When we hear a song on the radio, it’s easy to decide whether or not we like it. We do this automatically, without thinking too hard about it. We say beautiful voice maybe, or love that beat, or if they play that song one more time, I’m gonna scream. We don’t need anyone to tell us whether or not the song is good enough to like or too good to hate. Either our toes tap or they don’t.
Why does it sometimes seem so much more difficult to take a stand about a piece of writing, to simply say either I like it or I don’t, without the guidance of a higher power in the form of academia or a prestigious publication? There’s a difference between saying a piece is well-written and saying I like it. Which carries more weight? Well, if I skim the first few pages of a book and don’t like what I’ve read, I won’t buy it, no matter how well-written it is.
Good writing is quantifiable. It can be measured against a set of standards (though there might be disagreement about what those standards should be). But how do you write something likeable? You certainly can’t please every reader. One person will read your stuff and be blown away, while another won’t even bother to continue reading past the first few lines. The only thing you can do is write something that you yourself like, in the hopes that if you, at least, really like it, someone else will too. One out of the other billions of people in this world is bound to like it, right?
So the key, it seems, isn’t to write something likeable, but to write what we ourselves like and then try to find those others who might like it too. And, to write it well, as well as we possibly can. In that regard, there’s always something to be learned, always some way to improve to meet this standard or that. There are masters we can study and imitate. But to write something we ourselves like requires the exact opposite. It requires that we trust our own instincts before the judgment of any reader or reviewer. We must trust that if we’ve put our heart and soul into our work, if we’ve written something we feel proud of, it will resonate with some subset of the population. We must trust that the result of putting our selves into our writing will be a piece that speaks to an aspect of being human to which others will instinctively relate.
It’s hard to be so trusting. Someone will inevitably read our work and think it’s crap. We can’t let that stop us. The key to success is not giving up. According to Rolling Stone, The Beatles were rejected by nearly every record label in Europe before they finally signed their first recording contract. Now nearly everyone likes at least one Beatles song. And we don’t need everyone to think our writing sings, just one small subset of everyone, our niche. If we write to the rhythm of our hearts, they will tap their toes.