When it comes to judging our writing talent we can be incredibly biased. We can delude ourselves and believe we are the next big name; we can also be so critical with ourselves we end up believing we only write rubbish.
Indeed, even the most balanced aspiring writers can feel discouraged and have the impression that despite their best efforts they’re getting nowhere. In particular, they feel their writing isn’t improving in any significant way.
Now, even if it can be difficult to be objective about our own work, this doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. And indeed, the following suggestions can help us to assess our own writing with at least a certain amount of equanimity.
1) Your writing is improving, or not?! Just reread!
Assuming you’re not a self deluded Narciso—but then in such a case you’d never feel discouraged by the poor quality of your own writing in the first place—the first thing you can do to understand if your writing is improving is quite simple.
Just take anything you wrote a couple of months before and read it. If while reading it you grimace and twist your hands for the shame, if you stumble every few words, chances are that you might actually need to work quite a bit more on your style.
Instead, if what you read makes you frown only occasionally, and sometimes manages instead to pleasantly surprise you, you can be reasonably sure you’re on the right track.
To assess your work with some objectivity, try to analyse it from two different perspectives.
First, look at your grammar. Highlight every passage with a grammar mistake and ask yourself if, for your narrative purposes, you really need to “bend” grammar in the way you did.
After that, look at your content and ask yourself if the way the narrative unfolds is effective. For example, you don’t need to tell your readers, Kris reached out and opened the window. Kris opened the window is more than adequate. Unless Kris is endowed with superpowers, it’s obvious she’s going to reach out.
Instead, if an action happens after another and the sequence is important you must make sure you wrote the events in such a way there’s no way they can be misunderstood.
For example, Mark wrote the letter and went to the restaurant, doesn’t mean at all the same as Mark began to write the letter. Afterward, he went to the restaurant.
Sure, many people will tell you you must delete all those horrible crutch words (like start, begin and so on), but while in the first example Mark wrote the whole letter and then went to the restaurant, in the second one Mark may or may not have written the whole letter. We cannot know for sure. And if this difference is important for the story, we must make sure began remains where it is.
2) Good days, bad days… who cares?
Another sign that your writing is improving is when you can no longer notice any difference between the days you felt inspired and the ones you felt not.
Let’s be clear about this. It’s not that when you are inspired you write actually better out of the magic of inspiration. Not at all.
For example, in my case, on the days I was inspired, I believe I wrote better because I put a lot more of attention into what I was writing. And the difference between inspired days and not inspired ones was such it still showed even in the final draft.
3) You repeat yourself
Another good sign is when, on rereading your story, you stop and think something like, here I should add some more details and explain better what happens, and then, as soon as you resume your reading, you discover the next passage takes care of what you’ve just thought.
4) Dear friends
We all know moms and dads and dear friends are more often than not useless as critics.
But there’s a difference between the expression your friends make when they are being simply polite and when they are positively impressed by what they just read. Of course, you can’t follow your friends everywhere just to make sure you can look closely at their faces when they read your works.
But you can tell you’re getting better also when some of your friends ask you about your writing without being prompted to.
When the going gets tough the tough get going
It doesn’t matter if your writing is improving at a slower pace than you hoped it would. Improvements tend to come in steps, not in gentle clines. This means you might work hard for a whole year and see no improvement at all. And yet, just a month later, find yourself churning out a masterpiece after the other.
This is so because learning is a holistic experience, and once you have grasped the fundamentals, any subsequent improvement requires that all the details be exactly in place for the jump to the next level to take place, so to speak.
In any case, while we can never be completely satisfied of any book we’ve written, knowing we’ve put in our work all we had, we can at least be in peace with ourselves.
Besides, the next book will be better. And the next after that. Just keep writing.