How do you know if your writing is “good enough”?

So you’ve done it: you’ve written something with a beginning, middle, and end. All the proper headings are in place. You’ve even combed over the citations to make sure you’re caught up on the current punctuation preferences. (Okay, you’ve resigned yourself to probably missing a comma or something.) You’ve done all the revising and editing that you can do on your own, but how do you know if it’s good enough to submit somewhere?

You have to – gulp – show it to someone

It’s a necessary step in the process no matter what. It’s even very logical: if you want someone else to read your work, someone else has to … read your work. It just feels safer in some sort of distant dream where it’s strangers far off somewhere eagerly devouring every word. Not … someone carefully reading it and holding the power of rejection in their hands.

I suppose, if you go for self-publishing, you can skip this step. It’s just all you, all the time, and nobody else has to see it until they’re far enough away that they can’t touch you. But publishing – especially academic publishing – means a lot of eyes are going to be on your work before it gets printed.

51siVKLceWL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_Take my most intense process so far. A call went out for people who wanted to write about heroic criminals in American popular culture. A friend of mine sent it to me and I debated, but … well, rejection on a proposal hurts far less than rejection on a full paper, so I submitted. Even before something was really written, the two editors had their eyes on it.

They got too many submissions for their special issue, so they asked a number of us if we’d be willing to do book chapters. I agreed. First hurdle passed: someone liked my idea! Two someones, even. But now, try to follow the bouncing ball …

I wrote and submitted the chapter. The editors read it, commented, and sent it back. I revised the chapter. The peer reviewers read it, commented, and sent it back. I revised the chapter. The editors read it, commented, and sent it back. I revised the chapter. The publisher got it, formatted it, and sent it back. I made final small edits and clicked the final big button.

And that’s the main thing, right? It’s not just that other people are reading it – they’re going to tell you what to change. Between the editors and peer reviewers, I was getting feedback from five people. (Who didn’t always agree, but that’s a story for another time.) The point is that first, writing is never “good enough” – it’s just due. Second, people will always want you to change things, so you can’t go into it thinking you’re perfect anyway. And third … you have to show it to people.

It doesn’t have to be a submission straight off – you can show it to your peers or colleagues or anyone who might be interested in reading it – but there will always, always be more feedback once you submit it officially. It’s basically never going to be “good enough” to be accepted exactly as-is, but you won’t know if it’s “good enough” to be accepted at all until you show it to someone else.

What do you do to help yourself get to the point where you’re willing to show your writing to someone else?

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