Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How do you know?

I can just hear Big singing the song from ENCHANTED that sort of starts that way. But this is actually directed at you artists out there (mostly writers, but also singers, painters, dancers, sculptors, musicians, and people who throw fake blood on women wearing fur): How do you know when what you've created is really good?

I've asked it before many times, I know, but I thought I'd do an episode in March where Big and I talk about the subject, and refer to the comments and insights shared with us by the people out there in the podisphere (or whatever the real world now looks like). Perhaps someone out there has an answer that I can use to, if not improve myself, at least make an interesting discussion out of.

I'm a very creative person, constantly thinking up new story or cartoon or joke or scare or movie concepts and ruminations. I try to write down the really good story ideas, with differing results. Sometimes, I recognize that the story ended up really lame (and that perhaps the idea was lame to begin with), but every once in a while, I think, "Wow, this is good stuff . . . maybe even great. Maybe among the best stuff I've ever written!"

But that's come back to bite me before. I've entered contests where I think my story was better than the one(s) that beat it out, or thought it was perfect for a podcast or magazine, only to have it rejected. And when Big commented the other day how much higher his story in a previous Broken Mirror contest ranked than mine, I started to worry that I have no realistic understanding of my own work.

How can I know?

For example, I've been bending his ear about a story I wrote last year that I think is right up there with the best stuff I've ever written. I thought it scary, funny, and one of those pieces where everything came right together. But now I'm afraid not only to share it with my friend, but to share it with anyone. And afraid that I am deluded, broken, and have no real clue what sucks and what doesn't (at least with my own work).

If that's the case, then I shouldn't bother sharing my work anyway, since only a crazed mind like mine can think it's the opposite of terrible. Right?

But enough about me, how do you know if what you have created is better than usual, or at least better than average? Can you tell before it's done, and you take a step back and look at it from a distance? Are you aware if it's going in the wrong direction and you have to slam on the (metaphorical) brakes and get it back on track? And what if you were done, and proud, and then someone else told you "you were up in the night"--as the farmers in my town used to say--that it's nothing special, or even awful? How does she know that you love her?

Rish "Deluded Hack" Outfield


  1. I just don't know. Two of my least favorite stories got published, while the ones I thought were really good didn't.

    Love the comment about the contests. I entered a contest where the authors vote on the winners, and truly thought my story was one of the best, but it barely got any votes. Guess I'm looking at my work through rose colored glasses. Larry Brooks (Story Engineering) to the rescue!

  2. I've always had a very clear sense of when something felt good *to me*. Still do. For me, it's like knowing when something tastes good. There's a kind of internal quickening and a sense of resonance and rightness. 'Something has come into alignment'.

    The actual creation, itself, can be something simple or something complex (probably more often simple). But that subjective rightness feeling will be there.

    I don't think this has anything to do with attaining some external grade or standard. If anything it's about having satisfactorily given voice to something within that was crying out to be expressed. When that message has been properly sent, something within just feels 'appeased'.

    That's when I feel satisfied.

  3. If I think I've written something good I'm automatically suspicious of it. I remain objective through my alpha readers, them being my wife and my mum, whom I can trust to be completely honest (although sometimes I think my wife thinks up harsh criticisms before I even hand her something, but that's another matter).