Who is the best writer in the world?
If you are one of my former students, you would probably recognize this as a trick question, which I am notorious for. Because at one time or another, every writer–when things are going well, and the kudos are coming hard and fast–on occasion, feels that they are a pretty good writer.
But there’s a trap in believing your own reviews. Those who love your writing are just as likely to turn on you in the blink of an eye and say that your writing is crap, depending on one little thing you might do. So be careful in reading reviews of your books, and take them with a grain of salt. If one reviewer says you are the greatest writer ever, and the next says that you should never write again, chances are that you fall somewhere in between.
Ernest Hemingway, considered by some the greatest writer of the twentieth century, fell into the trap of insecurity. He was constantly comparing himself and his writing to every other living writer. “I’m better than Nabokov,” he would say, “and as good as Fitzgerald….” and so on, but captured the comparison in the form of a boxing match. Who could he take out in the ring?
The reality is that writing is not a competition. There is enough solitary work involved in writing that we don’t have to isolate ourselves from others who might be able to help us.
After leaving teaching a year and a half ago, I have looked for somewhere online where I could get the support of other writers, and at first looked at goodreads.com. When the writer’s group I was involved with there dried up, I discovered thenextbigwriter.com. After paying an annual fee, I joined a group of writers who review each others’ works in progress. I met some very, very good writers there, and some struggling. What I discovered, however, was that one writer might be really good in dialogue, another in characterization, and the third good in storytelling, everyone has room to grow. And there’s always room to grow.
I’ve told my students for years that, “a serious writer never stops being a student.” When you get to the point where you think you’ve learned everything, you will stagnate and alienate your readers.
And in the end, it’s not about being the best writer. It’s about having a great story and being able to effectively share that story so the reader doesn’t see the words, but only the ideas. You want them immersed in your story, lost in your world. You want them satisfied, yet begging for more at the end.
And to get to that point, we need all the help we can get.