EXTRA ETHER: Are You a Good Writer?

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

What does the online writing community hand off to good writers?

 Good writers figure it out on their own.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

The Omega “silent” starter pistol sends a “beep,” an electronic tone, to speakers positioned behind each runner on their starting block, so each athlete gets the signal at precisely the same moment.

No, this isn’t another hand-wringer about “Can Writing Be Taught?” But when I tweeted that “figure it out on their own” line the other day? The RTs went on and on.

A chord had been struck.

Or was that a starter pistol?

Since we’re all beginning to feel like volunteers at the London Olympics, I’m going to fashion this post as something of a relay. The baton of our shared thoughts here will pass from one writer to another. A quick 4×100. Ready…set…beep.

Off the Starting Blocks

Good writers figure it out on their own. Good writers develop a style that works for them. They write, they fail, and they write again.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Micah Nathan

This “self-immolating preamble,” as he calls it, is from Micah Nathan, author of this summer’s Jack the Bastard, as well as Losing Graceland, and Gods of Aberdeen.

The trick is prying apart the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, and seeing how it all works.

Nathan is telling us what we don’t always remember, but we do know: those good writers aren’t dependent on finding the Magic Blog Post or the Holy Inspirational Devotion that can transform the third vampire author on the left into Michael Cunningham.

Good writers intuitively know this. They certainly don’t need me getting in the way.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave MorrisNathan’s short essay is at Glimmer Train. Maybe it’s an anti-essay. (“I find these sorts of essays difficult.”) It’s called Selectively Stubborn. It’s been pointed out by Jane Friedman, host of the Ether and hashtag unto herself.

And it arrives at a time when we need gently to consider a kind of reckoning. No, a recognition. Well, maybe a recognition of what we’re not recognizing. A reckoning unreckoned. About this writing community business we engage in.

Nathan’s piece, of course, is talking-without-talking about aptitude. A faculty. “An inherent capability, power, or function,” as I read it in Merriam-Webster. A certain receptivity to the “goodness” of “good” writing that some have, others don’t.



It’s easier if I do this in music because that’s not what do here at the Ether. So it’s less freighted with emotion.

What made Claude Debussy think he could cluster those tones into parallel chords and get some pentatonics going so well that for generations his work summoned up an ersatz Greco-mythic soundscape? Still gorgeous. Eleven years in the Conservatoire didn’t do that. It’s not what they taught in 19th-century Paris. Debussy was “good.” He had something going on inside.

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Handoff: Micah Nathan to Jane Friedman

In fact, I don’t see this concept of the “good” writer as dropping the baton in terms of  what Friedman wrote in a contribution to Writer Unboxed in June 2011. (Nor am I saying the “good” writer doesn’t have to get in those 10,000 hours of “practice,” either.)

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Jane Friedman

In 5 Things More Important Than Talent, Friedman wrote of how she dislikes getting the question from writers, “Do I have any talent at this?”

She enumerated “five questions I find more relevant and meaningful”:

  1. What makes you remarkable?
  2. What’s your community?
  3. What risks are you taking?
  4. What do you do after you fail?
  5. How do you deal with change?
Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Photo: Flickr / John-Morgan

Offhand, that might sound as if she’s saying to forget being “good,” it’s more in how you work the system. But no, she’s saying that whatever your talent does bring to the table — whatever that being “good” thing is, if you’ve got it — you don’t become successful by staring at it all day. You succeed by making something of it. And that’s where your attention needs to go. Not to “Do I have any talent at this?”

When you listen to L’après-midi d’une faune, are you worrying about whether Debussy was born with perfect pitch?

And when you read Andrew Miller’s Pure, are you nattering away to yourself about how his prose is, as Jonathan Beckham correctly terms it for the Literary Review, “crystalline, uncontrived, striking, and intelligent?”

No, they’re just “good.”

Remember, Nathan noted, “Good writers intuitively know this.”

They know who they are.

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Handoff: Jane Friedman to Jacob Silverman

Let’s say you’re part of this web of writers, fiction-lovers, literary editors, and readers in the social-media world…

Hey, sounds like us, doesn’t it?

If you spend time in the literary Twitter- or blogospheres, you’ll be positively besieged by amiability, by a relentless enthusiasm that might have you believing that all new books are wonderful and that every writer is every other writer’s biggest fan.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Slate’s illustration for Jacob Silverman’s piece is by Sean Ford.

This is Jacob Silverman writing at Slate. Interestingly, he’s a contributing editor to Virginia Quarterly Review, where Friedman is based. His piece is headlined Against Enthusiasm: An epidemic of niceness in book culture. And we need to pay attention to it.

It’s not only shallow, it’s untrue, and it’s having a chilling effect on literary culture, creating an environment where writers are vaunted for their personal biographies or their online followings rather than for their work on the page.

I’ve got some questions for you. Don’t answer them aloud. Just “ponder them in your heart,” as the Bible would have it.

  • How many times have you actually read the published work of your own social media contacts?
  • How many of your social media cronies must you simply never read, and you can tell that? –and not just because they work in a genre you don’t get into but because you know that if you read them, what you found there wouldn’t be…everything we might hope?
  • Have you ever helped out a social media buddy with a good review or five stars or a big thumbs up, way up, when you (a) hadn’t read the book or (b) didn’t like the book but felt you couldn’t say that, and/or (c) didn’t feel you could just be quiet, and/or (d) knew you were going to need their help with a review later — whether they liked your work or not?
  • How frequently do you tell a social-media contact that there’s something less than “fab” about their latest blog or guest post? Or do you, instead, just gush?
Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Jacob Silverman

Silverman is ready:

Why shouldn’t writers and lovers of literature construct an environment that’s wholly comfortable and safe? When your time comes, when your book is published or you finally land that big feature, don’t you want some applause too?

But after surveying the demise of serious literary criticism, he circles back to “the superstructure of the literary world,” our online hives in which “we congregate, allowing us to collapse geography at the expense of solitary thinking.”

We like, favorite, and heart all day; it is a show of support and agreement, as well as a small plea for attention: Look at me, I liked this too. Follow back?

Silverman makes his best argument before we pass the baton one more time, emphasis mine:

A better literary culture would be one that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic. We wouldn’t want so badly to be liked above all. We’d tolerate barbed reviews, some quarrels, and blistering critiques, because they make our culture more interesting and because they are often more sincere reflections of our passions.

So does the good writer hand out — or want — gushing critiques, merely to engage in the warm-and-fuzziness of it all?

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Last handoff: Jacob Silverman to Will Self

My publishers did look a bit grim when it (the new book, Umbrella) came in. I think they felt it was resolutely uncommercial and wouldn’t find readers. But you know…”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Elizabeth Day

This is Elizabeth Day in her graceful observation for the Guardian of author Will Self: ‘I don’t write for readers.’

Five days after we meet, (Self’s new novel) Umbrella is long-listed for the Man Booker prize. It turns out that some other people must like it too.

In the UK, Self’s Man-Booker-long-listed Umbrella publishes August 30.

In the States, it’s available at this point only for pre-order at Amazon, with an American release date of January 8 from Grove Press.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

I want to show you a “good” writer at work. The kind of writer Micah Nathan was getting at in his truncated essay.

Here is Day in her piece, quoting Self:

“I don’t really write for readers,” Self says …”I think that’s the defining characteristic of being serious as a writer. I mean, I’ve said in the past I write for myself. That’s probably some kind of insane egotism but I actually think that’s the only way to proceed – to write what you think you have to write. I write desperately trying to keep myself amused or engaged in what I’m doing and in the world. And if people like it, great, and if they don’t like it, well, that’s that – what can you do? You can’t go round and hold a gun to their head.”

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Roz Morris, dirtywhitecandy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Dave Morris

Will Self

Now, contrast that to our community of kudos, our +1s and +Ks and chucks on the digital chins of our mates, all of us being so swell together, as Silverman shows us…and, again, how many of the books of your pals had you actually read when you gave it some thought?

Day is a generous journalist, who stops to be sure we don’t mistake the “Self rule,” if you will, of writing for himself as arrogance:

As it happens, Self is pleased to discover I did like the book. “It makes a difference,” he says.

Day goes on to fill us in on such details as his fondness for the robusta coffee bean — “Self’s conversation is full of such interesting digressions, the product of a restless mind accumulating facts like magpies do glitter.”

And Day’s conversation with Self is a deep and affecting profile, I commend it to you as an example of the kind of work we need to see more of when it comes to our authors.

Then again, we need good authors to profile, don’t we?


Finish Line

And here we are, our relay done, the baton safely all the way around the track…and where do we look for such authors?

Can you make them out among us between the RTs and the MTs and the status updates and the cat pictures? I’m not sure I can.

These good writers.

Micah Nathan’s work urges us to “cultivate selective stubbornness.”

By “selective” I mean paying attention to the right folks—a good writer can tell who’s a right folk within minutes—and completely ignoring the rest. It also means not lying to yourself. Hemingway called it having a “built-in bullshit detector.” I can’t improve on that.

His advice, of course, is meant for the good authors.


We’ve rounded the track, handing off and handing off —

  • from Friedman’s counsel on questions about talent,
  • through Silverman’s calling of our collective bluff,
  • to Self’s rejection of this serve-your-reader mantra we hear so much, and
  • back to Nathan’s assertion that the good writer may well be working right now, getting on with it — and not flipping batons with the rest of us.

So here’s what I want to ask you:

Are you that good writer who figures it out on her or his own? Is this back-slapping online colloquy of ours really the best thing for good work? Do we respect good work? Or are we just here for the huzzahs and chest bumps and thumbs-up? Could it be easier to pretend we’re all good writers? –just passing the tweet-baton from one pal to the next?


Reading on the Ether

Books mentioned and/or linked in our story today include:

By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
Gods of Aberdeen by Micah Nathan
Jack the Bastard by Micah Nathan
Losing Graceland by Micah Nathan
Pure by Andrew Miller
Umbrella by Will Self

Join us Thursdays at JaneFriedman.com for Writing on the Ether, presented this week by Ether sponsor Roz Morris and her novel, My Memories of a Future Life.

Main image: iStockphoto / nickp37

Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

View posts by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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Philippa Rees
Philippa Rees

Such a refreshing post! Hurray. Writing for oneself, despite its apparent egotism is the starting point for any writer who feels the need to write at all. To find the words that explore self discovery. Not the narcissism of exposing what you know, and only too well, but the writing ‘into’ new discoveries of what you perhaps half apprehend and because you, as the writer, are that first reader you need to entertain and divert yourself. If others later also enjoy the ride the rewards are immense. If nobody does then perhaps narcissism or staleness, or cliched solutions have usurped.… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Philippa, such a straightforward and eloquent response, thank you. I love your phrase for what the good writer does, “writing ‘into’ new discoveries of what you perhaps half apprehend.” This is the joy, isn’t it? — the being able to break free of the crowd and explore a far end of the world on your own, not as a performance (until the work is ready, at least). I worry that between our fine contributors here — Nathan, Friedman, Silverman, Self — we need to stop and think about the community we tout as so important. It just may not be… Read more »

Jamie Clarke Chavez

Fantastic post! And I’m astonished to report I’d read every article you reference. (Not sure how that happened—I’m usually way behind you—but I’d bookmarked all because I’m writing my own blog post.) Now I’m going to go reread them in light of your commentary, which is always illuminating.

Porter Anderson

Good on you, Jamie! Great minds thinking alike, lol. Sounds as if you’re right up to speed on things, and glad you’re thinking about all this, as well. Will look forward to your write, and thanks for reading and commenting on the Ether!

James Scott Bell

It’s fine to write for a family of penguins, if that’s who you want to buy your books. But if you want to be published BY Penguin, or sell to members of the human family, you have to find that sweet spot between authorial voice and reader desire. That’s where craft comes in (the very notion of craft includes inter-connectivity with a community, in this case readers). And there is nothing wrong with becoming a master craftsman, either. You create value, and get rewarded for it.

Porter Anderson

Quite right, Lord Jim, and I found it particularly interesting how Will Self talks about the reception of his books. The “sweet spot” for him seems to be almost a lucky accident, his popularity being a surprise in some quarters, considering the “difficulty” of his work. (“Challenging” is another term for it.) Always interesting to see how much a writer has to “travel,” or not, to that sweet spot. Some seem born very close to the vernacular, immediately writing with a sensibility for trend and trouble that registers with wide audiences. Others seem to struggle for miles and miles to… Read more »

Darrelyn Saloom

Brilliant post! And, yes, I am here to praise you. The “figure it out on your own” piece struck a chord with me because I did just that. I hitchhiked around the US when I “should” have been going to college. In my thirties, I took a few English and creative writing classes, then ran home to raise three sons and figure it out on my own. I have no MFA in creative writing and I’ve never been to Iowa (I may have thumbed through there). Now that I have a book coming out, I’m getting emails from people asking… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hey, Darrelyn, thanks for the praise, lol, and for your story about figuring it out on your own. You’ve certainly got that pathway covered in your own journey to publication. I think Micah Nathan’s use of that term has grabbed so many people’s attention (which is what happened when I tweeted, of course) because it actually can be “interpreted on your own,” too. In other words, there are varying concepts of what Nathan may be referring to when he speaks of a “good writer,” let alone of “figuring it out on your own.” And this, at least, has little or… Read more »

Paul Baxter
Paul Baxter

The basic premise is flawed. “Good” defined how, and by whom? Is the author of 50 Shades of Grey a good writer? How about the author of Ulysses? Anyone who writes just for himself or herself has their own internally defined standard, and he or she is his or her own jury of one. That’s all that counts. But as soon as the writer asks someone else what they think, the definition of “good” expands exponentially. All that said, anyone who gives someone else a five star review or a thumbs-up because they like the other person regardless of the… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hey, Paul So glad to have your input here, thanks for being with us. In the spirit of the post — and its several folks who are trying to help us move past various standard ways of looking at things — I’ll just point out to you that saying we don’t have an adequate definition of a “good writer” is a rather common way of dodging a difficult issue. “Well, how do you define so-and-so?” — #cmonson, we hear that in every single debate that treads on someone’s toes. I’ll bet that you and I could get ourselves up a… Read more »

Roz Morris fiction

Love this post. As Randy Susan Meyer said in a fantastic post in Beyond the Margins, I write for the reader in me. I don’t think about markets or penguins, because I don’t know what they want. I know what I want and I can only write that. So Andrew Miller, Gavin Maxwell, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene send me back to my desk to try and do better. For me, that’s honing my craft. You raise many provocative points about the back-slapping culture and integrity. I’ll review books if they are what I like to read and I can recommend… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hey, Roz, and thanks so much for chiming in. As I work my way through these comments from so many folks, I’m glad to find yours, not least because you don’t sidestep any of our shared issues here with politically correct dodges. Some do. This is part of our culture, mind you — both in the States and in the UK — and I do realize that. What I find nourishing in what you write here is your mention of Miller, Maxwell, Maugham, Greene, Bradbury. “Hey, how do you define a ‘good writer?'” You just did it, thank you, no… Read more »

Roz Morris fiction

How, indeed, will good writers find a way to be noticed? This continues to bother me. The Millers etc aren’t going to be able to compete on numbers – one of the ways the new intrepid breed of self-publishers get their presence felt. As I’ve said to you often enough – and I repeat it because it’s worrying – my agent remarked that the one consolation the mainstream publishing industry has is that writers still have the problem of getting readers to discover them. Heavens, it’s just not what we’re good at – nor is it what we’re meant to… Read more »

Angela Ackerman

This is a tough one. I can relate to Jacob’s standpoint, but as someone who lives and breathes ‘writers helping and supporting writers’ I see the good that support brings each and every day. In an industry where writers are told on a daily basis by gatekeepers that they are not good enough, support of their fellow peers is what keeps them going. Most often, rejections come because the writer is not ‘there’ yet. But as someone who has seen thousands of manuscripts and written thousands of critiques, I know writers who ARE good enough still be told, ‘Thanks but… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hey, Angela, thanks for reading and for your long, thoughtful commentary here. I don’t think anybody can disagree with you on the idea that “encouragement is a good thing when it is wielded with wisdom.” Quite right, and easily 95 percent of what you say here is aligned with that. I think, however, the one area in which I’d want to follow up is to point out that there’s an assumption that the only thing that’s helpful is comment, criticism, guidance, instruction that arrives wrapped in positives. I think this is a mistake. I think there are times when I,… Read more »

Angela Ackerman

HI Porter, Oh, I don’t disagree–I guess perhaps I have been fortunate to have found a strong critique group as I was forming my writing roots that challenged me at ever step, so I can always read through any fluff feedback. I am also able to deliver criticism with diplomacy, which is different than robing something in glitter. I have seen the dark side of criticism where is it not only given raw, but with the belief that ‘crushing spirits will make the writer stronger’. This can cause a lot of damage. Those with this attitude often have an inflated… Read more »

AJ Sikes
AJ Sikes

Yes, I am. Like Self, I write for me, to entertain myself. I figure if I like it and get jazzed reading it, then there’s probably one or two other folks who will feel the same. They might even be willing to buy a copy of my book someday.

No, but the right amount and sincere amounts, helps now and then.

Yes, we do, and it’s frustrating to see what we know to be poor work touted and promoted ad nauseum all over the bloody place.

No, no, and hell no to the last three questions.

Porter Anderson

Thanks, AJ, appreciate your reading and commenting on the post here.

I agree, seeing bad work held up as something better than it is? Hard to take. And it hurts the industry, the community. Interesting that we can tell it’s bad, isn’t it? Someone else in comments here today, has suggested that the lack of a definition of “good writer” presents a flawed premise. I say that if we know what’s bad when we see it held up and applauded, we know what’s good, too.

Keep the faith, thanks again.

J.E. Fishman

Some people are talented and others aren’t. Yet talent doesn’t always matter.

Some are self-taught and others pile up advanced degrees. But what we learn doesn’t always matter.

Some consciously employ craft and others discover it by accident. How it comes doesn’t really matter.

Great writers sometimes write terrible books and terrible writers sometimes write great books. All that matters is what works. Everything else is commentary.

Porter Anderson

Sounds like a do-it-yourselfer’s credo to me, J.E., and thanks for it. 🙂 Appreciate you reading and commenting, many thanks.

Friend Grief

Food for thought as always, Porter. As for the four questions you asked us to ponder in our hearts: 1. Not enough 2. Way too many, mostly because they’re irritating. 3. Not yet, thank God. 4. I don’t gush,which is not news. The trend online amongst writers is to be wildly enthusiastic in the beginning and downright snarky later on. I don’t know if it’s reality setting in, or just a serious inferiority complex. This makes them equal to others on the internet, such as those who praised Gabby Douglas’ gold-medal winning performance only to criticize her hair the next… Read more »

Porter Anderson

What I like about your comments here, Viki — and thank you for them — is that you come around to questioning whether anybody really writes for her- or himself anymore. And in saying that maybe your writing couldn’t improve until you acknowledged that, I think I’d answer, well why would it? Until you had decided you were going to write for publication, you could write any way you wanted and nobody saw it. The outward-facing writer (and I believe we all are that), is the one who must have viable text, the one who improves. For all my regard… Read more »

Friend Grief

I do think that it’s a little precious to say “I’m just writing for myself”, even though that’s true at times. Some people take a long time to get to the point of accepting that (1) they have something to say that others want to hear and (2) that their writing is good. For me, the second took a much longer time. That’s the real issue, I believe: many people don’t really believe their writing can stand up to scrutiny.Maybe most. And yes, I have a lot of writing that (I hope) will never see the light of day. I… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Yeah, exactly. I would go so far, however, as to say that the people who cannot overcome the idea that their writing isn’t “good enough” to be seen? — probably AREN’T producing writing good enough to be seen. I think this is what Micah Nathan embraces in his piece. Good writers get down with what they’re doing and work with what they have and figure out what they need in order TO place themselves out there at the right time. Moving from not a good writer to a good writer may be exactly this process, or at least include it.


[…] Anderson’s (@Porter_Anderson) long EXTRA ETHER: Are You a Good Writer? on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog addresses what being a “good writer” […]

Stephen R. Welch

Great post as usual, Porter. Friedman’s “5 Relevant Questions” really do hit the mark. Talent, regardless of the nature-vs-nurture question, is a proverbial tree in the forest; it doesn’t truly exist in the absence of an audience, and without perseverance, resilience, and self-belief (even if delusional) one can’t hope to endure long enough to capture anyone’s attention. Interesting observations regarding the “mutual self-esteem” etiquette of our online hives. I’ve read blogs by literary agents who warn against offering any sort of criticism of other’s books on Goodreads, for fear of tarnishing one’s online “image.” Online discourse seems almost puerile at… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Thanks for your input, as always — and yes, La Friedman (sometimes known as Porter’s Brain) can always get you going in a better direction, she’s good that way. Even when you don’t fully agree with her, she has this way of delineating what you do believe vs. what you don’t and why. And hey, Hegel, that’s the definition of an understanding. The day Jane opens her Understanding Concession Stand, I’ll be cheerfully on staff. Now, about that thing of friends and their opinions: Not overcome-able. Give it up. Because I’m a professional critic and I have some very good,… Read more »

Roz Morris fiction

I’m not touting for business here, but I thought I’d jump in to give you a measure of the kind of detailed feedback and tuition you might get from a professional editor. The last client report I did came to 50+ pages.

Porter Anderson

Which is a fantastic return, really. I know that when I had my last developmental edit done, it came back with close to that many pages, plus the entire manuscript full of tracked changes for me to consider, a lot of bang for the buck, realy.

Stephen R. Welch

Terrific advice Porter, thank you. My problem is that I have a 180K MS that I’m in the process of winnowing down substantially. I already know I need to flush about half of it. I’d expect that my MS should be as close to finished and polished as I can make it, before handing over the $$ to a professional editor. Am I wrong? One way or another I’ve made the commitment to writing this thing and have already spent a few years on it … and I’m not stopping until I’m finished. The next questions of course are, where… Read more »

Turndog Millionaire

To be honest, I think I’m a below average writer at this moment in time. I like to think I’m a decent storyteller, but I have so much to learn about writing still I’m still refining my voice, I’m still learning about technique, and I’m still finding my confidence in things. I just have to keep trying, keep learning, and strive toward something better. I actually just wrote a Blog Post similar to this. Comparing a quote from both Steven Pressfield and Sean Platt, two good, but very different writers. the idea of writing from the ve heart versus writing… Read more »

Porter Anderson

The finest of lines, Matt, lies where you stop looking for it. It lies where you leave off the worry. It lies where you give up the comparisons and the rationalizing and debating and analyzing. That’s where it lies. It’s an odd thing, but writing works much like bicycling so famously does. People love to say that you never forget how to ride a bike. That means, of course, that once your body has learned the feel of the balance required on a bike, sense-memory will bring that balance back to you when you get onto a bike years after… Read more »

Turndog Millionaire

wow, thanks Porter, some great advice. And it’s true, I should stop trying to replicate others and trying to learn too much those great things always come when you stop looking 🙂 However, I’m also keen to learn so enjoying reading, listening,a nd finding new things. Each day is a lesson. Is it confusing sometimes? Is it a chaos of crazy? YES! But, I’m also learning. I live by the notion of being a filter. Listen, read, learn…but always add your own spin on things. don’t simply take things as gospel, no matter who is saying it to you. I… Read more »

Porter Anderson

You’re doing everything right, Matt, just don’t confuse the learning for the doing. That shadow career business we talked about with Pressfield. It can creep up on you and pretty soon you’re a “lifelong student” — in the wrong sense, lol. 🙂


Lots of food for thought here, Porter and a great discussion. Here are my thoughts- 1. Talent is important but I think persistence and focus trump talent any day. There’s always the exception- Augusten Burroughs whipping up a bestseller in a matter of weeks while most of us spend endless hours learning our craft and writing /rewriting/editing before we launch our book. I have spent the past three years learning my craft -taking courses,etc and am finally at the point of giving myself permission to just write for myself, write what I feel I need to say-own my story and… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hey, thanks, Kathy – and I agree that the preparation is worth it IF — like you — the writer finally stops preparing and starts actually producing. The danger, as in the cases of folks we’ve discussed before who go to all the conferences and never write a word, is that it gets too easy to prep and never get going. My guess is that most of us are over-preparing — at least those of us in this online community at its widest — by about a third. We’re being told we have to prep like this by people who… Read more »


I have definitely put in my chair time, done my homework, and honed my craft over a period of many years. The problem is that advice books on writing (as well as recent blogs, magazine articles, and workshops) warn writers that they must: build a platform, join social media, market their book, study the markets, start a blog, review on Good Reads, and ‘keep the reader in mind.’ With all this dizziness, it is hard to hear your own voice amidst the noise.

Jo Meador
Jo Meador

Thank you for an extended discussion on what I think is an important issue. Everyone seems to be jumping on the social media bandwagon, outdoing each other, reaching for trendier comments and blogs, yet the writing seems to be more and more narrowly defined regarding plot, character, and narrative, with little to feed the literary soul. Thanks also for the several references here on better works.


You have made my morning. I thank you.

When the unreadable Porter Anderson writes an article entitled “Are You a Good Writer?” it provided my first laugh of the day.

I am sorry, Porter (I’m Canadian, we apologize a lot), but your rather hodgepodge style is one I find difficult to follow.

It seems others, including Ms. Friedman, just adore it.

Mine is only one opinion. Please do continue.

But it was a good laugh and I thank you.

Have a very pleasant morning.


Hmmm, Porter you have given me much to consider. I agree, the only way to become a good writer is to write. I haven’t found any shortcuts. It’s a personal journey and I believe I am becoming a better writer with every passage I write.
I write the story as it comes to me, without regard for the reader – in the first draft. After that, it’s a blend of reader and writer and a large glass of Chardonnay. 🙂


[…] was hoping to leave Porter Anderson out this week’s Turndog Tales (I may have to change it to the Porter Show), but he’s […]