Friday, September 09, 2011

A Good Writer

How does one know if they are truly a good writer?

One of the mandates to becoming a writer is reading and writing every day. Every day without fail. Even if it’s for five or ten minutes. A good writer reads. A good writer writes every day. Or so I’ve been told.

And there are many writers with much more impressive literary pedigrees than mine. It seems to me that many folks (especially those within the industry) measure a writer’s greatness by the number of previous publications.

Well. Thank the good Lord that Literary Agent Susan Ramer and Amy Einhorn Books loved The Help as much as I did, because Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before they got a hold of it. My question is, why was it rejected 60 times? I’m sure Ms. Stockett didn’t send out her beloved manuscript willy-nilly to just anybody. And according to this article, ( the rejections took their toll on her. So what do some see in debut novels that others don’t?

Is there something in a writer’s DNA that makes us good? Is there such a thing as natural-born talent? Even if one follows all the rules, reads and writes every day, and possesses a natural storytelling ability, how do you know you’re a good writer?

Is it because your friends and family gush over your work? Or because you’re published? Because you've won a contest or two? Or is it because something inside you pushes you forward. To not write would send you to the looney bin. Suck the air out of your lungs. Stop your heart. But does that really make you a good writer?

Every writer receives good and bad reviews. Some have thousands of followers who buy every one of their books, as well as folks who turn up their noses at the mention of their name. Is it all about personal preference?

Who decides? What qualifies them, for crying out loud? And yet what, pray tell, makes up the essence of a good writer? Is it the marketing and publicity machine behind the writer? (I hardly think so.)

Writers often question their worth. They have peaks and valleys in their careers and hold on to each and every positive comment, turn of phrase, and head nod. They possess the patience of a saint. After all, what kind of person does it take to persevere through 60 or even a hundred rejections? Years of waiting for an offer. Writers bend with the wind and roll with the god-awful punches. Even though the words come out of us like a rocket and keep us up all night we wonder--will we ever get a break?

Literary Agent Donald Maass says it takes ten years to develop a breakout writer. What if those ten years have come and gone?

Who or what determines a good writer?

Well. I really don’t know.

Helen Keller once said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

And yet it’s not success that defines us as a good writer. Our MFA degree, the hundreds of folks who turn up at our book signings, or our fifth New York Times bestseller. It's not that at all. Because at the end of the day, it's still just you and your computer.

So how do you know you're a good writer?

Do you ever?

Maybe that in itself is what keeps us moving forward.

Blessings to you and yours.

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