Sunday, 15 June 2008

Quantifiable?

When you think about it, writing is an activity where it's hard to work out exactly how well you're doing it. Certainly, it's possible to get feedback from friends and writing groups, but often we're still left guessing. I have to admit, I'm used to being able to find quantifiable measures of sucess and failure. To take some of my other interests, I know exactly which numbers in the British sabre rankings my nearest competitors occupy, exactly what my evening league cricket bowling average is for the season (7.4), and I have various qualifications and things to show that I can do this History stuff. Of course, writing is an aesthetic endeavour, but even musically I at least have various measures of technical skill, even if the most important aspects are harder to quantify.

This isn't by any means a bad thing, and of course writing isn't meant to be reduced like that, but the uncertainty of it is strange. There's always a slight nagging worry over whether something was good enough to submit, particularly when you don't hear anything back from somewhere a while. Obviously, editors are busy people, but long silences are always worrying. That's particularly the case since I'm one of those people who instinctively believes that whatever I've just written is truly awful, regardless of its actual quality. There are occasions when even a straightforward rejection seems better than hearing nothing.

6 comments:

Stephanie said...

I know the feeling. It's sort of a shock to the system when you finally leave school and measuring the successfulness of your life is suddenly way more less concrete than the grades of your youth.

And writing is definitely the worst of those ambiguities. I find my need for positive reinforcement about my writing to be completely insatiable. No matter what anyone says, how many times I get published, it will never be enough for me to feel confident as a writer.

stu said...

Finally leave school? What is this 'finally leave school' of which you speak? Even when I finish the PhD, there's always lecturing.

Stephanie said...

Heh, are you going to get graded for lecturing?

Looking back on my original comment, I would give myself a C- for this phrase alone: way more less concrete...

stu said...

Actually yes. At the end of every semester, students get annoying yellow departmental feedback forms to fill in. And then of course there are the research assessment exercises, the staff appraisals, the...

Stephanie said...

Ah... Maybe I should return to academia...

Lisa Guidarini said...

Do I ever know what you mean. In my case, I've had two editors contact me recently after I've either submitted an essay or offered my services. They both took about five months getting around to it. One of them I'd forgotten all about, the other I'd been biting my nails over for the full five months. Busy they are, but the wait is excrutiating.

As for not knowing where you virtually "rank" compared to your peers, every time I get any sort of recognition it shocks me. A much bigger blog than mine linked to me this morning and I was flabbergasted. I like that word, by the way. People don't use it nearly enough.