Dear Mr Sandman,

I'm not quite sure if this would be a commonly asked question or not, but do you ever write and know that what you have written is rather good? Is that even something you can assess yourself or instead is it something that varies from person to person --- so why even bother trying to decide whether it is good or bad.

thank you,

Hmm. Sometimes I know when I'm writing that something's good, there's a wonderful bubbly feeling as it hits the paper, and often it didn't exist even a moment before. Mostly I have no idea --- when I'm done I'm incredibly nervous. Sometimes I write something I like very much that utterly fails to set the world on fire, and sometimes I write something that I think is deeply flawed that many people love. Sometimes I write something that really doesn't work, and everyone else thinks it doesn't work too.

Mostly I don't mind. I'm already trying to write the next thing.

(I think the people who dislike my upcoming magazine, dislike it more than anything I've done. On the other hand, they seem to be outnumbered by the ones who like it more than anything I've done.)

Something I'll put in over at the FAQs but it's worth posting here. Please don't send me chapters of your un-motivational critiques, your egos, ideas for your plot to destroy me, your stories of unpleasantness, ideas for your dissatisfaction, bits of your life story that you think will make a good storyline one day or just things you want me to read, give my opinion on, help you get published or fix the spelling on.

I don't have time. I understand your one idea or story is a very short idea or story but right now I could spend my entire life doing nothing but reading other people's stuff -- and that doesn't even include the books and manuscripts, published, unpublished or soon-to-be-published, that arrive, every day, seeking blurbs or blessing -- and I'd never write another word, and I wouldn't even get all the stuff people want me to read read, let alone get the stuff I need to write written.

It's not fair. But that's how it is.

(When, ten-odd years ago, I finished my first full fiction, the first thing I did was stick it an envelope and send it to a famous author with a note telling him how much he wanted to read it. And he never wrote back. Nor did he send it to some editorial friend at his publishers with a note telling them that they'd be missing out on the publishing coup of the decade if they didn't publish it. I've only very recently forgiven him for this, realising (a) how many envelopes like that he must have got each day and (b) that wasn't his job. His job was to write books and stories.)

As to why bother trying to decide if something's good or bad... that's what people do. That's how we're built. We build whole worlds out of a patchwork of "I like this..." and "I don't like this..." in order to navigate. ( It tends to be an audience reaction, rather than a critical reaction, but that's another story.)

So I'm sorry. Look at it this way: if you're going to be any good, you'll make it just fine without me telling you you're good. And either way, good luck you people.