I was talking to another writer a couple of weeks ago and we were moaning about how neither of us had any real idea if what we were writing was any good or not. He said that he had 'no sense of the piece' (because he's all intellectual and that), while I said that I did: it was all crap.

Does anyone else have difficulty knowing if what they're writing is any good or not? Or are we all dribbling, insecure self-loathing weasels with 'no sense of the piece'?

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Here's a quote from Jorge Luis Borges, as good a writer as they come.


"Any time something is written against me, I not only share the sentiment but feel I could do the job far better myself. Perhaps I should advise would-be enemies to send me their grievances beforehand, with full assurance that they will receive my every aid and support. I have even secretly longed to write, under a pen name, a merciless tirade against myself."
I love it when I've written it; love it enough to briefly smother the doubts. But after I submit something, then I cuss and grab my monitor and shake it, trying to wrest my baby back from whatever Cyber-Hell I have consigned it to. Then every day that goes by, until I am either rejected or accepted, my stomach gets queasy at the thought of it out there, followed by my sure-fire knowledge that "They" are going to hate it and send it back crucified because I was arrogant evough to even PRESUME to write a story! After a few weeks, I hear the Macallans calling my name, and I answer. Then I find the guts begin another one.
The same page that looked brilliant yesterday seems like crap today. And vice versa. I rely on my writing group to tell me if it is really crap. Sadly they've never said it was really brilliant. Just that voice in my head that turns up once in a while to say that.
I agree with you, Patricia, that running one's work by a writing group (or beta readers) is key. I rely on my beta readers to give me an early warning when the pace is flagging, when a description is "off," or when a section needs "more." My standard writing process includes running the end result by the beta readers, kind of like a quality control step. After a certain point, however, my own critical judgment kicks in with a final call, and from that point on, I don't look to others for validation. If my inner critic is satisfied, then I'm okay.
I can see when it's good. But then I turn my back for a few minutes and go back to the same piece and it's changed. All the goodness has leached away, and it's all crap. Later, it might be good again. But only for a short while. Put a story in the post or click send on an email, and well, you know what happens to it as soon as it is out of your grasp.

I find it very hard to tell if it's good or not. Sometimes I worry that I like a particular piece of writing only because of something too personal: some theme or style that does it for me, but will not have the same meaning to anyone else. But if I got too bound up in all that, I'd have more pages in my bottom drawer than Emily Dickinson. So I make it the least crap I can possibly make it, and send it out.
Some days, my default position is to hate every single word and comma that I've written. But there are also days, when I read something that I like and wonder who wrote it - and discover, to my utter surprsie, it was me!

Those moments may be few and far apart, and are easily replaced by overwhelming self-doubt engendered by the slightest reproof from a reviewer.
True validation for me is to read my own words in published form. And then I say, "Did I write that, damn, it's pretty good." Some passages are almost brilliant (to me anyway), and I wonder if I wrote those passages before or after wine time. Maybe there is something to that Hemingway School of Writers theory. The juice makes the words flow so nicely.
I think the real answer is We are all dribbling, insecure, self-loathing weasels -- at the very least, on alternate Thursdays.

On other days of the week, I either let things sit for a while before making changes, or I keep it and send it to my agent, who is God or might as well be. If HE doesn't like, it, then it's back to the keyboard. And if he does like it, then the rest of them, editors, critics, reviewers and all, can go hang.
I actually have the perfect cure for insecurity: reading The Bridges of Madison County*.

Anything has to be better, but that got published.

(*Insert book of your personal loathing - the title will be different for everyone.)
I may be pretty much alone on this, but I generally get a very good feeling for the quality of the writing as I write. If I get a bad feeling - usually because I haven't got the right voice to tell the story - then I'll cut and run and write something else. Lots of half written stories on my hard drive.

For me, it pretty much all comes down to voice. Once I've got that, I feel extremely confident that the story will be good.

I try to maintain a very level-headed estimate of my abilities and of the products of those abilities. I happily rank the stories and novels I've published - best novel I've written comes out later this year. Second best is one I can't seem to sell for love nor money... c'est la vie.
"No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self-deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind." — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Stuart,

Now look at what you've done! Sure you know the answer to your question before you posed it. There are good days and bad days - just as my man Van says ' you know there'll be days like this' - and the stuff you think is shite turns out to be great later - and the stuff you think is inspired turns out to be the real shite later ... so you keep on keeping on and one day a book appears (that is if you can find a title that you can agree on - right now I've setled for the one my agent gave my latest: 'The Root of All Evil' and I know it's got to go, I just bloody hate it now - but I digress) ....as I said, you keep on keeping on and one day a book appears - and it's got a title (whether you liked it or not) ... ... and it's called COLD GRANITE ... and my brother-in-law sends it to me from Aberdeen (my wife's from Aberdeen) and I didn't think it was shite, I
LOVED it - a bloody good read ...

...so quit all this self-flagellation, it doesn't befit a Celt anyway!

Slan, Pat.

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