Monday, March 1, 2010

How Do You Know...???!???

How do you know if you're a good writer?

It's all so subjective, isn't it?

And I struggle with this question at least... ummm... let's see... every hour.

See, I'm not only a novelist, I'm also a writer at City of Hope, a cancer research institution. My job is to take the hard sciencey like Stat3 genes and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and DNA methylation and such and make it all easy for the ordinary person to understand, prompting them to send in money to support life-saving research. And I often wonder, Did I do my job? Did I really explain what a Nanodrop Spectrophotometer does?

Sometimes, it's easy to tell if I'm good.

My first novel, A Quiet Storm, was published by a big-big publisher.

A potential donor who read my proposal about some devastating disease sent in a big check.

But sometimes, there's silence. A lot of silence. Or rejection. Lots of rejection. And despite past successes, the niggling in the back of your mind becomes more nagging.

You're a hack.

Look at your participles, all dangling like that.

You can't even spell broccoli right the first time.

So. How do you know, right? I suggest asking yourself the following:

1. Can you string sentences together that make sense and offer a clear point of view?

2. Can you improve that sentence, taking suggestions from others, and go beyond what's already on the page to make it shine? In other words, are you open to critique, dear friend?

3. Are you a good reader? A whore of a reader who reads everything and pays attention to how that writer put down words?

4. Are you aware that your writer can always be improved?

5. Have you been professionally validated? Lots of readers, an agent, an editor, a publishing contract, high blog count, something???

6. Do you love the process of writing and even when it's painful, look forward to putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard every day?

If you can say 'yes' to all (or most) of these, I'm thinking you got something goin' on, dear one.

Wonder if Dennis Lehane ever has this problem...

1 comment:

  1. Rachel,

    I learned a world about writing watching you at work. I still have visuals of your notes about things that might show up later in your work.

    When people would tell me they wanted to write, I'd ask them one question from my insights of your process: do you write? Because a writer writes.

    It took me years, (years I tell you), to see that I was a writer, too. Novelist, no, but definitely a writer.