Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

You Don’t Need to Become a Better Writer

Every day, I get a message from a writer who wants to be “better.”

They want advice on how to improve their craft or what it takes to get an agent or how to break through their creative blocks. But often what they really want is affirmation that they’re good enough.

And they’re missing the point.

You don’t need to become better; you need to be bolder.

In order to get the kind of attention your words deserve, you need to earn our trust, to give people permission to be themselves. And the best way to do that is to go first. To tell that story of abuse. Confess your fears. Admit you were wrong.

Only when you go there, when you risk utter humiliation and rejection, will we listen to what you have to say.

Until then, you’re just wasting your words.

Writing isn’t about being good

It’s about telling the truth.

“Good” is about what other people think. It’s about badges and accolades and pleasing the masses.

Trying to be “good” gives other people permission to hold you back, to keep you from being who you are: a writer.

Yes, you a writer. One who writes. Not necessarily one who is published or praised. But someone who uses words to create change. And you don’t need to become “better.” You need to start telling the truth.

When we tell our truth, we tap into the part of the unconscious self we’re afraid of, the part people need. You may think of this as your soul; whatever the name, it’s what creates the kind of connection people need, the kind that changes lives.

Good isn’t good enough

Good won’t get you where you want to go. It won’t get you published, and it certainly won’t earn you a raving fan base. Only honesty can do that.

The problem is most writers seek first the approval of others and then chase their art — when it ought to be the other way around.

If you are going to say something worth our attention, something we haven’t heard before, you must be yourself. Write from the heart even, no especially, when it scares you.

Because that’s the stuff worth reading.

Good will come (eventually)

If you do this over and over, if you keep practicing not in safe places but out in public where people can see you fail, you will get better.

You will stop making those same stupid mistakes you made in high school. You will find your voice and the confidence that comes with practice.

In other words, you will be good. But not my good or your parents’ good. Your good. The only kind that matters.

If you want to join a community of writers who are committed to boldly sharing their stories and telling the truth, check out Tribe Writers, which just relaunched. Read more here.

How have you believed the myth of “better” when you should’ve been bolder? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

Start Building Your Audience Today

Download my free eBook and learn exactly what I did to grow my blog from zero to 100,000 readers in 18 months.

In this book, I share everything I’ve learned from building a tribe and becoming a full-time writer — and how you can do the same.

Click here to download the free book now.

  • Jonas Eriksson

    This sentence is very powerful: “Only when you go there, when you risk humiliation and rejection, will we listen to what you have to say.” Good work, Jeff!

  • I have finally accepted the fact that I am a writer. No matter how many times I read this quote it didn’t sink in until the time was right.

    “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” ~ Andy Warhol

    • I love this! I’m add it to the post.

  • Jeff, are you saying that I should tell the story of how something traumatic that happened in the 7th grade has affected my entire life?

    • beth coulton

      I’m thinking that’s exactly what he’s saying.

      • The key is figuring out exactly how to do that in a way that people will want to read.

    • Yes, Larry, do tell!!!
      I have even provided a Reply button at the bottom. :-)
      (oh, I so hope you were being funny, if not, this reply will be real awkward)

      • Ha,I wasn’t, but it’s all good. :)

        • 8-I……awkward moment…. Thanx man. That is the down side to text, you cant here the intonation of the voice.

          • No problem. My question was bit tongue in cheek, knowing full well what Jeff was saying. Thanks for the comments.

            • I knew that. And the answer is still yes. 😉

              • Jeff, what’s cool is I see that this is something for me to weave into the eBook I’m writing. Maybe this is one good benefit for delaying. It’s allowed me to see a way to make it more personal. Couldn’t have gotten here without you, bro.

  • cindyfinley

    Absolutely. It’s not just true for writing, but speaking too. And when you start to tell your authentic story, you learn that you don’t get rejected. That fear of rejection is just a big fat lie.

  • I don’t have a problem with being bold, truthful. I believe in my writing. But sometimes I write to try to gain acceptance, especially on my blog. I want to build a platform, drive traffic. I’m coming to a point where the time and effort required to do that is no longer worth it. I’m not quitting at blogging, but I’m going to start blogging in a way that’s just me, not me trying to win others over. That means less blog posts, less commenting, less social networking and more time writing honest poetry and prose.

    • Me too, Dan. I feel the same way. Let’s encourage each other through the process.

      • Thanks, Jeff. I think poetry and fiction can be very honest forms of writing. If you haven’t written much in those styles, I’d encourage you to practice, if not for publishing, for honing the overall craft.

  • Dubem Menakaya

    Great article that has reaffirmed my commitment to honest truth and authenticity. I just started my blog this week and I was so nervous pressing that ‘Post’ button lol! But once it’s out there it’s a great feeling, now just have to keep doing it!

  • Love this! Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Thanks Jeff, brilliant post – I love it. Thanks for the inspiration and obviously looking forward to some great stuff to read from you on the future. My reading list is full of your posts – I need to catch up with these as well, haha.

  • Shannon

    Thank you, Jeff. I needed to hear this.

  • Thanks for putting these overwhelming ideas into simple, understandable bites. Bolder versus better… I so needed to hear this too!

  • Yes. Thanks, Jeff.

  • I don’t disagree that we need to be bolder, but I do disagree with not getting better. Writers should strive to improve their craft with every post, every article, every manuscript. These days, it’s easier than ever to become a published writer, but there is a lot of garbage out there. When books are filled with a lot of misspelled words and grammatical errors, it’s a turn off for me. Many of these books would have ended up in the slush pile in a traditional publishing house – not because of the content or story line, but because of poor writing.

    We all have stories to tell and we should strive to write them as best we can. I want to be a better writer than I was a year ago, and I want to be even better a year from now. I want to grow as a writer – I don’t want to remain the same.

    • You’re right, Joan. My point was this: how do we get better? In a closet? At a writers group? Or by sharing our truth every single day?

      • I agree with you, Jeff. I stayed in the closet too long. Even a year after starting Tribe Writers, I’m finally beginning to share those controversial posts. Looking forward to meeting the new class of writers!

        • Awesome, Joan! It’s an honor to have you. I so appreciate and respect your contributions to the community.

  • emelia

    Jeff you said it bold and clear. It makes sense, it is inspiring and i think it will make me a “good and better” writer because from today i will be myself and tell truth.

  • Very true. The more I have focused on showing my scares and fears the more I have found an audience that will listen. Keep speaking the truth Jeff.

  • I’m dancing around as I think you are stepping on my toes. :) Thanks!

  • I always love when you write about this topic. My only desire is to tell the truth in my writing. I spent too many years trying to be someone I wasn’t. It only led me down wrong and destructive paths. Writing “my truth” is very freeing.

  • It took me thousands of words before I could rid myself of the ‘formal’ speak drilled into me at university not to mention the wordiness that came from trying to bluff my way to a minimum word limit!

    But still I find myself editing out unnecessarily fluffy wordage or paragraphs that sound like I have a stick up my, well you know.

    But in the end you are right Jeff, it’s about having the courage to write exactly what you want, without worrying about what your mother thinks. And that takes balls, figuratively speaking.

  • Shari Lynne

    I just love this Jeff! Thank you for permission to be “GOOD” right where I’m at! Blessings!

  • Well done, Jeff. For those who question whether their writing is good enough, they could take a trip to the local bookstore. A casual reading of a few random books will prove that it doesn’t need to be better. “Briefer” might be needed, but nothing will improve the writing better than doing it “from the heart….”

  • Asking yourself the question,”why do I want to write?” is important. Maybe one people skip over because they don’t want to face the answer. When we do share the heart stuff, the hard stuff, it’s risky. We sit with blood all over the keys and yet we keep going. And we know that some will not like it, but that’s okay. It’s honest, it’s raw and it does take courage.

    I agree that we will improve when we put our stuff out there. When we take risks instead of just showing those who feel obligated to like your stuff. They share your name.

    Loved this post and the way you challenge us. I have to write, it’s who I am.

    • Thanks, Anne. Understanding your “why” is essential to the “what” in my opinion.

  • Chelle Vess

    Jeff, thank you for YOUR boldness. I have been following you for almost a year and it’s been a miracle to see where I am now compared to then. I have blog now, writing consistently, with a growing readership, working on a free e-book devotional to offer. And it’s not safe, it’s scary, but it’s good. We just don’t know who needs to hear what we have to share, but the truth is there ARE people who need to hear it. I look forward to reading your blog every day and am thankful for how the resources you offer have changed me.

  • Teri

    Jeff, these words have a power all their own. You take away any excuses we have and show us the way, the short track to adventure in writing! Lets tap into our sense of adventure and push our fears aside!

  • Pi

    Brilliant post.

  • I love this post. The best writers probably know a lot about proper grammar and construction (and similar connected things), but if they do not have a bold, vulnerable, strong, compelling story–coupled with the willingness to tell it–then none of that matters. Thank you for that reminder.

  • Beth

    This is an amazing post – and so clear and concise that it drives the point home in a moment. Be truthful. Be honest. Be real.
    I’m not trying to use this as an excuse, but oftentimes, if I am going to write the way you describe above, it will end up including others who may not want to be included in my writing. I guess it’s all about asking permission from those others, then, if they mind if I write about them. A lot of the real, gut-wrenching experiences that I have had to go through have involved people close to me who would rather not have their dirty laundry dragged out into the internet’s light (and I don’t blame them one bit). Does anyone else have this problem, and how do they handle it?

    • Ellie

      Beth, I share your dilemma. Private journals, written from the heart, hold much of my family’s dirty laundry. Like you I want to finally share my stories. Because I have not been brave, in the past, to spread the truth, there are innocent victims. No, I haven’t sorted how I will achieve this. Those who have sold the lies, continue to perpetuate them. They need to be exposed to set the story straight, but do I need to make them look bad for me to feel good, will the innocent be vindicated, am I only stirring the pot? Writing anonymously, has been a fleeting consideration.
      Jeff, you’ve opened a wormy can for me, and it needed to be opened.
      Thanks.

      • Beth

        Ellie – thanks for replying. Reading what you say, I gather that your stories are deeper than mine – and yes, you tread on difficult ground when considering what to write about and how much. For me, those who have struggled and who have caused struggles for me have also been changed and transformed by Christ and and they are healed today because of our gracious loving God. It is really THEIR story to tell of transformation- and I would never want to paint anyone in a bad light who is now walking in freedom (their own personal freedom from their bondage to sin).
        For you, perhaps this wormy can that has been opened will be just the nudge you needed!

        • Ellie

          Thank you Beth. Bravely writing on. We’ll see what my internal editor decides, later.

  • katina vaselopulos

    Jeff, I love that every time you touch a topic you do it from a different perspective, constantly challenging me to grow, both as a person and as a writer.
    About your question, I am getting there! My first attempt was made in my last post when I shared with the world…OK, my few readers… the pain and the hardships I have been dealing with this past year, and how looking and identifying blessings made it easier. It was cathartic.
    Thank you,
    Blessings,

    • Yes you are, Katina! Keep up the good work. So glad to have you in Tribe Writers. You have a story to tell, and I’m glad to see you begin to share it.

  • And really, isn’t “good” just a relative term in the writing world?

    Stephen King is considered one of the masters in the horror genre, but I don’t like that genre, so his writing is really not that good to me, but on the flip side, it is awesome to thousands if not millions of people. Of course I could study his writing and say, ok, he has good writing style, but still his genre trumps his skill and his books do not fall into the “good” category of my brain.

    Simply, because it is not relavant to me.

    I love humor, and that is why I recently created http://www.theworldwhyweb.com (yes that was a plug)

    Not everyone likes humor (sad people), so my writing will stink to them, not to mention that my poor gramar will take it to the highest level of stench. (yes, sadly, I used English class to catch up on some needed sleep)

    So hey, as a writer, your writing is both awesome and it stinks!

    Keep up the “good” work! :-)

  • I try and tell the truth in my writing but if I wrote a memoir, I would get called a liar. None one I know would believe me if I told about the emotional abuse I suffered at the hands of my stepfather. He is very good at manipulating people. He can convince people he is telling the truth when in fact he is the one who is lying.

    • Plenty of writers have taken their unbelievable life stories and translated them to novel form. I think it’s a smart move. That said, I’ve read plenty of shocking memoirs; if you tell the story well and in a way that invites other people to see their own stories in it, it can work.

  • Pam Kumpe

    I saw her red coat two weeks ago at Church under the Bridge where my friends are, the homeless and needy. The music played on the guitar, the birds flew above our heads, the wind rustled our hair, and the whistle of the train added its chorus. Then I found my feet walking the one block to the curb to meet the person in the red coat. I sat with her, listened to her story, prayed with her, held her hands and made her look into my eyes — so I could tell her, “God loves you.”

    If I’d waited until my message was good enough, I’d missed the chance to love on a broken person hiding in a red coat. The next Saturday she sat in the front in a folding chair, clear eyed, Bible in hand, ready to meet the day.

    God is the only good in me … may I pursue such a walk. Many times I’ve missed the red coat on the side of the road in pursuit of the goal I thought was key to making my life complete. In reality, the most amazing thing happens when we connect our heart with someone else, you find out the God uses you beyond anything you can imagine, even if you’re own life comes with some of the same “red coat” moments.

    I love to write … it’s the quiet version of me.
    I love to share Jesus … it’s the no-so quiet version of me.
    And that makes me smile…and makes me bold.

  • Worktop Guy

    I think this is a really interesting and refreshing point of view, there’s less of a barrier with this view, that you’ll never be ‘good’ enough – because ultimately everyone can be more bold!

    http://www.madetofit.com/desks/

  • Hester Crow-Christensen

    I think this is one of your best posts – they’re all good, but this one really connected with me. thnx!

  • rightinkonthewall

    Agree with this! So hard not to continuously seek validation and get discouraged.. Thanks for the reminder to focus on honesty, Sara

  • erikdeckers

    I disagree. I think we always need to become better writers. I’ve been doing it for 26 years, and I’m still always trying to get better. We’re never done. We can always get better.

    I agree that we shouldn’t seek validation or confirmation that we’re good enough (hell, I still look for that!). But I don’t think we should stop striving to be better than we were yesterday.

    Good gets published (my validation). Good gets read. Good gets you writing gigs. And better gets you more.

    • Well said, Erik. My point was this: We can’t keep waiting to be good enough to start. We have to say what we need need to say now. That’s the only way we actually get better.

      • I asked my wife if I was a good enough writer to be a blogger, just a couple days ago. Ha! Your point makes sense. I just wrote a post yesterday that I kept thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t have titled it that. Maybe that was too much emotion. What will people think?”

        • Yes, Michael. That’s exactly it. Those questions are good in that they force you to ship your best work. BUT you still must ship something imperfect. And in that risk is where art is made.

  • Lyn

    Great post! It’s like the foggy road cleared up for me and I can now see the path I need to go to. Thanks Jeff! You have been a great help and inspiration to me.

  • Kathleen Thompson

    I love it! Writing “good” is not the same as writing “well”. Clarity of thought and expression are important. But even more important is what you raise here. I will keep that in mind as I continue to find my writing voice. Thanks for sharing, Jeff.

  • Alyssa Auch

    An interesting post, but I’ve read a lot of truths that were poorly written. Not too fun. But I love your blog here! Some great stuff! You are opinionated, and I have some serious respect for it.

    • Me too, Alyssa. Maybe it starts with honesty but ends with excellence?

  • pictures are nice and simple but meaningful, thanks

  • This is a great post, I agree wholeheartedly. The more bold a writer becomes, the more seriously they will be taken, but this only comes with time (and a lot of rejections)

  • Alex Washoe

    Yeah, because what this world really needs is more opinionated bad writes. For someone who claims to be a writing coach to tell people that they don’t need to get better, don’t need to improve their skills as writers is malpractice. The more bad or even mediocre writing there is around, the less people pay attention to any writing. This is unbelievably bad advice.

    • What’s an “opinionated bad writes”? 😉

      • When I googled it, it came up with – Alex Washoe :-)

      • Alex’s comment was aggressive, but he’s correct. Bold writing is fine, but it won’t get you anywhere if your technique is sloppy.

        Also…

        1. You write a post about not focusing on becoming better.
        2. Alex emphasized that it’s more important for writers to improve their skill than to be bold (and I agree).
        3. You make fun of him for his typo, which supports his point more than your original post.

        His typo was less ironic than your response to it.

        • Did you mean his tone or his typo? Both were inappropriate. 😉

          • Two wrongs don’t make a right (but three lefts do). Though if you’re saying that his tone disqualified him from a serious response, I get that.

            • lol, It seems like in life I am always taking two more steps to make a right. That is too much walking and it makes you dizzy. :-)

            • You’re right, Stephen. I was reacting in the heat of the moment and should have taken a moment before I responded.

              That said, I do have a responsibility to this community, and it’s important to me that this is a safe place for people to be themselves.

              And no, I don’t think you should focus too much on technique at first. I think you need to get into the habit of practicing in public, putting your work out there (in some way) for people to see — because that’s HOW you get better.

              • Ana

                Hi Jeff,
                thank you for saying that you believe that people need to be putting their work out there as that is exactly what I am trying to do with my blog rather than worry so much about my writing technique. My writing is pretty crappy at the moment but I do believe I will get better by getting it out there and learning from great people like yourself who have a wealth of experience and are genuinely passionate about what they do. I look forward to learning from you.

    • James K

      Alex, you probably didn’t realize this but it is your exact attitude that explains why people fear being bold to begin with, and instead believe that the start line is at being ‘better’. This is a very dangerous and dis-empowering mindset that can lead people to believe that they will never be ‘enough’. Who are you to discourage people from starting their journey just because you believe they are “opinionated bad writers”? Also, Jeff doesn’t claim to be a writing coach, he IS one.

      • James, that was very gracious of you to attempt to help Alex with is utter inability to grasp the message. I wouldn’t have been so kind.

  • Wow. My jaw is kind of on the floor right now. This is exactly what I needed to read tonight! I am still so new to this blogging/writing world, but I want with all of my heart to touch someone’s heart and let them know that they aren’t alone on this journey though life. Bolder, not better. That’s my new motto. Your post deeply inspired me. Thank you!

  • To echo the other comments…bolder, not better…WOW. I’m shocked that I keep falling into the “hide behind the computer” mode when I KNOW WHAT YOU SAY IS TRUE!

    I know it in my heart and head…so why do I keep getting in my own way? Argh.

    • Right there with you, Ree. Let’s keep taking small, bold steps together.

  • southmainmuse

    I agree. When we worry about others’ opinions, it’s a form of self-censorship. There are boundaries we all have as individuals — things we hold sacred and care not to destroy from exposure — but so much of what we don’t write is held back by fear.

  • Jeff, I always love your words of encouragement, and you are so right. I like when you say, “The problem is most writers seek first the approval of others and then chase their art — when it ought to be the other way around.”
    I feel I’m doing it the right way, which makes me feel good about myself.

    • Excellent, Alicia! Keep it up and you will definitely get better. :)

  • You do not need to do better, much better, but you really have to do better and better, all things are covered in it then, you are required to follow only

  • There was a post by James Altucher that went viral a few weeks back, easily found by searching for “7 things happen when you’re honest” – it got syndicated *everywhere* (Lifehacker, HuffPo etc). Incredibly brave approach that paid off massively and that the world truly digs. There’s the proof.

    And yes, agreed. Being gutsy enough to be honest, even when that honesty terrifies the living heck out of you, is how to get recognised, how to build a good reputation and, ultimately, how to get paid what you’re worth. Fully endorse.

    And personally? The times I’ve written on my blog about how messy and fraught my self-employed path has been, the more people responded and shared that post. It’s a thing,

  • I’ve almost always been on the bold side (though I did have a bout with “better” years and years ago. It doesn’t bother me to experiment with new things if it makes the story better. But I’ve also found that it really scares other writers. They find safety in craft and trying to be “better” and asking for approval from other writers to do something.

  • Thanks for this, Jeff. The last line really sticks with me: …you will be good… your good.

  • Megan Besing

    Thanks! :)

  • Jan

    Good point. You’d absolutely right

  • TriMark Press

    I think this goes with anything in life. Always be honest first, in whatever you do, and success will follow you. Great read :)

  • Aastha

    Thanks for the article. Made me realize something that I never thought of!