You’re a writer. You’ve written a story. You’ve rewritten. You’ve agonized. You’ve edited ruthlessly. You’ve proofread until you’re blind. Your story is as good as you can make it.
Assuming you intend your story to be read, and regardless of your established level of skill, the next step is to find out if you hit the literary target you were aiming at. If you wrote a comic novel, you need to find out if your story makes people laugh. If you wrote a thriller, you need to know if readers are thrilled. If it’s a literary piece, you need to find out if you walked the knife edge of current trends, cultural commentary and authorial style without cutting yourself to pretentious pieces.
That you cannot know these things without in some way appealing to others is what drives authors to drink themselves to death. Whatever level of skill you have, you will always have doubts and convictions about any story you write, and as you grow in skill those judgments will tend to be more reliable. It will never be the case, however, that you will know for certain what you have accomplished until others read your work.
This is the inherent nightmare of storytelling, particularly as compared with art that can be apprehended by the eye. Not only is the creative process entirely subjective, but because writing is a form of intended communication, confirmation of one’s literary accuracy can only come from a reader’s own subjective response.
Despite an abundance of rules governing spelling, usage, grammar, syntax, structure and style, in the end there are no rules. If what you want to accomplish in your story means ‘aardvark’ needs to be spelled ‘advak’, then you do it. You have the freedom — even the responsibility — to do so. This plasticity, however, means that there are no objective standards by which fiction can be judged. If your main character’s name is Wanda in Chapter 1, and Wendy in Chapter 2, you’ve probably made a mistake — and that probability rises dramatically if you’re still learning your craft. But as your authorial talents and aspirations grow in complexity, the low-hanging fruit that can be easily spotted by any reader falls away, leaving complex and inherently murky subjective issues that need to be wrestled with.
In an upcoming series of posts about feedback and workshops, I’ll get into the complexities of the process, and how any writer can make the most of what is an inherently difficult situation.
— Mark Barrett