Dear Miss Snark,

How does a writer know if he / she is any good?

You don't. And it doesn't matter. "Good" is a term we throw around a lot but it's meaningless mostly.

I always say write well, but that's just to get out of the slush pile and to get you to quit obsessing about margins and times new roman. What I look for is work I can sell. Mostly that's "good" but not always.

If you really have no sense of whether your work is lucid, clear, compelling or cogent and persuasive take a writing class. First, it's fun, and second, most colleges have writing labs where you can take your term papers or essays and some poverty stricken graduate student will snark you into improving. I learned a LOT about good writing in undergraduate school from those guys.

Lots of the commenters will suggest a crit group:
A critique group is only as good as the people in it, and you'd be surprised how much crap comes out of crit groups. I got a huffy letter from querier once (back in the days of trying to be helpful---long gone I assure you) telling me my advice to seek out a crit group was clearly stupid cause she'd been in one for years. I got a good laugh from that. If you're in a crit group and people tell you need a crit group after they see your writing, you need a new group.

If you need to hone your sense of good writing, cause the best way to know what's good is to read good stuff, read the ALA's good books. Forget those idiotic best seller lists, go for the librarian list everytime. And of course, read all the books that Miss Snark tells you too.

And then of course, when you're brave, Elektra stands ready at the Crapometer Annex.


Paul said...

Hoo, boy, is that link a mess!

ORION said...

This is such good advice. Personally I make use of writing workshops (writers retreats) and beta readers (NOT other writers) for my WIP WTF removals.
I have heard of wonderful writers groups that evolve but I think that is rare.
I concur with read read read and then write everyday.

LinksJinxSnark said...


oh damn.

she fixed it.
Miss-erable Snark

Simon Haynes said...

I prefer online semi-anon crit groups to the face-to-face kind.

People will say things online they'd never tell you in person, especially when your person is 6'4" and they don't know you very well.

Sure, you might get some wally who just wants to make themselves look big by belittling everyone else's writing, but you soon learn to filter them out.

In the past I've belonged to Critters and the DelRey Online Writing Workshop (now just the OWW, but still going.) Both were incredibly useful, not only in feedback received but also because they forced me to really examine other peoples' work before I could leave comments.

Anonymous said...

I recently received a letter from an agent with words like "brilliant" and "great writing" lurking within - validation and/or Satan's way of keeping me chained to this computer.

Said letter also contained the "N" word, i.e., No! because the agent didn't see enough of a market for my ms.

I muttered the "F" word and dug in on my second novel, nearly complete, because the agent requested that I submit it to them as soon as it is done.

Does this process suck, or what?

domynoe said...

What I look for is work I can sell. Mostly that's "good" but not always.

Which reminds me of what a friend told me recently. She said that a lot of the recent urban fantasy put out was horrible because there was such a demand for it but not a whole hell of a lot that was actually good writing. Publishers needed to meet the demand, but didn't always have the best writing to choose from. I'd imagine any genre or sub-genre that becomes popular suddenly would have that problem at the beginning of the wave.

victoria dove said...

I personally think that an online writing group has been good for me. As a high school student from middle-of-nowhere midwest, the only feedback I get in person are from friends and family. Needless to say, most of that freedback is positive. Online, people don't have to tell me what they think face-to-face, and have to concentrate solely on the writing.

But this is only a personal opinion. I don't think online groups are for everyone, and if I could get myself to a writer's workshop, I bet I'd like that better than online stuff. But for now, the internet is my best bet.

Elektra said...

Went to inbox this morning: six new submissions overnight

Check Miss Snark: suspicions confirmed. Thanks for the link! (especially as the queue had just run dry).

To those interested: The Crapometer Annex (love the name; much better than Bastard COM) is also always welcome to people who'd just like to critique. Just use your Blogger name and leave your thoughts in the comments section for any of the submissions.

Good for Today said...

You know you're 'good' when someone you respect tells you they want more--when they don't want your story to end.

Of course, good and marketable aren't necessarily the same thing.

Marsupialis said...

Good? Artistically? In the marketplace? Critically? Are you satisfied with it yourself? Why even bother thinking about it? Melville was silent the last 30 years of his life, ie., he published nothing. Dickinson had only a couple of poems published in her life, she didn't seek publication. Steinbeck, once a giant, has now completely fallen out of favor. Were/are any of these writers "good"?

Just keep writing. Or better yet, stop writing. Watch TV. Play videogames. Cruise the internet. We need fewer writers.

Heather said...

I think my work is good. Why? Because every time I've let people read it (online, anonymous people, and in real life) they've asked for more, or wanted something else I've read, or that sort of thing.

I demand harsh criticism, something that is hard for some of my readers, not so hard for others. Praise is nice, but at a certain point you've heard it, and it's not really helpful (unless it's targeted, specific praise, e.g. "I love your characterization in scene X"). I want negative, honest, constructive criticism (and not d00d u suxx0rs). I want you to nitpick consistency, the works.

I've been bless with a great critique group that is known for pages and page of harsh, honest criticism, and the first meeting I attended came with the disclaimer "It's nothing personal!". They are great, intelligent writers who seek and wish to give good, useful criticism. I hope they can take me down a few notches, because these days its hard for me to find people willing to take the time I want them to to really have a go at it.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I've learned that criticism always comes withe the caveat: they wouldn't bother critiquing your work unless they see a glimmer of something great in it.

Anonymous said...

"She said that a lot of the recent urban fantasy put out was horrible because there was such a demand for it but not a whole hell of a lot that was actually good writing."

That's the same thing everyone I know said about chick lit after the first year or two it became popular. Still true today. Also, I think a lot of chick lit writers have one book in them, but a 3- or 4-book contract. Ugh.