How To Know If Your Writing is Goodbyjavawarrior©
It isn't enough to be told you are a good writer. Good writers know this. A good writer is aware that he can produce a brilliantly-steaming, gloriously-regurgitated poo-burger, and when he serves it up he will be greeted with thunderous applause. People like poo. They like poo so much, they don't even think of it as poo. They think of it as holy pleasure pudding, and they will smite any who name it anything else.
So a good writer doesn't spend too much time waiting for praise. He waits for comments, the nature of which will determine if he has succeeded in whatever goal he made for that project. He knows it won't land on everyone's doorstep the same way, and he doesn't care about the reception of all who read it. If it connects with someone, he knows he's on the right track.
But even a good story can fail to find an audience, and it doesn't mean it failed. You can trace the evolution of a writer from the point he decides to write something to the moment his writing becomes a well-oiled machine with laser-focus, targeting all of those who were meant to read it. Those lucky souls fortunate enough to receive this wonderful experience from a gifted writer have no idea how long and hard this writer must have worked to get there.
You might imagine climbing Mount Everest, except that along the way, aliens invade, and the earth opens up and spits out swarms of locusts that follow you in your uncertain struggle up the constantly shifting sands of a mountain that might not even exist anymore by the time you get to the top. The end point of a writer legitimately doing God's work is necessarily vague. If he knows where he'll be, he's probably an untrustworthy hack.
It starts with actual poo, believe it or not. Every writer starts there.
No, I'm serious. Stop laughing.
The first creative act of every human being is defecation, and it produces a joyful spirit in its creator when his or her mother appears to approve. She loves him anyway.
Maybe she doesn't get upset, or maybe she does. Maybe she's on her way to an important convention and didn't expect to take Timmy along for the ride, and she really wants to attend that seminar on Gaia's Now-bloody Anus, but she can't because she has to tend to one very ill-timed poo-bomb. She may even resent his giggling, and he'll pick up on it.
All of this early development forms the basis of a writer's motivation for telling a story. This is not an attempt to trivialize the remarkable phenomenon of story-telling, but it is very relevant.
By the time he makes the conscious decision to write something of his own volition, a writer has already developed a talent for it. The passion comes when he takes his baby steps. Usually -- not always, but usually -- he is so turned off by what he has written that he forgets he even wrote it at all. This was true for me.
Regardless of what a true writer's development was like, he comes to realize at a certain point that he is the only one able to determine if it was successful or not.
I remember an experimental film class I took when I was in school, and I remember one very ballsy film made by a very ballsy classmate of mine. We were not an overly critical class. We tended to limit our responses to each other's work to praises, and seldom would we voice our criticisms.
He made a film depicting various people arriving at a party with different items. Someone brought a half-eaten sandwich, someone brought cake, and at least two people brought dog shit. Nevertheless, all were given the accolade, "Congratulations!" When the teacher asked, after surmising it to be a critique on modern art, what the film was about, he responded, "the film is about this class."
Everyone was shocked, and I knew that the film had become the most successful film any of us had made, because its purpose was served. Thereafter, we were all much more honest with our critiques, and we were all the better for it.
Some works have a time and a place. This matters just as much as the work itself, so no one should be using absolutes when deciding if Timmy's dance recital constitutes a successful cinematic experience.
So the pertinent question ought to be: Can you succeed in consistently delivering a piece of work to a constantly undefined audience that awaits its arrival, who will enjoy it and demand another, and do so without corrupting your own integrity and purpose?
To answer this question takes many years of experience, and one may never say yes to it. But this question is like a Zen Koan. It is somewhat rhetorical.
As for me, I believe I move a little closer every day. Some stories hit, some don't. I learn just as much from both, and I try not to do the same thing twice. I try to challenge myself, because if you're not cryin', you're not tryin', as they say. You should do the same.