How Do You Know If Your Writing Is Good Enough?

by Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Woman hugging herselfW

It’s one of the most common questions we writers ask ourselves:

Am I good enough?

It all depends on your own definition of “good enough.” Good enough to write an enjoyable story? Good enough publish a book?

While there’s no real way to know for sure if your writing is publishable-quality before you’re offered a contract, you can ease some of those am-I-good-enough? jitters by getting honest feedback on your polished writing.

For some people, this is a major dilemma. You think you might be on the right track, but the thought of sharing something so intimate is terrifying.

It’s difficult to judge your own writing objectively. Maybe you tend to think your writing is worse than it really is. Maybe you tend to think it’s better than it really is.

What if you could share a piece of your writing with a close-knit, trusted community of other writers, and perhaps even do it anonymously? What if you could get objective, non-biased constructive criticism without anyone ever knowing who you are?

Want a Peer-Critique of Your Writing?

I’d like to get your opinion on something I want to trial here at Write It Sideways–a (weekly/bimonthly?) service of sorts, which would be to everyone’s advantage.

Let’s say we were to have an open call for short pieces of writing (flash fiction, novel excerpts, creative non-fiction, etc.). The writers would remain anonymous and we, the readers, would give the writer feedback.

The writer would benefit by receiving peer critiques, and the rest of the community would get tips on how to improve their own writing.

We would have strict guidelines as to how this would work:

  • Submissions would be approximately 500 words long.
  • Feedback would need to be given in a positive manner, and with the intention of helping the writer improve.
  • Any inappropriate or deliberately hurtful criticism would be deleted.
  • Excerpts would need to be appropriate for all audiences.
  • Writers would need to understand I can’t guarantee everyone the same amount/type of feedback. Some commenters might give general encouragement, while others might give detailed critiques.

Does this sound like something you’d be interested in doing? Do you think it would be beneficial for both those submitting and those critiquing? What suggestions do you have for making the feature run smoothly?

Please leave a comment to let me know what you think, and any further ideas you have. I’ll consider all opinions and get back to you next week with the particulars.

Thanks!

{ 27 comments }

Leah Petersen June 17, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I think it sounds fantastic. If you had a lot of participation, how would you decide whose submissions to post for crit?

Mike Miller June 17, 2010 at 2:46 pm

It would be fun but you would likely be overwhelmed by people wanting to get reviewed and have to come up with a system for dealing with that.

tom franklin June 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm

the two comments i see both say what i was thinking: great idea, but you’re going to get overwhelmed by submissions.

that having been said, if you’re willing to figure out how to have it not take over your life, i’m willing to participate in submitting and offering my critiques.

Heather Rae June 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm

This sounds like a great idea. I would love to participate and look forward to hearing the particulars. :)

Lynsey Newton June 17, 2010 at 5:11 pm

I think this is a fabulous idea!!

Jessica E. Subject June 17, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I agree with the previous commentors. This is a fabulous idea and I would love to participate, but you will be overwhelmed with submissions.

Tonya R. Moore June 17, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I would most certainly be interested! So would–I’d imagine–countless other writers. I’d love to see how something like selection works out though. Like Mike Miller mentioned above, you’d likely be facing a deluge of requests.

Anonymous June 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I think the idea is commendable, but I don’t know if it can be executed (or if it’s worth executing). Editing passages out of context and sorting through the slush of content begging to be edited may quickly sap you of all goodwill. Good luck, however, should you choose to move forward!

Anonymous June 17, 2010 at 6:02 pm

I apologize for the multiple posts. This comment system doesn’t allow my normal blogger/wordpress login, which I prefer over linking to social media or Disqus. And the guest login didn’t seem to be working either.

Suzannah June 17, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Hello :) Sorry if the comment login has gone a bit wonky. I deleted your extra post, which was exactly the same as the previous one, but neither of them showed any linking info if that was the issue.

Let me know if there’s something else I can do. Thanks for your input, as well!

Anonymous June 17, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I think the idea is commendable, but I don’t know if it can be executed (or if it’s worth executing). Editing passages out of context and sorting through the slush of content begging to be edited may quickly sap you of all goodwill. Good luck, however, should you choose to move forward!

Suzannah June 17, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Thanks, everyone, for your input so far. Sounds like everyone shares the same concerns about being overwhelmed. I had thought a bit about it, but I imagine the deluge would be handled by having only a short submission time–say 24 to 48 hours–just to see how many we get. From there, I would probably choose submissions that I thought needed the most help, or perhaps held great opportunity for discussion and learning for all of us.

If we were to get a manageable number of excerpts at once, I might start a waiting list and do a regular feature like this. Then I’d just reopen submissions when we run out of material.

Someone brought up the difficulty in editing passages out of context. I know a lot of other blogs that do this already (Nathan Bransford, Mary DeMuth, Natalie Whipple) and it seems to work for them. For simplicity, I think I would narrow submissions to complete flash fiction, short creative non-fiction articles/anecdotes, or excerpts that can stand on their own.

Okay, hope we get some more suggestions. This is great!

Pbdp June 18, 2010 at 6:43 am

Have you thought about seperating them into genres (depending on the amount of submissions you get)? It might make the organisation a bit easier.

Suzannah June 18, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Hello :) I think I’m going to poll our readers first to see what the dominant genres of interest are. That will help me narrow down my choices if we get a lot of submissions. But yes, that’s a great idea to organize by genre, and perhaps rotate on that basis so we mix things up a little. Thank you!

moonduster (Becky) June 17, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Love the idea! :)

Joanna Bloss June 18, 2010 at 12:15 am

love the idea!

Anonymous June 18, 2010 at 6:29 am

I would love to try this one out. I have always experienced this dilemma and I’d like to know, if I am not judging my writing right or not.

jennifer June 18, 2010 at 2:43 pm

What an awesome idea! I’ll definitely participate in that.

Lynn June 18, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I would be interested on an online critique group.

Julie Musil June 18, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Thanks for the great article. I think it would be nice to offer up work for critique, but I get a little concerned about work on line considered “published.” Any thoughts?

Suzannah June 19, 2010 at 10:54 am

Good point, Julie. It really depends on who you ask, but many sources recommend against posting anything online you intend to publish elsewhere. If we do go ahead with this, I’ll be warning people that perhaps they might like to use a piece of writing they don’t intend to publish.

That said, Nathan Bransford (an agent) has been doing a critique of the first 250 words of writers’ novels on his blog, and I don’t recall him mentioning it being a problem.

Tricia June 19, 2010 at 1:45 am

You might check out http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com. She does similar things on her blog. She has different types of critiques ranging from first sentences to 1000 words.

I think her site is fantastic and think it would be a great idea if you started something along those lines.

Suzannah June 19, 2010 at 10:55 am

Thanks Tricia! I have seen this site, but I’ll check it out again to see what’s been going on there critique-wise.

jmbauhaus June 20, 2010 at 2:35 am

It also sounds similar to http://crapometer.blogspot.com (another Miss Snark community spin-off), which appears to be either defunct or on hiatus. You might check with them for tips on how to organize this. I think it’s a great idea.

Brittney Shelton June 19, 2010 at 5:38 am

I would definitely take part in this. Sounds like a great idea!

Sharonkmayhew June 22, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I think the critique sessions would be great. I’m worried that 500 words is a lot for people to give good feedback on. I did a post a few months ago like this, but had it for the first five sentences of your manuscript. I had about 20 people participate and about 100 comments total including mine. I think if the word count is too high, people aren’t going to have the time to critique all of the posts. I like that on Miss Snark’s first Victim she asks that if you enter her critique posts that you critique at least 10 of the entries. She usually has 100 enteries. I’ve entered three of her critique rounds and gotten some great feedback.

I look forward to seeing what you decide to do, Suzannah.

Suzannah June 22, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Good point, Sharon. Thanks for the heads-up. I was thinking of making submissions a maximum of 500 words, but you’re probably right that it might be too long. Will definitely take that into consideration!

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