On being a Good Writer™

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What do you think of when you hear the term, “Good Writer?”

Likely, you think of your favourite books and their authors. You remember an article or blogger you follow. A lyricist. A friend. Someone you hate-read.

A few years ago, I wrote an apology via Facebook messenger to someone I was awful to (and vice-versa) in high school. The first line of her response was, “Looks like your writing style hasn’t changed.” Was that a compliment or an insult? I wasn’t concerned…but, it made me wonder if my style had changed. I don’t remember the rest of the message because I had said my piece and no longer needed to engage; still, I’m grateful for that comment and think about it occasionally.

Upon observation: yes, my style has changed – mostly, the anger has dissipated and I value critical honesty over the spectacle. I don’t think I’d still be writing (and so scared of admitting I do, even though it’s now here, publicly, online, forever) if it hadn’t shifted. If anything, I would say that it has been elevated and refined by fear and experience and my insatiable determination for furtherance, introspection, and destroying my well-being over the excruciatingly rigid, high standards I hold myself to. Especially in my fucking writing – because, like most artists and their respective mediums, it is a direct connection to me and an obvious extension of me.

What and who do I think of, when I’m asked about “Good Writers?” This list is easy for me: Anne Carson, Foucault, the author of Knifepoint Horror – but not myself.

Writing is a thing I’ve done since I found I could. I also have a list of what makes one a good writer to me: the ability to take criticism and direction, a voracious appetite for literature, an eye for structure and an open mind. Constantly developing. Constantly interesting and engaging.  

So, then: why do I *NEVER* consider myself a Good Writer™?

The answer is simple with complex undertones, and the answer to many other questions one may ask about themselves: insecurity. Deep-rooted, emotionally-charged, likely wrong and irrelevant things have happened and have been said to make this a reality.

And I am tired of it holding me back, stifling me, and making me sit there, looking at other people wondering: “Why is this so easy for them and not for me?”

As individuals, we see some people are terrible writers; this is subjective (which I often hate acknowledging). They lack style and content and originality – that’s fine. Right now, you could be reading this thinking about how much you hate my syntax and em-dash use and ellipses and run-on sentences with the word “and” wedged in there. I just read an article to completion because it was about my friend, not because it was fucking well-written. I used to hate Lana Del Rey songs because I thought I didn’t identify with being dramatically, ornately romantic (and as of four days ago, I have almost exclusively listened to “Young and Beautiful”).

There is a difference between someone being a good writer and what you like about their writing, however. Recently, I was challenged to ask five good friends for three things that made me a good writer. This was fucked up to me, but when challenged, I do not back down. I reached out over email and when some didn’t respond, I asked a few others. I wasn’t expecting what I received.

Their answers were so constructive and helpful. And truthful; succinct. I cried a bit.

It was not only rewarding because my friends are genuinely sweet, kind, helpful souls – but because I could identify why I was afraid of asking (those self-imposed standards) and get constructive, positive, beautiful feedback from people I value. They read my work in different ways – personalities ranging from my roommate who sees every poem I write before anyone else does, to a former coworker who reads this blog, and so on – and this was ridiculously interesting.

So, what I ask of you to wrap this up: Why don’t you think you’re good at what you clearly do well, even though you’ve practiced and refined and worry and always strive for quality?

Ask five people you trust to not blow smoke up your ass (like, the kind of friends that will tell you that you will look so stupid if you get bangs), for three ways you are good at your craft. Save their answers somewhere and refer to them when you need it. And publish your fucking chapbook.