Is my writing actually any good?

Is my writing actually any good?

Is my writing actually any good?

If you’re like me, this question likes to haunt you every so often. It usually pops into your head when you’re reading a good book in the genre/age category you work in. It can make for a rough sleep that night.

In small doses, this question can be good; if you’re not careful, it can prove detrimental.

How is it helpful?

Well, if you’re asking yourself whether your writing is any good, it means you’re thinking about where and how it fits into the market. This is a MUST.

You’ll often hear agents or publishers mention some genres aren’t easily marketable at a given time (genre popularity often goes in waves i.e. paranormal books were the rage when Twilight first came out. They’re still popular, but they’re not the ‘big’ thing. Dystopia followed a while later, with books like the incredible Hunger Games.)

Asking this question will have you thinking about the following:
    • How does my pacing compare to other well-selling books in the same genre? Is it likely to attract and retain reader interest?

    • Is my writing tone appropriate for the genre? E.g. Is the humour – or lack thereof – tastefully worked into the narrative according to the conventions of the genre? I love pure, straight-up sarcasm in books. It makes me laugh (obnoxiously loudly) every time.

      That doesn’t always mean it suits the genre or category I’m writing in. As the author, it’s my job to know what is and what isn’t appropriate for the genre I’m writing. If humour isn’t one of those things, it gets cut.

    • Is the length of my manuscript well suited to my genre? It’s important to research the genre you’re writing in to see what the recommended word count is. For example, my manuscripts in fantasy should sit roughly around the 100,000 word mark. Anything more than that will likely be too much.
    • What are the things I hated/loved about this book and can they be found in my own writing? You might even snoop the Goodreads page to see what others hated/loved.

As you can see, these questions aren’t dangerous in and of themselves. It’s when you ruminate on them too long that they can become detrimental.

Danger: Beware!

Spending too long on these can easily knock you off your writing horse – and as we all know, she can be a hard steed to remount.

Here are some hurdles you might need to avoid to stay seated:

    • Deciding there’s not enough/too little action and that you should edit right away. BEFORE you decide to replace an entire 20K words with some intense action scene (life-altering edits always seem so much more rational at midnight), you should take a moment to think things through.

      If you don’t want to pause, edit a copy of your manuscript. The last thing you want is to wake up the next day, having slept off the worst of your despair, and realising the original, better version of your story is lost to the void.

      Sometimes spur of the moment edits are the BEST thing to happen to your manuscript, but not always. Be wise, even when your spirits are low. Duplicate your manuscript. Play with that version.

    • Concluding any tone but yours would be better. I’m notoriously guilty for doing this. I read a book, decide my tone is too serious/not serious enough, and start making changes. I’m happy with those changes until I read them back a week later. That’s when I realise I’ve been trying to replicate someone else’s tone.

      It’s not intentional, but it happens anyway because I’m trying to make my writing something it’s naturally not. I always end up editing it out later.

      Your tone might be different to the book you just read. That’s okay. In fact, it’s essential. Your writer’s voice is what sets you apart from everyone else who writes in the same genre.

      Be confident in your own tone. If you think something isn’t working, chances are, it’s the writing or plot or pacing. Learn to identify the difference.

    • Finding a coincidental similarity between your story and theirs and wishing you’d never read the book (so you’d have plausible deniability if anyone ever accused you of ripping the author off).

      Does anyone else read a book, learn the love interest has black hair and blue eyes and start panicking because your love interest has the same features? Just me? Well, good news. A similarity like that shouldn’t be a problem. How many females have you read about with brown hair and brown eyes?

      You can breathe easy on that one.

      But when you have fictional words or character names that are similar or identical,  you might have a problem. It can be hard letting go of the word or name, especially if it’s the one you’ve been using for months, but the change might be necessary.

      You can always hold onto the original word or name until you can check with an industry professional and see what their thoughts are on what coincidental similarities are too far. The last thing you want is for your book to be published and people to identify it as ‘a replica of such-and-such.’

The point

Okay, okay, I’m getting there.

When you start wondering if your writing is any good, you need to be able to separate rational from irrational. Analysing how it compares to other books available on the market is good. Deleting giant chunks indiscriminately because you’re worried someone won’t like them is not.

When you find yourself spiralling, stop to think about what is helpful/constructive for your manuscript. If it’s something that might hurt you later on, wait a little while before acting on it. If it’s pure emotional panic, take some time away from your writing.

I know the instinct is to fix the ‘problem’ right away, but you might come back after some time away to find it’s not an issue after all.

I like the advice Stephen King gives in his memoir On Writing. He advises to write for your Ideal Reader (IR). He writes with his wife in mind as the reader. If she laughs at the jokes, he trusts the humour is well-written. Figure out who your IR is (you might have more than one). You might need a second opinion to help you determine which of your thoughts are constructive and which are plain old worry.

The real question:

The real question is this: now you’ve had your breakdown over the quality of your writing and decided it is good after all, is your confidence strong enough to endure the rigour of the querying process?

You need to have thick skin when you query agents. At the very least, you need to be capable of getting back on the horse time and time again. Some (most) authors endure form rejections and no-response-means-no for many months or even years before they get agented representation. Then the process begins all over again as the agent submits the manuscript to editors.

Are you prepared to handle the constant scrutiny of your work? The feeling that your writing isn’t good enough every time you hear someone else received an offer of representation before you? Can you persevere, even when rejection letters are the only fan mail you get?

It’s not an easy thing to do, but I hope you push through anyway. Perseverance and determination yield results. Besides, I want to read your books!

Learn to control your spiral when you start wondering if your writing is good enough.

If you can do that, you’ll be better off if or when query rejections start arriving. You won’t be fireproof, but you’ll be capable of withstanding the worst of the heat.

And if you get signed by an agent on your first query, remember us little people 😉

— Tahlia with an H
Side note: everyone works/thinks differently. Use whatever helps you; ignore the rest 😉

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