But… Is It Good?

Last week, I submitted my first story rough draft to my advanced fiction writing professor. I got the draft back today with her comments, and the first thing I did was flip through the pages looking for my grade.

I take writing very seriously, and I genuinely care about making my pieces better. I take every comment people say to heart and use them to improve myself as a writer. With that said, there is still the one question that is always lurking beneath the surface: Is it good?

What kind of question even is that? What is good? It’s like there is some higher authority up there that is looking down upon all our papers deciding which ones to let into heaven. Will mine make the cut, or is it doomed for the naughty list?

A few days ago, a student came into the writing center with an analysis paper. On the survey, there are different things you can circle that you would like specific help with, such as grammar, organization, thesis, etc. He didn’t circle any, and just penciled in “the whole draft.” Under “What specific questions do you have regarding your paper?” he wrote that dreaded question: “Is it good?”

He read his paper to me, we discussed it briefly, and I gave him some comments and suggestions on it. He wrote nothing down, just looked at me with big, dewy eyes, waiting for my final judgment. All he wanted to know was if his paper was good.

Writing isn’t like math or science. No one gets self-conscious about an integral, or wonders if their titration curve is “good.” It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong, there are specific things you do to make it right. Writing is a combination of forming your own ideas and articulating them in an eloquent and organized way that evokes the interest of and attempts to persuade the reader. You’re essentially pouring your soul onto a paper, so it’s no wonder we’re so damn worried about it being “good.” That’s a part of us on that paper. No one has that kind of attachment to their solution to the Schrodinger equation.

That brings us back to the word. What is “good?” and who decides if something qualifies? There’s a whole spectrum of opinions of the insanely popular Twilight series, and Snooki’s book was on the bestseller list while only selling less than 10,000 copies. Most of Emily Dickinson’s poems were rejected by publishers until after her death, and now she’s one of the most famous poets of all time.

My point is that “Is it good?” is a completely irrelevant and meaningless question. “Good” itself is left entirely to personal preference, and these preferences are as diverse as the people you ask. Therefore, we should stop asking this question, and we should stop wondering this question.

I think the real reason we ask this question is because we doubt our abilities and want reassurance that we’re doing okay. In my fiction class, I want to know if I’m a competent writer that can make it in the real world. I ended up answering my own question, though, because if all I care about is being “good,” I’m not going to get anywhere. Instead of caring about that stupid word, we should focus on improving ourselves, accurately conveying our ideas, learning from past short-comings, and experimenting with new things.

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2 Responses to But… Is It Good?

  1. When I had friends looking over my sci-fi book after I wrote and did 1 revision, they kept telling me it was good. Now, if I got that kind of praise in high school, I would have felt proud and happy about it. Now, when I’m told something’s good, I always follow up with, “That’s nice. What did you like about it? And what did you not like about it?”

    For some reason, it doesn’t stop me from using the words “good,” “great,” and “awesome” when complimenting people on stuff. I almost wrote “great post,” but I don’t think that’s an appropriate response to the profundity you’ve expressed here. It would just feel like throwing paint on the Mona Lisa.

    Instead, I shall say that I agree with the statements you’ve expressed here. And if the writing above is any indication of your capabilities as a writer, I’d say you’re already utilizing the English language effectively enough to be more than simply effective at conveying your thoughts. Inspiring others to feel anything with one’s prose – well, I’d say mission accomplished here.


    • Iris says:

      You make a good point. Not only does “good” not really say anything, but it’s frequently used as a cop out by readers so that they don’t have to potentially hurt the writer’s feelings by tearing their story to shreds or if they just don’t care enough to give thoughtful criticism. This isn’t always the case, though. Sometimes “good” actually means “good,” subjectively, but we never really know when…

      And thank you very much! =)


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