How do you know if you're good?

I don't think there's a single person on this site who will claim they're a terrible writer. Every artist thinks their work is a masterpiece. And if we look in the right place, we'll always be able to find people who agree with us. You put your stuff on a website like WattPad, and you'll probably get more than a few glowing reviews, but those same readers will praise a book that doesn't use a single punctuation mark. I mean... Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James are both bestselling authors with armies of diehard fans. So my question is, when and how do you determine that you're actually a good writer and the praise you're getting is warranted?

You have to define "Good", it's subjective.

Good as in classic? Good as in art? Good as in storytelling? As in a masterpiece?

Personally, I don't think the stories I work on now are great if considered as art or something meaningful. Rather, I try to "be good" at storytelling. Everything is subjective, so what are you trying to measure? For what she delivered, Stephanie Meyer was good- she's just measured on a different scale.

Take the Martian for example- I thought it was really good, but weir is no steinbeck.

I mean on an objective scale. Yes, opinions on your work will always vary based on personal taste, but there are still ways to objectively measure something's quality. Any critic who looks at Twilight or 50 Shades with an objective eye will tell you that they're utter crap.

There's entertainment quality, but what I think you're looking for is a quality of beauty, which is broadly the metric of good art, perhaps anything. Beauty is like love in that it affirms and brings out the proper or good qualities of a thing. So, while I disagree that this is subjective, apparently in a minority of opinion, it is a pretty weighty question to throw at anyone. Arguably the weightiest.

I would say a good place to begin is with your evocation. Evoke meaning well in form. That's the essence of art. For writing, these are the forms of proper word choice, proper rhythm and flow. You're conducting a symphony of mental images and associations, for the purposes of evoking a meaning. What meaning is more true or good, that's something you should try determining yourself.

If you look at every story as a kind of essay, then, what it is you put forward is of great philosophical consideration.

That's my take, at least, on what makes a good piece.

As folks have pointed out, being "good" is a very subjective thing. People like different art, and place different values on the same piece. Even the examples you listed, Stephanie Meyer and EL James, are good in the eyes of their target audience. Those people aren't wrong, either, because its pretty much impossible to be wrong about how much you, individually, enjoy a piece of art.

So, the real crux, how do you know if you're good? You don't. Pretty much ever, from what I've read and heard. There's a reason Imposter Syndrome is such a prevalent issue among writers/artists/actors/etc. None of us ever truly know if we are good, because there will never be universal consensus one way or the other. We only know if people are enjoying the works we create, and if we enjoy the act of creating it. My take is you do your best and hope you're making something that brings people out there joy.

Your sentiment that most people here believe their stuff is good is one that I feel depends on their maturity level. It is in my experience, at least, that most artists (no matter the medium/media) find themselves to be very insecure about their artwork. As DrewHayes stated, Imposter Syndrome is actually pretty prevalent. Most of the time when I find an artist who lacks even a doubt about their work, they are either EXTREMELY talented and arrogant, or young and naive.

As for what actually counts as being good, without repeating the same things everyone else has said about subjectivity, a quote from Scott Adams comes to mind:

"The secret is that art comes from abnormal brains. If you create art that satisfies your own tastes, you've created for a market of exactly one abnormal person. If you're lucky, a handful of other freaks get some joy from your creations too."

Every artist thinks their work is a masterpiece.

Lolwat? How many artists do you actually know?

Most creative types think anything but that.

I have literally never met a writer who DIDN'T think they were going to be the next Stephen King or JK Rowling. I think the thing about drawing/painting/whatever and writing is that since drawing is a visual art it's really easy to see how good or bad you are. If your drawing looks realistic, it's good. If it doesn't, it's bad. Writing is an art that exists mainly within the mind, and since the writer already has the story planned out in their head, a lot of the time they can overlook errors and bad prose. That's why we're encouraged to have other people read our stuff before we go public with it.

Popping in as both a writer and an artist... it's the same thing in both fields. I can't name you one person who thinks their work is a masterpiece (unless you're a rapper, but that's part of the job description there).

As for art, people have different preferences there, too. Others may like more realistic paintings, others might prefer more cartoony styles, others might go something completely abstract. Sure, there's a different between the Mona Lisa and a beginner's sketch of an anime character, and it's the same with writing. If you don't have at least some handle of the basics and fundamentals, no ones going to take you seriously. That goes for all fields of creative output.

I think 'am I good' is not ever the right question. Really we should each be thinking 'how do I do better'. That's probably kind of preachy, but I still think it's true.

The only people I've met who think they're going to be the next Rowling/King have been teenagers with little experience but grand ambitions. And, once they realise the effort required (ie. that first drafts are always awful and comprise about 25% of the actual work), they either mellow out or turn their attentions to some other creative medium (and the cycle repeats).

Anyone who thinks "this is as good as it gets" is doomed to failure. I always remember something Neil Gaiman said when asked if he looked back at his old work and cringed - he replied along the lines of "I look back at stuff I wrote this morning and cringe".

I know I'm good because they laughed at me. Mocked me! Told me I was meddling with forces man was not meant to understand! That's when I turned my back on those small-minded folks who were too limited to truly appreciate the depth of my genius, and swore that one day I would show them... I would show them all.

*steeples fingers*

*Strokes white, long-haired cat*

Using the examples of Stephen King and Jk Rowling is perfect for this scenario. Lots of critics *dont* think they are good, and compared to some of the classics, they're not.

However, I love their writing. So how do you gauge and judge that?

In the drawing example, there's fantastic art that isn't drawn well- look at Picasso for example.

I would argue you have to measure yourself against the satisfaction from your target market. And if you are measuring yourself on the scale of "art", I don't think you can.

You can tell when you are bad though!

You can never be good. You can only suck less. :P

For what it's worth, there's a decent amount of research on whether people can successfully recognize how competent they are. The short answer is that you probably can't do it very well. For a better summary (an interview with a psychologist on the subject), you can follow this link:

For myself, I don't know how good I am. I know that I'm better at some areas of writing than I am at others. More to the point, I can sometimes recognize accurately when I'm better than other people if the gap is big enough (and I don't even have to read their work to do it). If they're asking questions that I figured out the answers to years ago, I'm probably better at writing than they are.

There's objective stuff like grammar and how easy it is for someone to figure out what's going on. That said, perfect grammar and clear writing doesn't automatically result in a moving story. It can be perfectly clear and also boring.

In the end, I think that you know you're good when the people who read the kind of thing that you write tell you they enjoyed it. Even then though, not all of them will like it and you can be very good, but have terrible marketing skills. At that point, you may well be amazing, but no one will know.

All that said, there's the whole "working hard" thing. The idea that after a lot of work, you'll master a field. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice. Based on articles by others, he's probably wrong about how much the hours of work matter and doesn't take into account enough other factors. Plus, it appears to vary by field. You can read more about that here:

That said, if you put 10,000 hours of work into writing, it's probable that you're good. It's hard to measure though.

Hi, my name is J.Ander, and I'm a terrible writer. I don't write masterpieces and rather not. I'm not that egotistical to think that every story I write is a masterpiece. Oh I can be pretentious, but creator of masterpieces, ha. And I'm not being self-deprecating here, my writing is what it is. And for the record, I don't want to be Steven King or J.K. Rowling. And as a fantasy writer, I don't want to be Tolkien either. I just want to be whatever I'm going to be. My goal is to be a better writer, not trying to be like a one and a million star.

Anyway, to answer the question, what people enjoy is a bit subjective. I mean, I like storytelling but I'm not a good writer in terms of the technical aspects of it. I don't pretend to write masterpieces. But there are a handful of people out there likes my writing and that confuses me. Most of the time, I think they are being polite because I see dozens of things I can improve on and then a dozen more after I thought I was okay. Then after that, it's more this could be a lot better. And that's the thing with being a writer, you are always learning and improving. If you start thinking you are always writing masterpieces, then you've stopped learning.

In "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", a guy went crazy pondering this very question. So be careful y'all.

I concur with others that the main question you should ask is not whether or not you are "good," but what can you do to improve.

One of Goya's last paintings depicts my opinion of how any creative person should think: he depicted himself as a decrepit old man, held up on canes, with a caption that said, "I Am Still Learning."

From personal experience, I've not thought that a lot of what I've done is good. I mean, I break several rules. Excessive and meaningless swearing, all sorts of off-putting stuff, excessive anal references front to deep in the rear, and references and shout-outs all over the place. I steal from all sorts of sources, including almost bodyslamming superstar Shia Labeouf. That would probably be some of that Imposter Syndrome mentioned by Drew. That said, Shakespeare stole Romeo and Juliet, so why take from others?

I have to concur on the idea that those who are more confident are the ignorant or arrogant. That's straight-up Dunning-Kruger right there. Inverse correlation between confidence and competence.

I know I'm better than where I'm started, even if I don't like to read my own stuff. I've improved. Faster. Stronger. If I were to put the work into it, I could make some money off this.

Also, on a personal note, I wouldn't want to be Stephen King anyway. I don't find him scary at all. I write in my own particular way, which fills its own niche. I do this thing people like. Wildbow does something else. Others do what they do, and so on and so forth.

I also don't think it's so simple as saying there's an objective way to judge writing like that. Part of the problem with reading past writers is that the literary environment changes over time. Stuff that was revolutionary and the basis for later stories ends up looking pretty bad after awhile. You can't deny Lovecraft's influence on horror, but the guy had a major exposition problem. Without John Carter of Mars, we wouldn't have Star Wars and many other sci fi conventions, but John Carter's boring to people who grew up not only on those ideas, but on improvements made to those ideas by later writers. And even the fact that Stephanie Meyer has hordes of deranged fans speaks to the fact that, as far as they're concerned, she is good. Some might say that her making so much money off of it makes her even better.

But if I can be a weird little whackadoodle that appeals to some people, that's nice. I don't think I'm crazy, after all. It's the world that's gone mad around me. There are probably other people like me. They aren't getting "me" from anyone else out there. I got my niche, and I've gotten better in it. And I could still put more effort into it.

If I can be said to have contributed anything to all this besides inane ramblings, it would be that I don't think a writer should strive to be merely "good". That would imply I hit some sort of stable plateau upon which I can be confident I no longer need to try. In that case, I suspect Stephanie Meyer is good. Twilight is all she'll be. You have an opportunity to be better, and you have an advantage she didn't have: she didn't have her terrible works as an example to be better than. And as perfection is the enemy of good, the pursuit of perfection, of better, is an unending and powerful force for improvement. Note to self: I still need to read The Stranger by Albert Camus.

I'm going to end this one off with a nice affirmation: