Why You Should Never Say You're a Good Writer
A dirty little secret of mine is that I don’t think I’m a good writer. My writing credentials and big publications I’ve been able to get into might say otherwise, but I really don’t think I’m a good writer.
Most times when I read really good articles and good writing, I think “why can’t I write as well as this?” I start to question to myself “how can I do more of this?”
I don’t think I’m a good writer, and that has always been a big source of imposter syndrome, because I write. I’ve always written a lot. I expose my writing a lot for everyone to see.
But I’m not a good writer, and it’s always been something that other people have told me not to say, but I haven’t always felt.
I don’t think I read bad writing often
As a reader, I’m not always critical of writing that I read. I only am if there are many glaring grammatical writers or if I’m giving feedback, and even when I give feedback, I’m not that harsh and tend to be less critical than I should be.
One thing I have noticed recently, however, is when interacting with other writers and seeing them say “I’m a good writer.” I’ll then read a piece of their writing and then see a lot of glaring mistakes in their work — from sentences that aren’t complete to writing that isn’t very stylistically fluid.
And then I got to thinking that a lot of the really good writers I know don’t call themselves good writers. They never stop to tell an interviewer that “I’m a good writer” for a lot of reasons, but I still wondered why.
Was it because they were being humble?
That’s the natural response. If you’ve proven your success as a writer, you don’t feel the need to prove yourself. But then I realized something else — no I’m not the best writer out there. It makes me nervous to rank my writing among a lot of other really good writers.
It was in discussing with other writers that, well, I realized that not thinking I was a good writer was a good thing, and not saying I was a good writer is a good thing, because it kept me growing and experimenting with different styles and topics.
Writers should always be trying to grow
That’s right — you’re always supposed to be a better writer tomorrow than you were today. Whether that was because you read a couple more pages or because you had a substantive conversation and life experience, writing is not a static activity where your quality is fixed — you’re always getting better and should always aim to be getting better.
It might be a mindset, but it’s an important one. Acknowledging that I wasn’t a “good writer” per se allowed me to be receptive to feedback and constructive criticism. Without being too harsh, I was constantly looking for where I could make my voice stronger, my research better substantiated, or my sentences clearer. It allowed me to try new things and experiment in different topics like satire.
You can believe in the quality of your writing more than me, but add an addendum. Instead of being simply a good writer, be a good writer who can become great, because your writing, again, isn’t a static fixture where you’re maintaining the quality of your craft for the rest of your life.
The problem with saying you’re a “good writer” implies certainty, and as writers, we’re constantly coping with the uncertainty. The world will tell you that you need to be more assertive and confident, but in writing, you’re always dealing with nuanced claims and conflicting feelings. The best writers explore and dive deep into that unknown.
Instead, take rejections not as insults, but as opportunities for growth. Take feedback for what it is — another person devoting their time to help you get better. Just because you’re not perfect and will never be doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write — write, and do it a lot. Stop listening to other people’s rules for what constitutes good writing — listen to yourself and your own rules for what’s good writing for you.
You can be a high-quality writer, but never stop learning and never stop growing. Have a healthy amount of uncertainty, but not too much, and never say that you’re a good writer because even if you’re good, you can become great.
Originally published on The Partnered Pen on July 31, 2020.