Last week, I left off with my poor, lonely first novel, floundering out there in a vast, rough sea. Agents and editors were cruising in life boats, but they weren't going to take a chance at hoisting me aboard.
But if an agent or editor had responded to my novel, they might have said that my prose was purple, full of adjectives and, worse, adverbs. My dialogue tags also included the dreaded adverbs and called attention to themselves instead of being invisible helpers. My points of view jumped around from character to character within any given scene, destroying any ability of the reader to identify with a single character. My tense moments were filled with passive verbs instead of active verbs. And those same tense scenes had long, languorous, run-on sentences, taking all the brisk tension out of the scene. My dialogue was so realistic that it was like, what do you call it, totally, you know, um, whatever, boring, I guess. I had multiple scenes where there was no conflict or trouble. My hero wasn't sufficiently sympathetic for the reader to care. It took three chapters of stage setting to get to the beginning of my story. The bad guy had no believable motivation and read like a cartoon character. My other characters showed no emotion. The violence was cheap and sensational. My single love scene was cheap and sensational. It appeared that my characters had vision, i.e., they could see, but they couldn't smell or hear or touch or feel. The most important plot points hadn't been foreshadowed, so they just fell out of the blue and, hence, were unbelievable. Even worse, things happened by coincidence. Here and there I'd used big vocabulary words for no apparent purpose other than to make my book seem smart. My book had nothing to teach a reader. And possibly no reader would want to spend much time in this world I'd created because there were few redeeming qualities to my story or my characters.
I can go on. But you get the picture.
In many if not most of the arts, it's very easy for an amateur and expert alike to make an immediate assessment of quality and be fairly accurate. But with any writing at the level of someone who's actually succeeded in completing a novel, it's very difficult to make that assessment. It's especially difficult for the writer to judge his or her own writing because the writer's perception is completely shaped by their internal sense of the story they were trying to write. A writer doesn't see what they wrote. They see what they think they wrote.
So how does one get past this difficulty? By writing lots and lots and lots. You need to put in ten thousand hours at it. Very few writers create a good novel the first time they write one. In fact, most of the one-book wonders out there actually wrote a great deal of fiction before that "first novel." They may have written under a pseudonym as well. The public never knew what was still in their drawer. Most writers have to put in the equivalent of writing multiple novels before they start to develop the skills to do it well or even to simply judge it clearly.
As I've often said. You wouldn't think of putting on your first pair of figure skates and performing spinning leaps. Nor should you think you're going to produce a great novel on your first attempt.
While it's easy to judge if a figure skater is doing it well, even when the judge is a novice figure skater, it's very hard to judge if a novel is any good.
It's possible that, more than any other art, writing requires editors. Sure, a painter can benefit from the critique of a trained art teacher. But when a good painter finishes a canvas, he or she can often tell if it's good. Whereas, in writing, the input of editors is critical. It may be that the single greatest mistake novice writers make is to forego getting/hiring editors. (If you are relatively new to this writing gig, note that all professional writers use editors. It is only an amateur writer who doesn't hire a professional editor or three. And most readers recognize that by the end of the first page of their novel.)
This is also why very few successful writers think of writing as a one-book effort. They plan, from the very beginning, to write a shelf full of books. They put in enormous amounts of time.
After enough practice, that hardest part of writing gets easy. Once they can see the full picture of what makes for decent writing, it becomes much easier to do it.
If writers are persistent enough, the rewards are great. They live in a fascinating internal landscape. Many live in fascinating external landscapes. They are never bored. Never. They get to live by their own terms and their own schedule. They have no boss. And, for some writers, they even earn good money making up stories.
I highly recommend it.
Okay, time for me to go work on some fiction.