Tuesday, March 27, 2018

How Do You Know if It's Good?

That was one of many questions a high school job shadower asked me last Friday.

First of all, a little about this student.

Over the past few years, I've had a number of students (and one adult) hang out with me for a few hours while I work, but I've never had one that put the level of thought into the time as she did.

The students typically arrive with several standardized questions they must ask. This girl, however, also compiled her own list, a list so extensive it took two hours to answer them all.

As she asked, I explained and showed portions of my job. Interestingly, every student through the years except one, is also interested in writing and publishing poetry or fiction, so we talk about that, too. And this student was no exception.

She did, however, ask one question that made me pause.

How do you know if it's good?

Good question, a really good question.

What criteria do writers use to determine if a piece of writing is good?

High sales? Perhaps. Although it's true cream often rises to the top, it's also true that bad writing often sells well while good writing languishes.

Awards? I think the previous point also applies.

Lots of readers? A band of loyal readers prepared to fiercely defend the prose?

And yet, how often do we stumble upon a really stellar obscure work and wonder, "Where have you been all my life?"

The writer says so? I mean, we are the gods of our creation (And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:31). But are we the best judge of its value?

Publishing contracts? Lots of clicks and shares? Concise sentences that are free of grammar, punctuation, and style errors?

Even at WriteOn Joliet, we'll have a room full of writers who will really like or dislike the way a string of words is assembled with a minority who emphatically disagree.

So in the end, I told her, "Instinct. I think when a writer reads and writes a lot, the write just knows."

What would you have said?

No comments: