter newbie status)
What is a beta reader? I am totally clueless here...

Jamesaritchie
02-16-2005, 06:48 PM
Is it a feeling in each and every one of us? I feel I'm a capable and adept writer, w/o sounding arrogant. Do you just know it or what. Please elaborate as much as possible.

I suppose nearly every writer out there who submits stories believes themselves to be good writers, else they wouldn't go through the agonizing process of sending stories to editors. As an editor, I've rejected stories that were so bad it was hard to believe a literate adult wrote them, and then had the writer screech and yell that I was rejecting a masterpiece. And I think most editors have reveiced some version of that imfamous cover letter that states, "This is much better than what you usually publish." This when the enclosed story doesn't have a single sentence without an error in grammar.

I've also met some extremely good writers who just couldn't believe what they wrote was good enough for an editor to buy.

I've never thought it mattered in the least what I think of my writing. It is what is is, and no matter what I think about it, no matter how good or how bad I believe it it, it remains what it is.

I also believe good storytelling is far more important than good writing, but this, too, is what it is. All I can do is write. I can't pass judgement on the quality of my writing. That task lies first with editors, and then with readers, and finally with time. The test of time, is, I believe, the only real judge of how good or how bad writing really is.

I do know this. I'm an inconsistent writer where quality is concerned. I think we all are. But I also know I can seldom, if ever, tell the high quality from the low quality. I've written stories I thought were some of my best work, but no editor anywhere will take them. I've written stories that I thought were horrible, and editors buy them over and over, and readers love them.

I also believe arrogance where your own writing is concerned can mean the writing will never be as good as it could be and should be. If a writer must believe something about his or her own writing, the best thing to believe is probably believing that it needs a lot of work.

I also know that no matter how good a writer is, about half the readers will say he isn't any good at all. I don't care if you're Stephen King or William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway, there will be those who love your writing, and those who say it's hack work. Taken in isolation, both views are nonsense.

All I can do is write. If I can somehow come back a hundred years after I die, and if I then see a few people still reading something I wrote, I will probably say, "Okay, yeah, I guess I was a pretty good writer."

Until then, all I can do is write, get it the way I like it, and send it to an editor.

cwfgal
02-16-2005, 06:57 PM
I know my writing is good enough that people are willing to pay me money for it. In some cases, very good money.

I also know my writing can be improved upon. No matter how good I am, I can always be better.
Beth

Medievalist
02-16-2005, 07:22 PM
I do have a question (which will immediately betray my utter newbie status)
What is a beta reader? I am totally clueless here...


A beta reader is a trusted "test" reader who'll read your stuff and let you know what works, what doesn't and what you need to change.

The term "beta writer" is one popularized by online fan fiction writers, people who write stories and use characters from an extant fictive "universe," like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Harry Potter, or Star Trek.

Fan fic writers borrowed the term "beta" as in "beta test" from software developement, where a version of software that is known to be incomplete is tested in order to elimnate errors.

Software developers borrowed the concept of a beta test from aerospace engineers.

Trapped in amber
02-16-2005, 07:27 PM
I have absolutely no idea if I write well or not.
It's a theme running throughout everything I do; I try to do things well but I'm utterly clueless as to whether I'm even close. So I won't really know for sure until/unless my work gets published:rolleyes:. For now, I just try to improve my writing.

azbikergirl
02-16-2005, 07:44 PM
A beta reader is a trusted "test" reader who'll read your stuff and let you know what works, what doesn't and what you need to change.
How do you know their opinion has merit unless they're an editor or have experience in the publishing industry? I've had several readers (crit group members) say my story was excellent and I should run, not walk, to the nearest post office to mail it to an editor or agent. I've had one say it's crap and needs to be completely rewritten. Which beta reader do I trust? How do I know that the one reader isn't right and everyone else is clueless?
:Huh:

maestrowork
02-16-2005, 07:52 PM
when a beta reader can't find anything wrong.

That's when you change your beta. Anyone who says "this is great, and everything is good to go" maybe a good lover, but not a good beta, IMHO.

maestrowork
02-16-2005, 07:59 PM
How do you know their opinion has merit unless they're an editor or have experience in the publishing industry? I've had several readers (crit group members) say my story was excellent and I should run, not walk, to the nearest post office to mail it to an editor or agent. I've had one say it's crap and needs to be completely rewritten. Which beta reader do I trust? How do I know that the one reader isn't right and everyone else is clueless?
:Huh:

Ah, a good question. Well, first of all, where you do get your betas? Friends and family can be biased, unless you're certain that they would give you an honest opinion (for example, Stephen King's wife is his most trusted beta). Now, once you find a few people to trust, what about qualifications? Do they even read? What do they usually read? I'd probably trust someone who reads a lot, especially who always seek out the good books or someone who reads your genre.

How about writers, you ask? My experience tells me it could be iffy. I think a writer would be very helpful to be a mentor, someone who helps your rewrite. But as betas, I think writers can be distracting. They can't be objective (as readers) for they seem to read with a more critical technically ("this sentence can be rewritten this way" or "this is a bad word choice," etc.) and lose sight of the story or characters.... it's not to say writers are all bad at being betas. There are some who can be excellent. But there's that risk.

debraji
02-16-2005, 08:01 PM
A good beta reader is one who is honest, who has no hidden agenda behind their reaction to your work. For this reason, you might want to avoid lovers, family members, and enemies as your beta readers.

A good beta reader might be another writer, with strong editing skills--one who is secure about his own writing. Or she might be a non-writer who reads widely in your genre. Don't pick someone who hates science fiction to critique your space opera.

I like to get a mix of readers. If all three of them say that the character of Tom seemed one-dimensional, or that chapter 22 was confusing when Susan got locked out, then I know where to start revising. If only one says that he hated the scene with the dog, and I know that in real life he is phobic about dogs, then I might discount that bit of criticism.

maestrowork
02-16-2005, 08:08 PM
One of my betas is the most honest (at least to me) and critical person (but not rude) in the world. If he says "this sucks," I'd believe him. And if he likes the story and characters over all, I know I'm close.

aka eraser
02-16-2005, 08:11 PM
If your writing moves people, then it, and you, are good.

pepperlandgirl
02-16-2005, 08:58 PM
I've been writing all my life, and I've always been encouraged and praised by my teachers. My 9th grade English teacher wrote in my yearbook "You're the most gifted writer I've ever taught" and my 10th grade English teacher told me, when I wrote a fantasy story about lake monsters, "Generally I have a rule about writing implausible stories, but for you, I'll make an exception because this is excellent." (No, I have no idea why he had a rule. I didn't ask. I didn't care.) In 11th grade, I was the only person to receive an A on our final English project--it was a collection of five essays based on a single novel. I chose King's The Stand. My Intro to Creative Writing prof told me she'd write a recommendation letter for me any time.

It is these teachers, and the memory of their encouragement, that keeps me going. My writing prof and mentor now won't let me doubt myself for a second. She's firmly convinced that it won't be long until I'm well known and well respected as an author. It's good that I have people I respect and admire believe in me so much, because I certainly don't believe in myself and my skills on some days.

So I guess in a round-about way, I feel I'm a good writer because I can recognize good writing when I see it. I know I'm a good writer because the important people in my life--people I trust and respect--tell me it's true.

Kate Nepveu
02-16-2005, 09:13 PM
How do I know that the one reader isn't right and everyone else is clueless?

Can the one reader be more specific about what's crap? Once that reader's identified the issue, what do the other readers think when you bring it to their attention?

I think good betas tell you what preconceptions and preferences they bring to a story ("Point-of-view is a big pet peeve of mine," "I tend not to pay attention to descriptions, but I really notice the pace of action scenes") and then tell you the reactions they had to your story ("I hated so-and-so because," "I thought the first half was a lot faster than the second half"). With that, you can weigh their reactions accordingly.

Richard
02-16-2005, 09:25 PM
The voices in my head tell me I am...and why would they lie? Fire, yes. Fire good...

clotje
02-16-2005, 10:32 PM
Thanks very much for explaining the term beta reader to me.

I do have a few people that can read my book but they're friends.

One thing struck me as strange. Someone (sorry, can't remember who) said that other writers aren't good beta readers because they tend to look at style etc. but isn't that exactly what an editor does? Or do they primarily look at the story?

arrowqueen
02-17-2005, 03:20 AM
It's always much easier to judge other people's work than our own.

I think we writers swither between thinking we're good (after all, we'd have to be just a little arrogant to inflict ourselves upon the world!) and quailing in terror at being found out as the incompetent charlatans we feel we really are.

The trick is to ignore the second, concentrate on the first - and keep going till we're right.

Cheers,
aq

Medievalist
02-17-2005, 04:14 AM
If your writing moves people, then it, and you, are good.

You mean when they get up from the table and say "what the [expletive deleted] is this [expletive deleted]?

Oh. You meant the other move. Yeah, that's probably a good sign <g>

aka eraser
02-17-2005, 07:57 AM
Yeah Lisa, in the emotively transportive sense of "move." ;)

Mistook
02-17-2005, 10:21 AM
It's possible to crank out five very "well written" pages that in the context of a novel are a deathly bore. And I think that's a huge stumbling block, because as writers we are often loathe to admit that a passage so finely crafted can be so worthless, like an oriental rug in a swimming pool.

preyer
02-17-2005, 10:23 AM
yeah, i can't say i agree with mw on writers not being good betas, at least not for the reasons he lists. word choice, sentence structures... those are the things you, as a writer, need to pay attention to. if you don't, the reader will. i very rarely offer alternate rewritten sentences in a crit because i never want to feel as if i'm taking things over, though sometimes, usually as a matter of example, i go ahead and do it. then again, it depends on the skill level i seem to be dealing with, too.

i think good betas tell you what's wrong, obviously, but also what's right. not only does it show some encouragement, it also says you're reading the story and not just scanning for errors. really, most errors a writer makes are with logical inconsistencies, not giving the reader enough information that makes the detail confusing, commas, a poorly constructed sentence here and there, and repetitive words (especially pronouns). that's been my experience, at least. these are all easily taken care of.

i think a good beta's 'job' is to point out story problems, too, though sometimes this is a matter of taste, as with POV, style, technique and word choice. there should be no question about the things in the previous paragraph, but here it gets to be opinion and up to the writer to sift through what he thinks makes sense. i guess here it stops being more of a beta read/editing thing and start being more of a critique. saying that a beta reader has to have some sort of credentials is as ridiculous as saying we can't judge a good song without a music degree.

two writers pop to mind who died penniless and unknown, only to be discovered years after their death, shakespeare and poe. neither had any particularly great acclaim during their lifetimes, and died in relative obscurity. so, to be recognized in your lifetime is great, it certainly has little to no bearing on the writing itself, even in our modern times great writers are continually rejected (or so the stories go).

outside of our own egos, i don't know what constitutes a great writer. most people agree that tolkien is a great writer. though taken critically, there's plenty there to harp on. king himself admits to suffering from diarrhea of the typewriter, and i agree-- he writes great short stories... he just drags them out 400 pages longer than necessary. most writers i've seen tend to abhor 'the da vinci code' for various reasons. yet i could retire on what these guys make in a month, lol, while my favourite author shames me for being the hack i am, no one has practically heard of. i think there is something to be said for public opinion, though, like it was said, only time is the real judge.

what's funny to me is that on most boards i tend to go unnoticed for the most part (at least unresponded to), while i quickly start to find little 'preyerisms' popping up here and there in other people's posts. to me that says there's a minour surface influence what i write has, but i otherwise am doomed to be a literary cellar dwelling, might as well be bound and gagged by kentucky chrome (duct tape). ah, well, i guess if it was good enough for poe, i shouldn't complain, eh? lol.

as an aside, why do you never see a writer on these boards from kentucky? weird. plenty from ohio (home of the voice of bart simpson, nancy cartwright, and some flight guys, can't remember their names).

Medievalist
02-17-2005, 10:25 AM
It's possible to crank out five very "well written" pages that in the context of a novel are a deathly bore. And I think that's a huge stumbling block, because as writers we are often loathe to admit that a passage so finely crafted can be so worthless, like an oriental rug in a swimming pool.

And that's the distinction between prose, and story.

Mistook
02-17-2005, 11:04 AM
Well, I don't mean that prose, or exposition itself is wrong or bad. I'm just saying that too much prose, for the wrong purpose at the wrong time can really kill something as involved as a novel.

For instance, you can pack a whole chapter's worth of information into one page of dense exposition, and for you as a writer, despite the effort you spent crafting the paragraphs, it's probably a short-cut compared to the skill it takes to decide what in that page really needs to be there, and how exactly to roll it all out in a way that keeps the reader involved.

And once you have the ability to avoid info-dumps and learn how to show more than tell, you have issues with plot consistency, character motivation, character development, believability, originality, theme, symbolism, and then, at the end of it all, you're back to things like the artistry of the prose and the integrity of the grammar.

"good writing" alone won't get you there, and may even trip you up, if you can't see the forest for the trees. I don't say this as a person who's mastered anything, but as a fellow writer who grapples with these issues every day.

victoriastrauss
02-18-2005, 06:31 AM
I'm not sure how many truly good writers would consider themselves to be truly good writers.
After many years, I've reached the point where I'm confident that I'm a good writer on a paragraph-by-paragraph and scene-by-scene basis. It's the whole-book picture that I can't see, and I never lose the fear (good feedback notwithstanding) that any given book is really a horrible failure, and pretty soon someone will come along and conclusively prove it.

You have to learn to ignore these feelings though--not just the ones that tell you you're bad (because they will cripple you), but the ones that tell you you're good (because they may cause you to become complacent or lazy). On the other hand, you can't ignore your editorial instincts--so you also have to learn to tell the difference between the little voice that says "this scene needs an overhaul" and the little voice that says "you suck."

- Victoria

HConn
02-18-2005, 08:04 AM
At this point I've realized that I'm not a very good writer. I work damn hard, but the results are not that great.

I wish I was talented, but I'm not. I'm going to have to get by on sweat. Which is fine. I'm glad, at least, that I've finally recognized this.

But the truth is that I pretty much suck.

Kallahan
02-18-2005, 08:13 AM
How do I know I'm a good writer? Simple, the world best person should be a good writer. Ok, those two sentences refrence two different people. The short answer is people I trust say I'm good, though as of now I'm a bit out of practice. Kinda of funny side story, almost failed english my senior year in high school, yet the AP board gave me a 5 on the english AP (writing and comprehension, if I remember what test it was correctly). Aside from the reading and writing, I did very little in the class, I was very focused on programming and it wasn't untill I hit colledge I realized they are the same thing, only the editing process in programming (debuging) is far worse.

Kallahan
02-18-2005, 08:16 AM
At this point I've realized that I'm not a very good writer. I work damn hard, but the results are not that great.

I wish I was talented, but I'm not. I'm going to have to get by on sweat. Which is fine. I'm glad, at least, that I've finally recognized this.

But the truth is that I pretty much suck.


" Accomplishment and success are often the result of commitment and perseverance rather than skill or talent "
--George Van Valkenburg

You'll get a lot farther and better than people with 100 times your talent and half your perserverence.

Medievalist
02-18-2005, 08:42 AM
I was very focused on programming and it wasn't untill I hit colledge I realized they are the same thing, only the editing process in programming (debuging) is far worse.

You know this is something I tell programmers all the time, especially when I'm pointing out that they will comment and document their code <g>

Mya Bell
02-18-2005, 09:01 AM
I don't. Honestly. I keep setting the bar higher.

Other people tell me I'm a good writer and people keep publishing me, so my writing is at least good enough to satisfy certain editors and certain groups of readers.

I think I'm quite good at writing literary fiction, but I write that mainly for myself, for self expression.

As for novel-length mainstream fiction intended for publication, that's a different story. Satisfying a general audience is a little different from satisfying the literati. I have yet to see how well and how long I can hold a general audience, although I've had some success with publishing popular, mainstream, and mainstream/literary short stories.

There's always another challenge, another road to cross, something more about writing to learn. No matter how much I improve, I always want to go one step better.

--- Mya Bell

maestrowork
02-18-2005, 07:28 PM
I knew I was pretty good when I was a boy, because I always got good grades. I knew I sucked at writing things like reports or official letters, etc. because I also got bad grades on them -- but creative writing? I was good. I was a natural storyteller.

When it comes to writing in English, though, I wasn't sure. As you know, English is my second language, so I struggled with grammar, vocabulary, etc. And without mastering them, I felt that I couldn't efficiently tell my stories. But instead of taking more and more English "language" classes, I took creativing writing. Regular English classes would have bored me to tears, and I thought the best way to learn the language was to learn to write something I loved -- stories.

I was always the only student in the class who was not native English speaker. I did very well. In fact, my professor was so impressed he entered me into a university writing contest. He helped me edit the piece for grammar and word choices, but the story was mine. I won second place. For a foreign student, that was enough validation to make me continue writing in English. I knew I had a knack for writing, I just need to learn to master the technical skills.

So don't ever give up if you think you have what it takes. It may take years and a lot of trials and learning. But don't ever give up.

Nateskate
02-18-2005, 07:56 PM
Hehehe, thanks for the compliment Nateskate :D I love the little buggers.

I do have a question (which will immediately betray my utter newbie status)
What is a beta reader? I am totally clueless here...


I may be clueless myself, but my understanding of the term refers to avid book readers whose judgment you trust. Some people simply love to read and have a knack for knowing a good book from a bad one, and you develop a relationship with them.

I've enlisted friends that are intelligent and love books, including the Genre I'm writing. My feeling is that if they see reading my stuff as a chore, I'm already dead in the water. A friend will at least be curious to see how your brain works. Fortunately, my Beta readers have given me good feedback. However, the key is to find ones who will tell you where something drags, or doesn't make sense. The idea is that they are lab rats (LOL) to experiment on, so that they can help you catch mistakes and weak parts, so that you can correct it. If they are afraid to hurt your feelings, they won't be honest.

azbikergirl
02-18-2005, 09:45 PM
it wasn't untill I hit colledge I realized they are the same thing, only the editing process in programming (debuging) is far worse.
Writing is full of emotion, and so editing is guesswork and feel. We don't know for sure how it will affect the recipient.

Programming is 95% logic and 5% art. It works or it doesn't. Debugging is simply looking for the logic problems and fixing them. We know when we find the solution whether it's right or wrong. I find it way, WAY easier than writing and editing fiction! (but not as exciting)

kdfrawg
02-19-2005, 05:18 AM
I have no idea if I'm a good writer. Only readers know if I'm a good writer. That's like asking the dead guy in the still-smoking BMW if he's a good driver.

Torin
02-20-2005, 02:07 AM
My acid test is to come back to work I've done months or years later and see if I enjoy reading it. Most of the time, I write stories that I want to read and most of the time they hold up and I enjoy them. And let's face it, we've all picked up books from wherever which have been absolutely horrible and a waste of paper and time.

:)

mistri
02-20-2005, 02:11 AM
I think I'm a competent writer. I've never had anyone tell me I'm a good writer (actually, that's a bit of a lie, but I'd like a reader who'd never spoken to me before (on the net or in RL) to say it), and I don't seem capable of saying it myself.

There are days when I have faith in what I've written, and days when I have none. I can write a sentence, sure. I think I can put together a paragraph, and I hope I can write a vaguely good chapter. But I doubt I'll ever know for sure if I've written a good *book* until I'm published and getting reader feedback.

JayCas
02-20-2005, 03:06 AM
My guess would be that you'll know you're a good writer when a reader gets to the end of your story and says to him/her self, "wow, that was good."

And it's just as much how you convey the story as it is how you write the actual words themselves. So long as you are writing/conveying your words in the way you would actually speak them, then you're staying true to yourself and your approach to your craft. That is, assuming people enjoy listening to your conversations.

And you know you're really good when a reader can envison the characters and settings in their heads as they read your book, in a way that they can see your story as a "movie" in their minds.

That's my opinion anyway.

Good luck!

reph
02-20-2005, 03:15 AM
I don't believe being a good writer is unitary. There are skills and skills. I can put together a grammatical sentence like nobody's business. I can write something that makes people laugh. Creating an engaging suspense story would be another matter entirely.

azbikergirl
02-20-2005, 03:32 AM
My guess would be that you'll know you're a good writer when a reader gets to the end of your story and says to him/her self, "wow, that was good."

Or at least they don't say, "Dang, why did I waste my time on this?" :) The fact that they keep turning pages says something. Unless the reader is my mom, who'll finish any book she picks up, no matter how bad it is (which is why I don't use her feedback as a gauge).
:ROFL:

Kida Adelyne
02-20-2005, 04:11 AM
Define good.

I know I love to write. I know that when I'm doing somthing I almost automatically think it out as a story. I know I get good grades in english. I know that when I tell stories to the kids at camp, they laugh a lot.

I also know that I can't write poetry for the life of me. I know I misspell some of the most common words in the english language. I know that I make basic grammatical errors.

So, define good.

kdfrawg
02-20-2005, 06:29 AM
I suppose "not bad" is not very worthy. Perhaps

http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/good

will be of more help.