Am I Good Enough?

Am I Good Enough

I was speaking at a local high school about writing. Afterward, a girl came up to me with a notebook of handwritten poems. She showed them to me shyly and asked,

“Are they good enough?”

I didn’t need to read them to know that they were good enough. She was fifteen. She had a dream. While her friends were playing violent video games and getting pregnant, she was writing poetry. That’s good enough for me.

“They are wonderful,” I said.

I am not sure we were talking about the same thing.

It’s a big question for a writer: am I good enough?

Am I good enough to get published? To get reviewed? To win an award? To make money? To come out in hardcover? To move people to tears? To win the respect of my older brother who said I would never make it?

I advise English majors. Every so often, I get a young writer in my office who says they want to be a novelist.

“And what will you do for a living?” I ask them.

They stare at me as though I was hard of hearing.

“Write,” they say. Sometimes they follow this up by saying, “I’ve seen all the junk that gets published. I can write better than that.”

So can I. So can lots of people. But the kind of success that sends Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Gray to the top of the charts isn’t just a matter of “good enough.” It is a matter of talent and timing and professionalism and supply and demand.

“That may happen,” I say. “But you will need to eat while you’re waiting for the miracle.”

That’s not a bad thing.

Am-I-good-enough is an ever moving target. The book that sells a million copies may not be the one MFA students study for generations to come. The award winner may not make any money. You may move one person but not another.

I believe the key is to answer the question “yes, but…”

Yes, you are good enough. I am good enough. We are all good enough because we are alive and we are trying.

But, there should always be another challenge on the horizon whether it is getting one person to follow your new blog or publishing a third novel that is better than your second.

Keep your eyes focused on the near future. Don’t cling to that one good review you got in 1998, but do not set your sights on selling a million copies and count everything else as a failure.

I recently met the New York Times bestseller Amanda Kyle Williams. Here is a woman who must surely answer the “am I good enough?” question with a resounding yes.  Her books sell! She makes money as a writer. She lives a life I tell my English majors does not exist.

However, while she seemed like a charming and confident person, she did not strike me as someone who had cracked open the universe like a melon, looked inside, and found only her own perfection within.  She seemed…normal, like someone who probably had good days and bad days like the rest of us.

I think that is comforting.  I think striving should be our natural state. I think the question is more important than the answer. I think “never” and “always” can hang suspended by the same thread.  I think we get to define the question, and we get to define our happiness.

Karelia Stetz-Waters is the author of The Admirer

and, coming soon, Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before

***

210 thoughts on “Am I Good Enough?

  1. Greetings from India,

    It was wonderful to read. Once upon a time, I thought, all those who study literature, will only get a teaching job and if they fail to get a job, then they would start writing books!!.

    I hope a lot of people in India read this. Things are changing here but a lot of people end up taking literature only because they suck at math and science. A lot of girls end up taking literature as it is easy and affordable as well. Even now a lot of girls do not work after marriage and a degree in arts or literature is often considered as a marriage degree!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. Writing can be hard, like all creative endevours. It’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and hoping not to be hurt should someone say something negative about your work, I struggle not to take every criticism personally (o;

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love what you wrote.. wanted to be a writer myself but destiny had something different in store for me. I have asked million times “am i good enough?” But i couldnt starve myself with the hope that one day luck might knock on my door. I am a successful entepreneur now but i know someday i will surely catch up with my dream. Thank you for the article!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post:-) Though the info in it was not new to me, I always need reminding, and I liked the very clear, succinct and personal way you presented it. The question is indeed more important than the answer, and as long as it’s used as an expansive stretch, and not as something to bang yourself over the head with, I think it’s a useful tool and keeps us reaching further, higher, better…Oh, and congrats on the freshly pressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Waw! Thank you. The way you wrote this piece feels direct. It felt like a real conversation to me and not like an article. I am not striving to become a writer or plan to make a living off of writing, but this is really something anyone could take with him/her. Very awesome!

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  6. Personally, I’ve moved beyond asking if I’m good enough. I’m no longer receiving grades, so there is no “good writing” or “bad writing” anymore. No matter how many “likes” I get, or how many people say I’m “good enough”, it won’t matter. The almighty dollar is the only validation I need right now, and by right now, I mean RIGHT NOW!!!!!

    Thought I was going all existential on you there for a minute, eh?

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  7. First of all, thank you for the response you gave to the young poet. As you said, just the act of writing poetry is good enough.

    I ponder this question– am I good enough? But good enough for whom? I don’t even know what I want to be good at, so those of you who do are way ahead.

    The sheer desire of wanting to be good at something is a risk, though an easy one. Letting the world know you are attempting to be good at something even riskier. But the most taxing risk is to try, try, and try again, even while you are not succeeding. It’s easy to keep trying when there is hope, but it’s miserably lonely when failure seems to be a constant.

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  8. I guess I agree with what you’re saying. For me, it takes lots of studying and lots of understanding construction. If the talent is already there, all you can do is heighten your skill. I imagine that once you know what you’re doing, you’re only good enough when you realistically like what you do. To dig your own crap without knowing you’re at your best is to fool yourself.

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  9. This is a beautiful piece on so many levels. It resonates deeply with me. The style of yoga I teach, does not attract the masses. I’m lucky if I get 8 students at once, whereas other styles can expect up to 40 students per class. I will never make a living doing it unless a miracle happens. I just teach because it is my passion to covey this style of yoga which I feel is the truest truth I have ever experienced. To make even a little bit of money doing it is a sheer blessing. I suspect this the the plight of a writer who just loves to write…no matter what.

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  10. Thanks for this post. I have finally taken the plug into the world of writing seriously, professionally, and wholeheartedly. It’s nice to know I am already good enough!

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  11. The problem with always saying your good enough is it reminds people of times when they weren’t good enough. For example, if you say you’re a good enough writer to get your book published, you may suddenly feel depressed realized you haven’t been a good enough writer in the past to get your book published. I think it’s more helpful to accept your situation the way it is and learn how to make minor improvements along the way.
    dailyquizquestion.wordpress.com

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  12. This is just what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately…. we should all be writing for ourselves… even if we hope others will love it, our immediate audience should be ourselves. It’s the writing that makes me happy, having others enjoy it is gravy. And, I’m keeping my day job. Thanks for this!!

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  13. Karelia, really enjoyed this post. I agree that “striving” should always be our natural state, loved that thought. I think it’s easy to burn out if you don’t take both successes and failures with a grain of salt. Keeping even-keeled, learning from both the highs and lows, and always focusing on the next obstacle is what I believe distinguishes those who are able to achieve and sustain long-term success.

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  14. (Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Gray to the top of the charts isn’t just a matter of “good enough.”) – You have said it, true words of wisdom. They all succeeded just because of the economical sources which back them. They all could drink wine, think thrice, sleep twice and write 15 pages a day. They are extensively funded, I would say(No offence for their ability to write).

    I guess, You could have told her to begin writing blogs. I know some of my friends who got fame due to their blogs.

    Any way, nicely craved article, I guess you might check out my blog at http://abdulwajidck.wordpress.com

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  15. Nice post, very motivatiol, and not just for writing. The same can be said about anything you enjoy doing. I don’t write much, but always wanted to major in english. This just reinforced that choice. A++ in my book.

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  16. This is beautiful. Plan for tomorrow, but still dream! I’m an English major who actually uses her degree and built/sold a blog . . . And when I graduated college blogs didn’t exist 😉 (At least I don’t think they did!)

    Teach the dreams and the reality that are required for sanity!

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  17. This was my New Year’s Resolution. It may help someone keep their perspective. ‘Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy….’
    Sorry, I can’t remember for sure where this quote came, but I think it was Stephen King.

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  18. Substitute the word “writing” with “music”, “acting”, or “art”, and thus sage advice can likewise be applied. We all have day jobs until the big break comes (if ever). Especially nowadays, talent almost never factors into the success equation. As the adage goes: “The ghetto is full of geniuses”.

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  19. Great post. It’s been interesting to do a blog for the past six months and not only discover that I enjoy writing more than I knew but that at least some of it is good enough for some people. Especially appreciate your thoughts about near term goals.

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  20. All my life, it has always been a case of my best never being “good Enough” Now I write my book for fun, and if it touches someone in the heart or makes them laugh, or think of world peas…it matters not if I ever make a dime, Great post thanks.

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  21. Good advice. Confidence comes with the writing, the grind. One may not always write well but you learn to tell when you’ve got it right if you put in the time. Your encouragement of that young poet was spot on.

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  22. As an English major and a self-published novelist, I know that feeling of wondering if something is good enough. It’s why I constantly strive to improve…and why I’m trying to expand my options for employment after graduation. As much as I would love to write for a living, I realize only a few writers, even among the professionals, can afford to do that. Sad, but true.

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  23. No I don’t think I’m good enough. Not because of what anyone has said, just because I know that I could be better. There are so many people who want to write, crazy talented people who have lit a fire in me to produce my best. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying and learning. I love the message in this post. That if you reach your peak, your potential, then you’re good enough.

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  24. Amazing! Since ever I try to write but I’ve never finished .. may be because I steel don’t have something realy important to say or may be because I have so many too important things to say..

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  25. Trying to make money off art is like playing slot machines and hoping to get rich. You should do it as a hobby and if you make money, that’s really great, but dying in the street because nobody bought your painting isn’t going to help your future projects.

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  26. “And what will you do for a living?”

    This is a question that not only applies to aspiring authors, but any person who has big dreams. I myself want to be a published author. It’d be nice if I was a successful one while I was at it, but I write for myself (mostly), and my goals aren’t to have fame and fortune (like I said, it’d be nice if they happened to come with it, yet I’ll be perfectly happy if I simply publish a book in my lifetime), but to simply go farther than people say I can, reach places that everyone says I won’t.

    I agree. The question should never be “am I good enough,” directed at someone else about yourself. The question should be “am I good enough for me?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you. I just installed WordPress today. It only makes sense to me to want to make money by writing especially if you have no other support but if your alright and have money coming in then its alright to write for the enjoyment of it.

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  27. I absolutely LOVE this post! This is an inspiration to all. Not just those who write. I am a Psychology major, and I enjoy observing people’s behavior (I like to call it people watching). I know from research and people watching, so many people are seeking validation as a determining factor of their success. Yes, large numbers usually indicate a certain level of sucess, but truthfully small numbers help to get you to the greater numbers. Many successful people were turned down and away dozens if not hundreds of times before getting their big break. The same applies here. I hope we are all here because we love to write or display some sort of visual art talent. If it’s for the love, then the rest will work itself out. Just like any other talent, writing needs work, and continuing education. I really enjoyed this post and would love to reblog if you don’t mind. Congratulations in your FP and Happy Writing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it is so hard for people to remember that there are hundreds (thousands?) of rejections that come before enormous success. If we define ourselves by those “failures” we miss the point. That high school girl with her book of poems has already won in my mind…but she may not know that for another 20 years.

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  28. You write so well. I’d read you anywhere.

    But I digress.

    I’ve honestly never asked myself or anyone if I’m good enough. I write. I love writing. Being told I’m good can’t make me write more. Being told I’m bad can’t make me write less. This is what I do.

    The end.

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  29. ” . . . while she seemed like a charming and confident person, she did not strike me as someone who had cracked open the universe like a melon, looked inside, and found only her own perfection within. ”

    THAT is a gorgeous line!

    “But the kind of success that sends Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Gray to the top of the charts isn’t just a matter of “good enough.” It is a matter of talent and timing and professionalism and supply and demand.”

    And THAT is beautiful advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Very nicely said, and spot -on advice. It is a question we all struggle with every day. I agree with your response to the young poet, “they are wonderful.”

    Like

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