How do you know whether or not you’re a good writer?
Surprisingly, this is not difficult to figure out. If you think commas are something you can ignore, not use, or use improperly, you’re most likely a bad writer. If you can’t properly punctuate a sentence like “Let’s eat Grandma,” oh yeah, you’re bad.
If your sentences make no sense, you consistently leave out words and letters, and the reader is left scratching their head, wondering why the hell they spent good money for your book, you’re a bad writer. If you change PoV on a whim (known as head-hopping), you’re a bad writer. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re trying to tell the reader, chances are good… you’re a bad writer.
There are different kinds of writers: fiction, non-fiction, columnists, those who craft little ditties for greeting cards, those who specialize in proposals or grants or technical treatises… there are writers everywhere. Some of the them are good, some are bad, and some are excellent.
If you don’t write well, you won’t be in your chosen field long.
I postulate good writing goes back to the craft itself, the very act of writing: the ability to string words together into coherent sentences and then putting those sentences together to form paragraphs. It’s being able to put what you see in your mind down on paper (though these days, it’s almost always typed into a word processor).
Eventually, you have told a story or finished that thesis or completed your guide to whittling wood. The one thing all good writers have in common? The ability to pass images/ideas/thoughts to someone else through words. When you think about it, that’s pretty amazing.
If you can’t construct an easily understood sentence, if you spew stream of consciousness into a computer and type ‘the end’ without re-reading or editing of any kind, you are not a good writer, no matter what your friends tell you. They are your friends; are they really going to tell you the story sucks and you should stick to composing grocery lists?
But there’s more. A good writer is always learning, always trying to improve. A good writer takes pride in what they write, in making it the best it can be before submitting it. A good writer doesn’t expect an editor to fix all the things that should have been fixed before sending it off (nor is it an editor’s job to teach someone how to write; they don’t get paid nearly enough), and for sure they shouldn’t be self-publishing that story before it’s been gone over several times.
A good writer is many things–researcher, student of grammar and punctuation, purveyor of ideas, keeper of culture, receptacle of imagination and vision–but most of all, a good writer is professional.