When a writer’s best isn’t good enough

For the past several decades we’ve been teaching children that doing their best is all we expect of them. What happens when a child who has received and internalized this message grows up with the dream of being a book author and confronts the reality that his or her best isn’t the stuff of a career, or even a brief moment of notoriety?

Well, for one thing, a throng of entrepreneurs pitching services and wares to creative writers are happy to assume the voice of nurturing parents by insisting that persistence and inspiration will make anyone into a successful writer. By defining success as trying one’s best, I suppose they’re equivocally correct.

It also might be argued that boosting a writer’s self-esteem, giving the person hope, or telling the eternal optimists only what they want to hear indeed are valuable services. What writer wants to pay to be told that he or she still has a lot to learn? Or to put it another way, an unscrupulous company will find it much easier to sell an illusion. Evidence that aspiring authors are being misled comes to me in the form of query letters from writers who describe the same unimproved manuscripts year after year.

Over on Jane Friedman’s blog, freelance editor Rebecca Faith Heyman reports honestly that “difficult-to-agent books often have significant problems.” The completed manuscripts may be the results of writers’ best efforts, but that alone doesn’t make them good enough. Fortunately, educational resources, very often free of charge, are available to writers who are capable of recognizing their own shortcomings and willing to work to improve their chances of success. The public library loans excellent reference books, and my blogroll is another place to begin the search.

writer working

4 thoughts on “When a writer’s best isn’t good enough

  1. Mike

    I believe I’m compensated fairly for the quality of my writing. I pay to host a site on which I don’t have the traffic or desire to sell ads. So it costs me money for my words to be out there. I think that’s eminently fair.

  2. Robin Mizell Post author

    You’re also writing on topics that interest you and without regard to their popularity. I do the same. There was a time, however, when I preferred to receive writing assignments. In retrospect, I was paid quite well for those gigs. Not including the A__Zero debacle.

  3. kaleenagenette

    People who don’t want or can’t handle critique amaze me. I would not be half the writer I am if I didn’t have a network of people telling me what sucks so I can develop better skills.

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