‘You’re a Great Writer! But …’

Good writing matters. But it’s not the whole picture.

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Every writer wants to be told they’re good at what they do.

It’s not that we constantly need our egos inflated — well, not most of us, anyway. Praise is a comfy form of encouragement (even if it makes you cringe a little, it still gives you the warm fuzzies deep down and you know it). We all need to feel validated every once in a while. We all need to be reminded that we are doing good work and people are noticing. Or one person. Whatever.

Unfortunately, good writing is only half of what makes a writer successful. There are many, many good writers out there. That’s not to say being able to write well doesn’t matter or that good writers are somehow “less than” because of market oversaturation. Having “a way with words” is just one small piece in the puzzle that makes up a writer’s journey toward their goals.

What makes a writer unique? Their experiences, for one — typically, the more you’ve lived through and seen or felt firsthand in the real world, the more credible you are in being able to write from a particular perspective.

A writer also has to be able to work well with others, communicate effectively both in writing and out loud face to face, and tell stories others can relate to and find comfort in.

These are generally things you, as a writer, can control. Experience-wise, if you’re not familiar with a specific topic, you can reach out to those who are and gather information the way a journalist in the field might. You can practice good internet etiquette (e.g., not responding five seconds after someone tweets at you and saying something you’re going to regret) and going out into the world and interacting with other people instead of always sitting alone in front of your keyboard.

And then there are the things you cannot change — the situations that rely on outside circumstances that could result in you losing out on an opportunity of no fault of your own.

Sometimes whether or not you “stand out” isn’t completely under your control. You could have years of writing experience and be really good at what you do and still find yourself missing out.

Being a skilled, experienced writer isn’t always enough. And that’s a reality all of us have to both accept and figure out how to thrive in spite of.

Sometimes, editors and agents and publishers reject your work on grounds completely unrelated to how skilled of a writer you are. I’ve lost count of how many clients have told me, “You’re an excellent writer and we’ve found great value in your work — we just can no longer afford it.”

I’ve also had a manager come to me and say, “You’re so good at writing, and I wish that was translating into more pageviews to meet your threshold, but it isn’t, and I can’t figure out why … want to edit instead?”

Good writing is absolutely essential as a foundation for anything and everything you might want to do throughout your career — whether it be online publishing, novel-writing, or using your written communication skills as part of a large company with much bigger goals.

You will not get hired to do work that requires superior writing skills if you do not have those skills. And of course that means you’re going to have to put in the time, effort, and resources to develop and refine your writing abilities. For you that might mean getting a degree or two, doing an internship, taking an online course, religiously following someone’s writing advice blog, or just practicing your writing every free moment you have. A combination of two or more of thse things or others probably wouldn’t hurt either.

But being a good writer doesn’t not make you immune to any of the unfavorable things that may happen to you throughout your career. You may still write things that aren’t great between the things that are. Clients and employers will probably still let you go do to financial or similar reasons that have nothing to do with your ability to form nice, coherent sentences.

An agent, prospective client or editor still might write back to you, “You’re a great writer, but …”

… what you’ve written isn’t really what we’re looking for right now.

… we’ve hired a more qualified candidate.

… we went with a client who proposed a more affordable rate.

Even if you don’t directly receive honest reasons why something didn’t work out in one way or another, if you’re a good writer, it’s very possible rejection happens in many forms for completely unrelated reasons.

This shouldn’t discourage you in the slightest. In fact, it’s my hope that it encourages you as much as it can — especially if you’ve just been told “You’re a good writer. But …”

Let this be a reminder that most of the time, these unfavorable circumstances have nothing to do with your writing skills. It’s not because you aren’t good at writing and it’s not because the majority of writers are better than you (though it’s likely many are — there will always be someone better than you, that does not mean you aren’t good).

If someone compliments your writing but gives another reason why they can’t work with you, need to stop working with you, didn’t like your work, whatever it may be, take it as an opportunity to keep trying. If you’re as good as they say you are, you will find the organization or publication or agent that will be a much better fit for you.

Is it hard to take every rejection as an excuse to try harder? Of course. Rejection is tough. No one handles it well, especially at first. It takes practice and many, many rejections to get to a point where you’re comfortable saying, “Okay, they didn’t want me. Time to find someone who does.”

You can do this. The best thing you can do for yourself now is to refuse to give up.

Don’t even treat giving up as an option. Just keep writing. You. Got. This.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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