Is Your Writing Any Good? Here Are Seven Ways You Can Tell

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Do you ever worry that your writing might not be much good?

When I talk to writers, especially those who are just beginning to get their work out there in the world, one of the most common fears they have is “I’m not good enough.”

All too often, I find myself surprised that they can’t see the strength of their own words. But then I have to remind myself that we all go through these doubts – and sometimes, we have to conquer them again and again on our writing journey.

What about you – is your writing any good?

I’m going to give you seven big clues that tell whether or not your writing is good … even if you can say “Yes” to just one of these, then you’re definitely in the running.

And if you can get two or more – I’ve no doubt you’re well on your way to writing success.

Clue #1: You’ve Been Told You’re a Good Writer

Maybe your English teacher gave you an “A” on every essay. Perhaps you took a creative writing class in college, and impressed your tutor and peers. Or this could just be something as simple as friends saying how well you put words together.

If other people think you’re a good writer, there’s a very good chance that you are.

Try it: Show a piece of your writing to somebody – perhaps a fellow writer – and ask for their opinion. (I know this is scary, but it’s a great way to get some impartial feedback.)

Clue #2: You Can Look Back and See How Your Writing has Improved

When you go back to your folder of short stories / poems / blog posts, does it seem that what you’re writing today is better than what you were writing two years ago? (That could be in terms of big-picture issues like overall structure, or detailed issues like sentence construction.)

If so, you’re a good writer – or at least well on the way to becoming one.

Try it: If you’re a blogger, compare the first few posts on your blog to the more recent ones. Assuming you’ve been blogging for a while, you should be able to see the improvement.

Clue #3: You Have a Good Grasp of Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation

I firmly believe that grammar, spelling and punctuation are just part of what makes for a good piece of writing – but they are an important part. Don’t worry if you’ve not had much formal instruction in these areas: many great writers approach them in a more intuitive manner.

If you’re confident about these basics, there’s a strong chance you’re a good writer.

Try it: Look at a piece of your recent writing with an editorial eye – or ask a friend to edit it. See whether you spot many grammatical (or spelling, or punctuation) mistakes, or whether almost everything seems correct.

Clue #4: You Can Spot Sloppy Writing from Other People

Do you ever find yourself frowning at badly-written notices, or giving up on a novel after one too many clunky sentences or overblown metaphors? Having a good eye for bad writing usually means that your own writing skills are strong.

If you find it easy to spot mistakes or poor writing, you’re probably good at honing and polishing your own work.

Try it: Next time you come across a poorly-written article, web page, or short story, print it or photocopy it, and go through making editorial changes. You might surprise yourself with how much you can improve it!

Clue #5: You’ve Guest Posted on a Major Blog

Big, well-regarded blogs don’t just take guest posts from anyone. Landing a guest post on Write to Done, for instance, that’s a major achievement: Mary has high standards. The same goes for sites like Copyblogger and Men with Pens – and major websites outside the writing world, too.

If you’re a regular guest poster (on one blog or several) that’s another sign that your work is good: they wouldn’t welcome you back otherwise.

Try it: You don’t need to be a well-known blogger to guest post – in fact, you don’t even need to have a blog. Read these great tips from Mary and give guest posting a try.

Clue #6: You’ve Reached the Shortlist in a Competition

There are plenty of writing competitions out there, from major national ones to those run by writers’ circles. Many writing-related magazines have monthly competitions to enter. You might not win a prize on your first few attempts – but you may well reach the shortlist.

If you’ve been shortlisted in any competition, even a fairly small one, it’s a sign that your writing is good enough to impress the judges.

Try it: You can’t win – or get on the shortlist – if you don’t enter! Forget worries about how good the other entrants might be, and simply write the best piece you can.

Clue #7: You’ve Been Paid for Your Writing

This one’s the biggest clue of all. Editors, publishers and business owners don’t put their money on the line unless they’re confident about having a good result. While you might conceivably get a so-so guest post accepted out of luck, or make a small competition shortlist with a sub-par story, you’re not going to get paid for work that isn’t of a high standard.

If you’ve been paid for your writing – even if you’re not yet making a living from it – then you’re good enough to hold your own in the marketplace.

Try it: Consider pitching an article or submitting a short story to a magazine, or even setting up as a freelancer. Even if this just forms a side-income, it’s a powerful validation of you as a writer.

So … your turn! Have these clues helped you realize that, maybe, your writing really is good after all? Or do you have a different clue to recommend? Let us know in the comments!

Read this article next: How to Write Better – 7 Instant Fixes


About the author:

From WTD contributor Ali Luke of Aliventures. Ali is a writer and writing/blogging coach. Her ebook The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing teaches you how to construct great blog posts, write for the web, edit your work, and develop your blogging voice. Click here to find out more.

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42 thoughts on “Is Your Writing Any Good? Here Are Seven Ways You Can Tell”

  • Thanks, Ali. I actually found this encouraging. I can probably tick boxes 1 to 4, and am working towards 5 and 7. (I’m not that interested in competitions at the moment.)

    We never “arrive”, of course, but it’s good to know we’re moving in the right direction!

  • Steve Maurer says:

    Hi, Ali!

    This post is very encouraging! I’ve seen every clue but #6, so maybe I’m coming along in my writing efforts.

    I want to than you and the gang over at the Writers’ Huddle for the encouragment and honest evaulation you all have given me personally. This certainly was a timely post for me, and I have printed it out for times when things just don’t seem to be going “write,” pun intended!

    Steve Maurer
    Maurer Copywriting
    Member of “The Write to Done Dream Team”
    Steve Maurer recently posted..What Your Writer Needs to KnowMy Profile

  • Definitely some good clues. I wonder about the “recognize sloppy writing” clue… maybe I’m just an avid and strong reader, or maybe I just have different taste. However, there is something to be said for someone simply teling you that you’re a good writer – maybe not good enough for what you are striving for (yet), but a good clue nonetheless. Clues 5-7 are the best ones, of course. 😀

    For me, the best compliment I ever received was when my first crit readers (family members, so easy to doubt with their potential bias) read my first novel and said “it felt like I was reading a real book”. It may sound silly, but I knew exactly what they meant.

  • Anne Mercado says:

    I’d use caution when applying tip #1 as I’ve experienced quite a number of people say someone is a good writer when in fact, the opposite is true. Validation for your writing definitely has to come from a trusted source which means tip #1 it has to be paired with another item like #5. Very great points though 🙂 Love the post!
    Anne Mercado recently posted..Why are kids picky eaters? (And it’s not because they’re acting up!)My Profile

    • Steve Maurer says:

      I agree with you, Anne. You need to be careful whose opinion you get. My mom still has some of my grade school artwork on the refrigerator and firmly believes I’m going to be the next Rembrandt or Picasso.

      That’s probably why the last paragraph in #1 mentions getting the opinion of other writers. They will look at it more critically than family or friends.

      That being said, it is still good to show it to people close to you. The caveat is that you should be there personally when they read it. While they will be kind to you in their evaluation, their facial gestures can be a dead giveaway.

      If they get a puzzled look on their face or seem to be rereading portions, you can then ask them about those sections. Works better for shorter pieces, not novels and such, but even though words tell you they like it, knitted eyebrows don’t lie. Nor do smiles and head nods.

      Steve Maurer recently posted..What Your Writer Needs to KnowMy Profile

      • Kate says:

        Agreed again! My parents always rave about what a brilliant writer I am. They’ve don’t that for over ten years. Only thing is, they’ve never read anything I’ve ever written, so I tend to not really take their word for it. On the other hand though, extracts have been read by friends, workers, and acquaintances, and they love it. Again though, not so much the friends…

  • I’m cautious about several of these tips. As Anne and Steve have mentioned, point #1 is pretty irrelevant. SOME people can judge writing but, honestly, others just don’t have a clue. It really depends on the source. I also disagree with point 3. This makes you a better self-editor but does not necessarily make you a better writer. I’ve read grammatically PERFECT articles that were badly written and a total waste of time.

    The other points are more worthwhile, but I think you missed the biggest one: You write every day.

    Just as anyone who runs every day is going to become a better runner, anyone who writes every day is bound to become a better writer. It’s all about the practice.
    Daphne Gray-Grant recently posted..Even the songbirds sing timorously…My Profile

    • STRONGLY agree with Daphne, Anne, and Steve regarding #1. As someone who has a creative writing degree and has run critique groups for nearly a decade, I see a lot of would-be/beginning writers who read like readers, not like writers. They’ll tell another writer that they like their work but (a) can’t say why and (b) can’t spot the flaws in the work. It’s vital to separate the praise from readers who have the skills to assess a work knowledgeably from those who don’t.
      Ross B Lampert recently posted..Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 24, 2012My Profile

  • Kate Hall says:

    Wow! Thank you for this post! I needed this. I have really been wondering how my writing is. I’ve only been writing seriously for the past few months, and have no past writing experience other than journalng for 17 years. But recently, several people have told me my writing is good. Part of me worried they were saying it to be nice. Now I realize that’s probably not the case because many have said it and some were strangers. I’ve got three from the list under my belt, now to work on the others. Thanks for this post! Very encouraging!
    Kate Hall recently posted..Have You Ever Signed Up To Serve God, But Hated the Person You Served With?My Profile

  • Steve Maurer says:

    Actually, I wouldn’t say that #1 is irrelevant. It’s just that you need to exercise some caution when interpreting the results.

    Of course, Daphne is right about #3 in that perfect grammar and puctuation doesn’t necessarily equal great writing. However, I’ve started more than one published book that may have had a good premise or message, but that I couldn’t get past the first several pages because the mechanics of the writing was an absolute turn-off.

    However, these clues should not be taken as individuals, but as a collective.

    Steve Maurer recently posted..What Your Writer Needs to KnowMy Profile

  • Karen says:

    Six out of seven – not bad. The only one that doesn’t apply (yet) is number 5. I don’t know why I keep putting off pitching for guest posts. I know it’s a good idea. I see other people I admire doing it. I just don’t get round to it. OK it’s going on my to-do list right now.
    Karen recently posted..Maximize Your Book Sales and Exposure by Using Your Free Author Central AccountMy Profile

  • Paul Buyer says:

    Great article and very uplifting! I have noticed #1, 3, and 4 the most. You have motivated me to google some writing competitions and give them a try. It is so interesting to examine how someone writes, how they communicate, and how they express themselves on paper. It truly is an art form. Thanks so much.

    Paul Buyer

  • Cyd Madsen says:

    I’ve got all of them covered except #5. As a blogger, I’m hopelessly confused and struggling. But I’ve *won* a major competition, so maybe that makes up for it a bit? Please?

    I don’t think you have to write every single day to qualify as a good writer. That major award I won came from a project that popped to mind during a fallow period when I decided to take a break and let the computer fan cool. Even our imaginations need a rest sometimes, and come back for that rest writing strong stories instead of weak words lined up like prisoners of war facing execution (that would be the delete button).

    But whatever feeds the beast and keeps it from disturbing your sleep, growling, “Write, write, write, or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and blow you to bits,” is what the individual must do during their unique journey.

  • Gretchen says:

    Thanks for an insightful post that made my day! Five out of seven (not interested in competitions and haven’t sought guest blogs) isn’t bad. And Clue #7 always make me smile. Writers Huddle continue to inspire me plus another round of NaNoWriMo this summer.

    For academics, I’d add being published by peer-reviewed journals. That’s a big thrill of its own.

  • Steve Maurer says:

    I’ve got to be honest, folks. I use #1 a lot. This is one of the quality checks that I use frequently. The key is not to let it go at, “I like what you wrote,” but to discover the reason why he or she liked it. If the person is willing to disuss it, you can glean valuable information for improvement.

    I write ad copy and web content. I write article content (which can also be marketing material). I write blog posts for a data recovery service. And I write tutorial-type monthly newsletters for a software designer. In all of these and other writing jobs, I want the reader to say, “Oh . . . yeah.” not, “Huh? Say what?”

    My brother is not a writer. He has a pool service in Hawaii. However, he’s one of my best critics. He can be quite honest and I have a thick skin (new writers: get one of those for yourself). I sometimes send copy to him to get his opinion, not as a writer, but as the intended audience. His input is often useful.

    I knew I’d hit the jackpot when I sent him an article and he called to tell me that he didn’t get the point. I explained it to him, making sure he understood. His words to me: Well, then why didn’t you write it like that?

    Am I a good writer? Yeah, not bad. People pay me to write stuff for them. Can I become a more gooder writer? You betcha! And that first clue listed is one of the ways.
    Steve Maurer recently posted..What Your Writer Needs to KnowMy Profile

    • Kate Hall says:

      Thanks for this comment, Steve. Next time someone tells me I’m a good writer, I’ll ask for specifics. I think I’ve been too afraid to ask – like they would see me as really narcissistic or it would turn out less than I hoped.

      And where’s the tutorial on how to get thick skin? I need that. 🙂
      Kate Hall recently posted..Have You Ever Signed Up To Serve God, But Hated the Person You Served With?My Profile

      • Steve Maurer says:

        Just don’t grill them like a detective! LOL

        Acknowledge the compliment, then tell them that you are always trying to improve. Ask them if they would mind telling you what they did or didn’t like, if they have any suggestions. (Don’t ask yes/no questions.) Don’t badger them or try to get too much information. Extensive critques are best left for coaches and mentors. Just keep it friendly and simple.

        Let’s see . . . the thick skin is on aisle 5 at the Wal-mart. Seriously, don’t take criticism personally. They aren’t aimed at you, but concern the writing. It sounds strange, but the negative or this-could-be-better comments are what helps me improve, far more than accolades and kudos.

        Hang in there, kiddo! I got your email and will be sending a reply soon.


  • Jack Dowden says:

    Let’s see:

    1. Yes, but it was my Mom and I was seven. I think I wrote something about robots and dinosaurs. And possibly trains.
    2. Considering the last short story I wrote was about robots, dinosaurs and trains, I would say… no.
    3. Good one for me this is. The grammar I use is swimmingly.
    4. Sure, but c’mon. Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?
    5. Does it count if it’s my own blog? Probably not, huh?
    6. I came in second in a contest once. My girlfriend came in first. Then she dumped me, it was a bad afternoon.
    7. I thought I had been, but it was a scam. Turns out the Jersey mafia doesn’t actually have writing contests.

    Oh boy, it’s not looking good.
    Jack Dowden recently posted..Week 8: Quantum Mechanics are ConfusingMy Profile

  • Liz says:

    Hi Ali,

    # 2 makes me smile, #4 makes me roll my eyeballs, but I guess that’s not really fair as I was once there myself :-\

    Probably some other ways to tell if your writing is good might be how often people comment on your blog, if you have one or how often people share your posts or articles.
    Liz recently posted..6 Ways To Create An Information Product – Without Writing!My Profile

  • Hi Ali
    Thanks for this post. I agree with Daphne that you write every day. I also would add that writing is what
    you think about all the time. Writing is in your head. You care composing sentences and toying with ideas while driving or falling asleep. Reading fiction makes you want to write fiction and reading nonfiction makes your ideas in that area increase. I have often referred to writing as the JOYFUL BURDEN — you just have to do it. Beth @ Boomer Highway

    Recently posted:
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  • Marla says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It is nice to know how to find some way that you are a good writer. It easy to beat ourselves up sometimes, and that’s scary, because at what point do we beat ourselves up so much, we never return to write on the white sheet?

    scary thought.

    thanks again for this,
    Marla recently posted..Midnight DestinationsMy Profile

  • I got 6 out of 7. Work hard at it and have improved a lot. It is a challenge keeping up with the times but writing is worth the effort.
    Jo Ann Schlicker recently posted..In the GardenMy Profile

  • Glory Lennon says:

    How about if you were repeatedly asked to write for print publications? Wouldn’t that be an indicator of good writing? I would think so!
    Glory Lennon recently posted..What You Miss When You’re Too TallMy Profile

  • Laini Giles says:

    This certainly was an encouraging start to my day!

    I haven’t done #5 yet, and I’m waiting on the results of my first #6, but all the others apply. For every rejection i get, I think I’ll come back and read this article again.

    So thanks!

  • Thanks for the encouraging words! 🙂

    This was just what the doctor ordered! It helped me see that I have improved in my writing, as people do compliment it and genuinely seem to enjoy it.

    Your words were very encouraging. Thank you! 🙂

  • Gary Townshende says:

    I think points 5, 6, and 7 are by far the most relevant, although point 3 is helpful, too. (Point 1 is probably the least relevant and the least helpful, to be honest.) The opening to Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN is masterful, but it includes several grammatical errors. Twain, however, was an expert in the several dialects found along the Mississippi River, and he knew enough about writing to know what he was doing, even when he deliberately broke the rules. That’s where grammar is helpful if one is writing fiction.

    Lots of aspiring writers love to embrace that idea that the best writers break the rules, and then use that as justification to ignore any and every rule thrown at them. However, what is most often misunderstood on this point is that the great ones, even if they’re not well-versed in grammar, possess a finely tuned intuition that tells them when something is right or when something is wrong or when they’ve handled something wrong intelligently. *That* is why its important to keep in mind that if you break the rules, a professional editor *CAN* tell if you’ve broken them knowledgeably or ignorantly. Breaking the rules ignorantly will always result in rejection (unless the editor is, himself, ignorant of the rules, which is entirely possible).

    Generally speaking, if you don’t *know* that you’ve broken a rule, or if you cannot explain *why* you’ve broken a rule, then you’re better off paying attention to the rules instead of reveling in ignorant rule breaking.

    If you’re writing non-fiction, then you’re better off learning and observing the rules before giving a single thought to breaking them.

    In my opinion (because this is how I have always improved my writing), the best way to improve your writing is to imitate successful writers whose writing you like, and make a point to read a grammar book or two or three — a *REAL* grammar book, not a book on style (see my note below) — once or twice a year.

    NOTE: As helpful as Strunk and White can be, their ELEMENTS OF STYLE is a style book, *not* a grammar book. You’re better off buying a used copy of a 7th or 8th grade grammar textbook (like WARRINER’S ENGLISH GRAMMAR AND COMPOSITION) through Amazon or Abe’s Books, or buying a copy Opdycke’s HARPER’S ENGLISH GRAMMAR and read them and study them until you become familiar with what is and is not grammatical. It may sound like boring, dry reading — it is, I won’t kid you about that — but it’ll help if you keep in mind that the more you know about every aspect of writing, including grammar, the more control you will have over your writing.

    • Gary Townshende says:

      EDIT: … or buying a copy *OF* Opdycke’s….

      I always seem to find errors in my own comments *after* I hit the submit button. ~shakes head~ LOL



  • Joanna says:

    Seven years ago, I took an English Comprehensive course, just to keep my brain from turning to mush, and got a great teacher. NOT because he liked my writing but because he was HONEST. If you did good he told you. If you needed improvement, he told you. I have some marked assignments from that class, what I look at when I need an ego boost.

  • I enjoyed your site very much. I can check off all except having work on a major blog. My question is this: is it worth hiring an editor (not agent) to assess one’s abilities and to help answer the question of where to submit? I have a critique group but we are all in the same Creative Writing Program and I’d like to have a more objective assessment. I have been published in my college’s on-line literary review every semester for the past 2.5 years both in poetry and fiction. And I won Second Place in our state-wide competition last spring for Fiction. I’d like to have my work accepted outside my local community. What is your advice on an editor and on knowing where to submit? Thanks for your time and your site. Connie

  • Ali, you have addressed a deeply felt need with your lovely post! Most writers have self-doubt (as do non-writers as well, I’m sure!).

    You have suggested a way for us to view this issue objectively, and to move forward from there. I especially like the “Try It” sections you’ve added under each criterion. Thank you.

    I look forward to reading more from you!
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  • Dispar says:

    well honestly this was not very helpfull at all. sorry. flaw in number one- anyone u would most likly ask to read your writing knows you and there for give you a biased opinion. also i do not blog. if your writing was published or you have been paid to write do you even need to ask if it any good? just saying this was not helpfull at all.

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