Do you ever look at the work you’ve done recently, shake your head, and think, “Wow — I’m really not that great at writing”?
We all — okay, maybe 99 percent of us — experience moments of self-doubt, of disappointment, of low self-confidence. It’s just the nature of how we think about our uncertain futures, and whether or not the work we’re doing in the present will be worth whatever its outcome might be.
Worrying about doing good work is a sign of dedication. You want to do well, so when you don’t feel you’re doing well, you start to question whether what you’re doing is working or isn’t. This is, in most cases, a good thing.
It becomes less of a good thing when we start to doubt ourselves so much that we stop doing the work we love.
Every writer who starts telling stories wants to be really good at it.
When you grow up reading and watching movies and shows and exposing yourself to so many different kinds of stories — many of them really, really good ones — the desire to write your own, to be the one behind the magic, is often inevitable.
But that can be dangerous. Especially when your perception of “good” writing is based completely off of published, polished, heavily edited work.
Also, reading your own work is hard enough without feeling the need to use it to judge your worth as a storyteller.
If you want to be a great writer, you can be. But you may never perceive yourself as “the best.”
In truth you will never be as good of a writer as you want to be. Not because you’ll never be a good writer or that anyone who wants to learn to tell stories with words can’t improve their craft.
You will never reach the level of “good” you are striving for because in your own mind you will almost always be, at best, average.
Psychologically, most of us view our own work much differently than other people view it. We are more critical. We are more unforgiving of minor errors and inconsistencies. When we read back what we write we are almost always thinking, “How could I have done this better?”
Most people who look at your work see it as it stands. They don’t think about how much “better” it could be because to them it simply IS.
This is not always the case, which you know if you’ve ever published anything online that has gained even a small amount of traction. The company I work for gets dozens of emails a day from readers “just pointing out” necessary corrections in our content.
But people who have no better use of their time than to nitpick other people’s work without asking aside, for the most part, you will always be your worst critic.
We would all like to look at that novel draft or unpublished blog post and think, “Wow, this is the best thing that has ever been written. I’m awesome!” And if you do think that, good on you! There are always going to be moments when you read back your own prose and say, “That’s a good sentence. I made this sentence the best it could be. I’m proud of that.”
But it’s not an easy thing to do, to find and praise the nearly flawless parts of our work. Perhaps part of this comes from our heavy reliance on self editing — we are so used to having to be over critical to compensate for not having an external editor that we immediately look for the mistakes, the shortcomings, the plot holes. The sentences we stopped in the middle of and, for whatever reason, forgot to finish.
I have yet to find a way to turn this feature off. And I’m not sure there’s much of a point trying to find one. The way I see it, you don’t typically write a story so that you can go back and enjoy reading it later. You already sat down and wrote the entire thing — it’s assumed you enjoyed at least some of that process, I hope.
As a writer, your job is technically to write a story that other people will read. It’s for you to enjoy creating and for others to enjoy consuming.
This doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t pour over it again and again after the fact, sometimes loving it, other times wishing it was somehow different.
The good news is, this is not only normal, but a good thing.
We SHOULD be critical of our own work. Not for the sake of putting ourselves down or focusing on the things we don’t like about ourselves, but so that we can fixate on the things we don’t like about our past performance so we can do things differently — ideally, better — the next time.
This is self-improvement at its finest. Always striving to be better, being honest about your flaws, yet accepting that no matter how much you improve the end goal is not perfection, but satisfaction in your ever so slightly improved imperfection.
Chances are, you will never be as good of a writer as J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, Toni Morrison or John Green (these are the first writers who came to mind – hey, who’s your favorite writer of the past 30. 40. 50 years? Comment below!
That’s not to say you can’t be a great writer or that you aren’t already. But comparisons precede disappointments. Just because you don’t FEEL LIKE you’re as good as “the greats” doesn’t mean you aren’t, or at the very least, that you aren’t good in your own unique way.
If you want to succeed in writing, don’t spend all your energy comparing yourself to writers who have already “made it.”
Don’t look at what you’ve written and think, “It will never be good enough.”
Don’t give up because you’re not where you want to be in your career.
Look at what you have accomplished — even the absolute smallest of things — and think, “I have so much room to grow. And I can’t wait to see what I’ll do next.”
As long as you are consistent and persistent, willing to accept criticism and make changes to your habits and your process and your techniques, you will improve with every piece of writing you complete.
It may not be easy to see growth from puzzle piece to puzzle piece. But one day you’ll look up and realize you’ve almost put together the whole bigger picture. And all your mistakes, your flaws, your shortcomings — they’ll finally feel worth it.
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.