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An Open Letter to Anyone Who Thinks Their Writing Isn’t Good Enough

What if you think your writing isnt good enoughWhen you read content from your favorite writers, what do you think?

Do you want to write like them?

Do you feel embarrassed about the state of your own writing? Do you despair at the gap between how you write and how you would like to write?

Most of us are unhappy with our writing.

We fret. We despair. And we procrastinate.

Mastering writing may feel like climbing a huge mountain

You start your climb with a positive mind and full of energy.

At the end of the first day, you nourish your body with a hearty meal of pasta, cheese, tomatoes, aubergines, and courgettes. But the next morning, your body hurts and you still feel tired. So, you give yourself a pep talk, strap your backpack on, and start moving.

Each step seems hard. Your backpack feels heavy. The blister on your big toe hurts. And the top of the mountain feels farther away than yesterday.

When learning a skill, the top of the mountain keeps moving farther away. There is no fixed destination.

Think, for instance, about pro tennis players like Roger Federer or Andy Murray. They might be (or have been) number one in the world, but they still find weaknesses in their game. They still practice to improve. They still want to get better.

Austin Kleon posted this great quote from Ian Svenonius’s book “Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group:”

If one becomes a lawyer, scholar, mechanist, typist, scientist, production assistant, or what-have-you, the world will commend your decision. Each day at lunch, on vacation, or at whatever party you attend, your choice will be applauded, upheld, and affirmed. And you will know what is expected of you. Even if your job is difficult—if you are a brain chemist, international death merchant, or rocket designer—your responsibilities will be obvious and your goals concrete. If you achieve them, you may be rewarded by promotion. If you fail, you might be fired or demoted, but nonetheless—unless your boss is insane—the job will have tangible parameters. [Art], however, is different. You will never know exactly what you must do, it will never be enough… no matter what change you achieve, you will most likely see no dividend from it.

I see business writing as a craft rather than an art. But the principle remains the same. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, whether we write a book or a blog post, whether writing is our main job or a side-activity, we never know exactly what being good enough means.

And anyway … who decides what is good enough?

  • JK Rowling claims to have received “loads” of rejections before finally being published (source)
  • Stephen King’s first book “Carrie” was rejected thirty times before being accepted (source)
  • “Chicken Soup for the Soul” received 140 rejections; it has now sold over 125 million copies (source)

Bestselling author (and content marketing veteran) Ann Handley describes an article on LinkedIn riddled with spelling errors and profanity:

As an exacting writer and a proponent of a slow and strategic marketing, I should be having an aneurysm (Ann-eurysm?) over how a single, sweary, typo-infested LinkedIn post slopped together in 20 minutes sparked a flurry of online engagement and $90K in sales.

But she didn’t hate the post, she loved it because it was authentic, written from the heart and it resonated strongly.

So, who’s the judge of your content?

That inner voice nagging you’re not good enough?

Your high-school teacher who still makes you feel ashamed about a grammar or spelling mistake?

Or you?

As crafters, writers, creators, and solo-flyers, we take charge of our own development. If we’re unhappy with our current skills, we make it a priority to improve. So, join a course, hire a coach, or for a no-budget option: create your own swipe file to study the masters and learn how to develop your skills through deliberate practice.

And, when that little voice nags again, ask her to cheer you on instead. Ask her to appreciate you’re doing your best, you’re learning, practicing, and getting better.

Tell her what you’ve learned and how you’ve improved since you started writing.

On becoming a writing pragmatist

In the book “Manage Your Day-to-Day,” Elizabeth Grace Saunders advocates becoming a creative pragmatist. I like the idea. For instance:

  • Instead of creating the most comprehensive post on a topic, share one or two valuable tips
  • Instead of researching a topic to death, ask yourself whether you have enough useful information to write a valuable blog post
  • Instead of polishing each single word, ask yourself whether one extra hour of editing will improve your content exponentially

What I demand from myself is to write the best I can in the time available to me. Before publishing a blog post, I ask myself these three simple questions:

  • Is this valuable to you (my readers)?
  • Is there one clear message?
  • Have I done my best?

Each piece of writing is a snapshot of my current knowledge and skills. My ideas evolve. My skills develop. My voice matures. I might even change my mind. But I’ve written the best at this point in time.

What’s on your 3-question checklist? What does “good enough” mean to you?

Your precious words

It’s easy to feel attached to our writing. To see our writing as an expression of ourselves. To view our ideas and our words as delicate babies we have to care for and worry about.

But once you’ve decided a piece of writing is ready for now, you have to let go.

Your writing is not a precious, delicate, attention-seeking baby. Your writing doesn’t define who you are. So stop worrying and commit to your next writing task—it’s waiting for you. You’ll learn more and improve faster when you keep writing and publishing.

Remember that mountain walk?

That inner voice nagging “you’re not good enough” might tag along for the entire journey. Don’t ignore her (because you’ll ignite her anger). Don’t fight her (because you can’t win). Instead, accept her company and view her with compassionate eyes. You might find she’s concerned and kind rather than critical. Perhaps she wants to protect you—from rejection, from failure, from disappointment. Her intentions are good, but not productive nor empowering.

So, don’t let her guide your journey. Keep the map in your own hands and move forward on your chosen path.

If you want to write, write.

PS Enjoyed this post? Say thank you to Kathy, Ray, Syed, and Bernice who all nudged me to write this.

Comments

  1. Fab Article! I am always fighting who to write good pitch emails. It is really hard to not only sell but be happy with your content and style. Thank you Kathy, Ray, Syed and Bernice for nudging Henneke to write this post.

  2. Another excellent and useful post, Henneke! And Kathy, Ray, Syed and Bernice – you were right 🙂

  3. Great article Henneke. I know I am a good writer, as a freelancer for inbound agencies and to drive more traffic to websites, but I am battling to push through to being an exceptional writer. I give it my all, and I spend a lot more time than other writers, to get it “just right”, but it’s not enough. I suppose trying my best, and reading posts like yours, will eventually get me there. I am positive. But slightly frustrated 🙂

    • In “on writing” stephen king says that exceptional writers are naturally born. You can work your way to “very good”.

      • This is such a difficult debate where experts are clashing. Do you need talent or not? Several scientists say talent is not required; what counts is deliberate practice.

        I’m a little on the fence. I think with hard work (and the right coaching) everyone can become an exceptional business writer. But writing fiction feels like a different game to me. I do think that requires some aptitude or talent.

      • Now that is an interesting thought tzvi…it may be why I just can’t push through to exceptional…

    • In my experience, the key to improving your own writing is to understand what exactly you want to improve. Why do you feel it’s just not right? Does it lack persuasiveness? Is it a tad dull? Does it not sound like you? Do you not like the rhythm?

      Reading and analyzing other people’s writing can help understand why you feel it’s not exactly right (or hiring a coach can help, too). Once you know what exactly you don’t like, improving it becomes a lot easier.

  4. Mohammad Bilal Basha says:

    HI,
    I want to improve my writing skill. I have no issue in writing length statement, but I do some grammatical issues in my writing. I need someone who can help me to come over the problem.

    • In that case, you want to look for someone who’s good at teaching grammar. Even though, I’ve written a few posts about grammar, it’s not really my field.

  5. Hi Henneke,
    Great article,
    This is SO me because yes my inner critic tells me to keep perfection in every writing I do and that initiates the procrastination and obvious havoc. (I am following your trick to beat procrastination and it is helping like charm, though).

    Thanks
    -Swadhin
    Swadhin Agrawal recently posted…Flywheel Hosting Review 2017: Best Managed WordPress Hosting For Creative Designers?My Profile

    • I’m so happy to hear that you’re beating procrastination. Yay!

      Thank you for stopping by again, Swadhin. I appreciate it.

      Happy writing!

  6. Thank you for sharing this. It’s wonderful.

    I think one of the hardest things about creativity is coming to realization you won’t please everyone, and being okay with that. You might not even agree with yourself down the road, but writing and art are expressions of what is in you at that moment. The technical elements of writing are important for clear communication, but it’s the life you breathe into them that matters.
    Kathy recently posted…How Sheep Deal With Bullies (and What You Can Learn From It)My Profile

    • Yes, that’s true: you can’t please everyone (case in point: I just got an angry unsubscribe message of someone complaining about my robotic writing!).

      I love how you put this: “The technical elements of writing are important for clear communication, but it’s the life you breathe into them that matters.”

      Thank you for adding your thoughts, Kathy. I appreciate it, as always!

  7. “When learning a skill, the top of the mountain keeps moving farther away.”
    Yes.
    And although my readers love my writing, the fact that I do not, makes me question their taste! So I cannot win. Haha!
    However, I am realizing the mountain is always farther away, like a mirage, and the wise person does not chase mirages!
    So, neither will I.
    Thanks for this clarification!
    Katharine recently posted…Poison-Apple PieMy Profile

    • I love this: “I am realizing the mountain is always farther away, like a mirage, and the wise person does not chase mirages!” It made me think: if we can’t enjoy the view from the top (as we never get to the top), we’d better enjoy the journey. 🙂

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Katharine!

  8. Thank you ! Such an inspiring post 🙂

  9. Maurizio Corte says:

    Dear Henneke, this post has the power to touch our deep soul and to give us the strength to win our daily battle against our ghosts.
    Thanks for giving us the chance to believe in ourselves in a clever way.

    • What a lovely comment, Maurizio. Thank you. If this post inspires just one person to believe in themselves and to write more, I’m happy. 🙂

  10. Great pep talk. Much needed for my week ahead. I’m migrating old blog posts from a site I darkened a few years ago.

    I’m a bit nervous about the quality of the posts, because I’ve grown as a writer.

    I started the blog as a challenge to myself. I spent a year writing between 5 and 8 posts a week.

    I would now spend that much time polishing 1 to 3 posts per week. Quality over quantity.

    But here’s the thing. Even though they were far from perfect, as many misses as hits, they got quite a lot of engagement. Lots of wonderful comments. A truly engaged community.

    A truly engaged community. I had to say that again, because isn’t that the true rubric for blogging success?

    Here’s to hoping I can recapture some of that magic.

    But I’m doing more than just hoping. I’m workshopping it in Henneke’s course, Business Blogging.

    See you in the forums.

    Cheers!

    • I’ve never been able to write that many posts in a week!

      And you make a good point – if your content resonates with your audience, then it’s definitely good enough, even though you think you could do better. It’s similar to that post that Ann Handley wrote about.

      I don’t think writing is magic – it’s about adopting the right process and doing the work 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by, Lori.

  11. Ever since coming across this website, I always wish I could write like you. I take each of your posts, write down the tips and advice, and then try to apply them to my writing.

    It has not been easy, with that voice constantly telling me I could never be like you. But it is posts like this one, that encourages me to keep at it.

    Thank you, Henneke.

    • Here’s a different way to look at it: When you imitate badly, you find your own writing voice. That’s how it worked for me.

      Don’t give up, keep writing!

  12. Catherine says:

    This one is your best yet, in an ocean of “bests.” I woke up this morning precisely to hear this. It will carry me all day. Thank you!

  13. I thought that the 18-inch stack of spiral-bound notebooks filled with the writings and writing exercises I did through the 1990s was proof that I was good. All of that certainly made writing easier, but I still find there’s room to improve. And there is no end to it.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    • For me, writing is more fun when I can see myself developing, either by trying out different writing techniques or formats, or by working on more challenging topics.

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Steve. Happy writing!

  14. Wow, another great post! Boy oh boy, there are so many times when I feel like I can’t write like my favorite authors, especially Stephen King. Then, I have to tell myself two things:
    1. Calm down
    2. Write
    I wonder if my procrastination from writing is actually a fear that I suck and I don’t want to embarrass myself. This post made me realize that each time I hit “publish” or each time I write a chapter, it’s all a growth process, and I’m just going to get better and better with practice. So thank you once again for this dose of positivity!
    Renayle Fink recently posted…How to Stick to Your New Year’s Writing ResolutionsMy Profile

    • I usually procrastinate either because I feel overwhelmed or because I’m fearful, too. To deal with feeling overwhelmed, I’ve learned to break down the writing process in doable chunks and focus on one step at a time. To deal with my fears, I’ve learned to be honest with myself, accept that those fears exist, and trying to move forward in tiny steps despite those fears. I found fighting fears hard, but it’s possible to build up courage over time.

      Happy writing, Renayle! Thank you for your comment.

  15. The bullet points at the end of the post (examples and 3 questions) are AWESOME thank you! They apply for my academic writing as well as blog content. Juggling self-promotion for my Etsy shop and my blog in addition to writing being such a big part of my job as a student can be really overwhelming. These questions will be super helpful.

    • It sounds like you have a lot of work to juggle! And yes, those examples and questions apply to most types of writing.

      Thank you for your comment, Bailey. I’m happy to read you found the post useful.

  16. Wonderful, wonderful post, Henneke! And again that came in a perfect moment for me.

    Just yesterday I read a post from someone in my niche that made me feel exactly that: That I need to shut down my laptop, pack my things and go do something else, because I’ll never be able to match that.

    And although I know by now that it’s just a phase, a “nagging voice” (which is totally wrong), at that particular moment it’s not a pleasant feeling, dwelling on which costs hours in productivity.

    So glad it landed in my inbox today 🙂

    P.S. On a semi-related topic: I literally nourished my body “with a hearty meal of pasta, cheese, tomatoes, aubergines” a couple of hours ago. I tried a new recipe of lasagna with aubergines for dinner 🙂

    • One thing to remember is that everything has been written already, but we’ve not heard it from you yet in your voice. So you don’t need to be original, you just need to find a different twist – fresh examples, a different perspective, a story or a metaphor.

      Keep writing! 🙂

      PS Your lasagna sounds yummy. I love aubergine 🙂

      • Oh, I often think of this quote of yours (I even remember from which post it was). But you know, logical thinking is one thing, and emotions, another. I’ll certainly keep writing no matter what 🙂

        P.S. I love aubergine, too. Anything aubergine – count me in! Another new thing I’ve learned from your post: I had no idea “courgette” is another word for “zucchini” 🙂

        • Yes, so true. It’s hard to persuade our inner critics with logical thinking 🙂

          Zucchini sounds much better than courgette, doesn’t it? I also much prefer the name aubergine to eggplant.

          • Re eggplant: I know, right! It sounds so disrespectful to the aubergine! As if someone was too lazy to give it a proper name. “Well, it’s a plant. And it looks a bit like an egg. So…” 😀

            Fun fact: In Russian, there are also two words for “aubergine”. One of them literally means “blue”. These guys didn’t even bother adding a noun to it! 🙂

  17. A longtime question inside me has finally been answered! Even when people would tell me my writing is good, I still feel like they’re just trying to be nice. haha! Thanks for this! I should definitely forget about that high-school teacher… 😉

    • I used to think that all the time, too. People would pay me a compliment, and I’d think: “yes, but everyone can do this, it’s easy.” There’s always be that ugly “but.” I learned to accept compliments more graciously and to stop myself as soon as I wanted to say or think “but.”

      Happy writing, Gladys! And yes, forget about that high-school teacher. You know much better 🙂

  18. Thank you so much,Henneke, for this relevant and helpful post. I think most writers and creative types are highly self-critical.

    We study, practice, write, write, write, edit, and never think it’s good enough to send out into the world.

    I know that is holding me back in my career, and I will try to follow your advice to get my best work out there as the time allows and keep learning as I do, instead of expecting it to be perfect from the beginning.

    Thank you again.
    D.F.

    • Yes, I don’t know why it is, but I agree with you – we all tend to be highly self-critical of our work. I guess being critical helps us to improve our skills, but we need to take care of our well-being, too, and be more self-compassionate.

      Keep writing, and keep learning, Diane. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it.

  19. I need to write something that’s new to me.

    • Yes, find a new challenge! 🙂 Perhaps something you’re not sure whether you can do it?

      • I was answering your question – new is my first measuring stick for a good post. My personal measuring stick. Of course I don’t always achieve novelty.

        • Ah, sorry, I misunderstood you. Yes, me, too. I always need to learn something or be surprised by something, too. For me, that’s part of my do-I-want-to-start-writing-this checklist. 😉

  20. Thanks Kathy,Ray, Saed

    I follow a rule in writing,this one must be better than previous one.

    • That sounds like a useful rule, too, Hasan.

      I might struggle to adhere to it, as I feel I can’t always better myself, but we all should choose the rules that work for us 🙂

      Happy writing!

  21. “Each piece of writing is a snapshot of my current knowledge and skills. My ideas evolve. My skills develop. My voice matures. I might even change my mind. But I’ve written the best at this point in time.”

    This is what I have had to make peace with. I used to fret because I could not hold the tension between having to put a newsletter or lesson out today, and knowing that in a month (or even a week) I would have more and deeper insights to offer.

    Getting past that was a milestone for me.

    Thanks Henneke!
    Alison Beere recently posted…Illustration Process: 7 Steps to Illustrating Your First BookMy Profile

    • I’m starting to think that a lot of our procrastination (both in writing and business) is related to uncertainty or perhaps our appetite to learn more. In blogging, we can never know everything, so we have to write and publish based on our current knowledge. With business decisions, it’s quite similar. It’s so easy to get stuck because we don’t really know what the best option is. But we risk getting stuck in learning mode and then don’t take action (while from action we can probably learn more than from yet another course).

      Thank you for your great comment, Alison. It made me think.

      • Yes, uncertainty and also the ‘need’ to appear authoritative (in my case).

        Sometimes my appetite to learn more is a smokescreen for feeling inadequate, too.

        • Yes, I recognize that smokescreen!

          I sometimes wonder whether authority is overrated. Aren’t readers also looking for a human voice? For someone who can relate to their struggles and frustrations? Of course, it’s helpful to have more authority than our readers, but too much authority might increase the distance to our readers.

  22. It’s amazing how something someone said to you years ago can impact your confidence. For me – it was a group member in my sophomore year in college who had something to say about what I wrote in my portion of the paper.

    It took me years to shake off her rebuke and write anyway.

    And now, as I’m writing more than ever – I find that the more I write, the less time I have to focus on whether or not someone else will think it is a masterpiece or even good. I focus on the job the article is designed to do.

    Which brings me to my favorite advice of yours from this lovely article – to do your best with the time you have. I’ve been doing a lot more of that lately, and it’s been lovely. 🙂
    Sonia Thompson recently posted…How to build a business that creates deep customer relationshipsMy Profile

    • Hey Sonia,

      I love this point you make: “I find that the more I write, the less time I have to focus on whether or not someone else will think it is a masterpiece or even good. I focus on the job the article is designed to do.”

      This is so true! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  23. I love all your posts, but this one really encouraged me to keep writing. Even though I do feel the gap between my writing and some of my favorite writers, it’s important to keep practicing and showing up. It’s important to view the inner critic with compassionate eyes. I loved that. Thank you!
    Jenn recently posted…Stay Calm, ChristianMy Profile

    • Yes, be compassionate to yourself and your inner critic. That’s so important when trying to improve a skill.

      Keep writing, Jenn! Thank you for stopping by.

  24. Stats about rejections made me feel more enthusiastic and confident.
    I even google other author’s number of rejections.
    It’s pretty inspiring.
    Thanks for a great post!
    Jane recently posted…Teaching Sentence Structure in a Right Way!My Profile

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