Friday, March 13, 2015

How To Know If You're Any Good

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Many of you have left me questions in the comments section of recent posts. I LOVE these. They are wonderful for prompting timely articles. Please keep leaving me your ideas. I go through them and make a list, so if I haven't gotten to your question yet, rest assured, I have it here and I'll do my best to get your questions answered.

Today, I thought I'd tackle several of them in one post. It's easy to do because many of you have asked variations of the same question:



Some of you were more specific than others. You asked, "How do I know if my climax is any good?" and "How do I know if my characters are strong enough?" and "How do I know if I'm a good writer?"

There's such an urgency in these questions, isn't there? Even when I ask them of myself. It's this deep, desperate, very basic, insanely difficult to pinpoint insecurity in our gut that bleeds the words: Do I have what it takes?

As I chewed on this question, my first thought was this: You won't know you're any good unless someone tells you.

And then I thought, what an awful thing to tell teenagers! We shouldn't ever base our pursuits on the fickle opinions of others, especially where art is concerned, especially when we're fifteen.

And yet, there is truth to it. Even if the SOMEONE you receive affirmation from is only ever you.


Answer these questions:

1. Who do you need accolades from?

and

2. If you don't EVER receive those accolades, are you happy writing for yourself?


If the person you want affirmation from is in your life, be brave, give them your work, ask them to read it. Ask them, "Is it any good?"


If you need accolades along with a paycheck and you're sincerely hoping to get both of those from a publishing house, you're going to have to do the hard work of getting your writing in front of an agent and then an editor. In doing so you're asking, again and again, "Is it any good?"

Before you get there, of course, before you reach your target audience, it is always a good idea to get feedback from others. Call it self-esteem practice, if you want. Email that poem of yours to a few writer pals and be brave. Ask them, "Is it any good?"

They may say, "No. It needs work." And your heart will deflate a bit, but YOU'RE A WRITER! Rejection in its many forms is just part of the gig. You keep moving forward and you learn after a while that some opinions are worth more than others. And some should never matter at all. And you don't need to please EVERY audience to be successful.

It's so hard.

And it's so simple.

And it never, ever, ever stops being both of those things.

True story: I just, today, like five hours ago, received an email from my agent. It was a good email. A glorious email. An email worth framing. She told me my manuscript was GOOD. And I nearly knocked my ten year old out of the way in my haste to read the note more fully.

I don't know a single writer who's ever conquered the mountain of self-doubt completely. And perhaps you can rest in that. That you're not alone in your wonderings. You're not alone in your need to know, in the hope of pleasing a rapt audience.

It is normal to hope you're good.

It is better to work toward that goal.

And it is sublime when you can find joy in writing for yourself.

So tell me, did I help at all or did I just muddle this whole thing for you?

34 comments:

  1. You helped me! I am constantly asking my friends and family members who are reading it if they like it. So far the answer has been yes! I just hope literary agents and other people in that process agree. :)

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    1. Hooray! Before you make the jump to agents and editors, try a few writer pals who don't know you as well. It's a process. Work your way up to the audience that matters most to you.

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  2. Three cheers! Just what I needed. Thanks a lot, Mrs. Dittemore, for answering my question.

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    1. Hey, I was wondering. I love internal monologue, but when do you know it's too much or too less? I'm still in the first draft, but I edit as I go, so it's a really important question for me.
      Anyone?

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    2. Internal monologue! I have added it to my list, Jonathan! We'll chat about that soon.

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    3. Jonathan, Do you mean when you're writing in first person (or even third), and that character is thinking to his/her self?

      That's how I'm taking your question. :P

      The only novel (first-draft only so far) was written in first person. I tried not to make her think far too much, but, I mean, the novel is in first person- and humans think- A LOT.

      I would personally say try to keep the internal monologue relevant. For instance:

      I would not suggest doing: (This is really random. Yes, I know.)

      "I wonder what I'll wear to (blah blah blah) next week."

      If this is important information, yes; if we'll never travel to that event, I would not put it in.

      I would suggest (again, very random):

      "She thought about the war plans, mulling over (yada yada)."

      If that part is critical to the story :D

      I'm sure Mrs. Dittermore will be able to answer the question far better than I can. She's a published writer, unlike I am, after all :)

      Sorry for the long comment!

      I hope your book is coming along well, Jonathan!

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    4. Dittemore*, excuse me.

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    5. Thanks, Emily! I was actually talking about third person. Should have included that in my question, huh. Thanks though. This helped :).

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  3. This is so encouraging. Thank you, Mrs. Dittemore! :)

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  4. I think you have to be careful who you choose to ask, cause some people will always say thast they like what you do. This is important for self esteem, of course, but having a feedback with issues to work on an an honest no if it really isn't good helps a lot, too. And it's training for the ego :)

    Fraise

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    1. Absolutely agree with you. Your mom is ALWAYS going to love your stuff. But that's okay. We need that. And in the end you'll know whether or not your personal success comes because you've pleased her or pleased some other audience. For some of us, making those close to us stand up and clap is all we need to make the writing worth it. For others, the definition will be different. But we're all writers. And we shouldn't feel less-than because our definitions of success vary.

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    2. Exactly! Family and friends can really keep you going, and sometimes a "well done" feels really good, even if writer friends would find loads of stuff that needs improving :)

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  5. These are the happiest tears I have shed in a long while. Thank you stupendously for this fabulous answer, Mrs. Dittemore. It's just what I needed. God bless you!

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    1. And God bless you! Have a wonderful day, Hanan.

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  6. These are great thoughts, Shan, and I completely agree. The only way to know is have people in the industry give you feedback.In my experience, for a few years I kept hearing, "This is close. Try working on X, Y, and Z." I would work on that, take it to an agent/editor/published writer and hear, "This is close. Try working on A, B, and C." It was actually kind of a shock the first time an agent was like, "This is great!"

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    1. Yes! CLOSE is such good feedback too because it moves us forward.

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  7. I think this is a great way to know when you're good with your writing. I haven't submitted that much on the fiction front, although I've written lots of short stories and am currently revising a novel that I hope to get published, but I've submitted quite a few pieces of nonfiction. One way I gained confidence was by entering a national essay contest. The first year, I wasn't even a finalist, but the second year I worked really hard and placed. I might not have been good enough the first year, but I was good enough the second year. For fiction I plan to contact some critique partners and try to get their feedback on my novel. Hopefully it will go well, but if I don't get as much positive feedback, then I'll just remember that contest and try again. Eventually and with enough work, I'll "win".

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    1. You know what I love about this? The progress you made. The work you put in paid off. It's not always so clear to us that we've made progress, but you're seeing it. GOOD JOB!

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  8. Feedback is that strange thing where I absolutely dread knowing its on the way, and adore no matter how negative it may be because I got it, I can learn, and I can sort through what is good and what is not. I love your post and how encouraging you always are, Mrs. Dittermore. *internet hugs*

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    1. Oh yeah. Totally normal. I have feedback on its way too. I'm STOKED and angsty. It's real. It is what it is. But WE ARE WRITERS! We've got this.

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  9. You definitely helped me! This is a brilliant post and everything you said was so true!
    I would eventually like to be published and get a paycheck and be on the bestsellers list and have my books be made into movies that everyone fangirls over like crazy (every writer's dream, right?). But even if that never happens, at the end of the day, I write because I enjoy it. I write because I'm a writer. So for now, I guess that's enough.
    I do still plan to be a bestseller one day, though ;)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

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    1. I plan to be a bestseller too one day, Alexa! It's a good plan, but I don't get my job from it. I write for many, many other reasons. Like you, I write because I'm a writer and you're correct: that is enough.

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  10. Oh my goodness, I haven't been on here in FOREVER!

    Awesome post as always, Mrs. Dittermore!

    I have more trouble liking MY OWN writing than other people liking it.

    I am absolutely scared TO DEATH to send any part of my WIP to my critique partners. They're the best, but I always get scared when people read my writing XD

    Welp, that was kind of off subject. :p I'll leave with a relevant comment: That helped a lot. I need to start asking myself- and others- that question.

    Thank you, Mrs. Dittermore!

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    1. Dittemore*, sorry!

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    2. Keep writing! When you're ready for feedback, you'll find that bravery tucked away somewhere and I have no doubt you'll use it.

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  11. This is such a wonderful post! Thank you! I don't really know who I want to please most. Myself, I suppose, though my perfectionism makes that difficult. And my immediate family, though they can feel like hardest to hand things off to because they're more apt to read me and people in my life into my work, if that makes sense.

    I like praise that seems deserved, though come to think of it, some of the praise that's inspired most has been of the gushy grandparent/enthusiastic aunt variety. Even though the only thing I've let my aunt read is kinda awful, she's never stopped showering me with encouragement. And apparently my first grade cousin has decided she wants to 'write books like Cousin [Real life name].' *wipes away tears* It was such an honoring moment for me even though the last thing I'd wish on her is literally writing books like me, meaning either writing really long messy unsalvageable bears of first drafts or obsessing and over-editing to the point of hardly writing anything. (Hopefully there's a way of finding a happy medium? But I'm getting off-topic here...) Anyway.

    Thanks again for this post. It really brightened my day.

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    1. I have a very gushy aunt too! We need that. SO MUCH. AND YES! You will find a happy medium. You're starting so early in life, Miri. Trust that.

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  12. Thank you Mrs. Dittemore, for this post! This is really encouraging! It has also reminded me to remember to write because I love to write, and not write for the feedback and for the feedback solely. XD

    Also, I was just wondering, do you happen to have any tips on how I can expand my vocabulary? XD It might not be a very writerly question (as to character questions and plotting), and I completely understand if that's not the kind of thing you would write a blog post on, but I'm very interested in expanding my vocab so that I can incorporate much more of a richness into my stories. I was wondering if you might have any tips or tricks? :)

    Thank you, again! Blessings!

    -Koko :D

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    1. Good morning, friend! I've noted your question and I'll stew on it, but my initial thought is this: just read. Read widely. Read Historicals and Science Fiction and read all sorts of Fantasy. Read books by authors from all over the globe. Ingest vocabulary. When you don't know a word, look it up. I know authors who keep a list of words they love at their elbow. Words they want to work into their writing. Read, friend. It's the best way to learn new words.

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  13. Hey! Bekah here.

    One (lengthy) question: I write fanfiction, and there people tell me my writing is good. (It varies. Some people say I am "talented," others say such-and-such a story made them cry, and so on.) How do I know whether my writing is good enough for traditional publication, not just fanfiction?

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    1. You won't know--not really--until you try. My suggestion is to keep offering your work to writer pals for feedback and work your way up to your target audience (agents and editors). Don't just jump straight there. Find critique groups. Go to conferences if you can. Find a great writing partner. When you're ready to take the next step, they'll help you know.

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  14. What if you don't have anyone who knows you write? I mean, no one even knows I am writing a novel. I would feel so weird asking even my parents to read it and I don't have anyone else. Also, can I trust my parents' opinions? I feel like they are too prejudiced in my favor.

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  15. I have been pondering this question for a while, and it was so refreshing to read this! It's a concept that I've heard before, but it really strengthened it in my mind and in my own writing life. Thank you so much!

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