On Quality and the War on “Not Good Enough”

Michael Althouse
4 min readSep 14, 2019

To be perfectly honest (if there even is such a thing), I have no idea what I am about to write. I know why I am writing, but I don’t know what. I guess that’s a good place to start, however. I am writing because that is a big part of who I am — I am a writer. Writers write and we don’t always have a plan. Art is often like that. There are infinite inspirations, some stronger than others, but inspiration is not always required — or, maybe more accurately, it can manifest as part of the creative process. I don’t paint, but I would bet that painters often stare at a blank canvas with no idea what they are about to paint. How many musicians have sat down with their instruments just noodling around when a song emerges? We are driven to create and I firmly believe that everyone has a capacity for creative works.

But… not everyone trusts his or her instincts, believes he or she is creative or, worse, that his or her talent is worthy of expression. I fight that demon on a regular basis. That is another reason why I am writing. The internal battle that tells me “I am not good enough” is an ongoing struggle, but I have been doing this long enough to know that if I don’t fight it, I lose. I write, therefore I am, yes, but when I write I also matter. Even if no one ever reads this, it means something to me.

It took a long time to embrace this particular creative expression. I knew I could communicate using symbols arranged in some specific order to create meaning long before I appreciated that ability. I wished I had talent in some other art, I wished I could play the guitar or piano or that I could draw or sculpt or otherwise create beauty that is visual or aural or tactile. Maybe with sufficient training and practice I might have been able to develop one, but it is clear my where natural talent, my propensity to create, is: Words.

I am not the best writer I know of, not even close. There are many whom I admire and who can write in ways I can’t. Poets and lyricists are among them, but there are prose writers, too, living and dead, whom I admire as icons; their writing lives on some lofty plane that I strive to reach. That, too, is why I write. No amount of talent or drive is enough. Art, like anything else, improves with practice. Since about maybe 15 years ago, I have had the drive that compels me to improve. Raw talent alone, for me, will not win the “I’m not good enough” battle, even though most of us are, objectively, good enough just as we are. It’s a two-edged sword. One the one hand, there is an external measure of “quality” that I have accepted as a defining part of who I am, and on the other hand, I produce something by which that quality can be judged.

Beauty, it has been said, is in the eye of the beholder. While that is certainly true to an extent, there is also a timeless, consistent and universal essence of what is and is not beautiful. Quality is another form of beauty and quality, like beauty, is uniquely difficult to define. We know it when we see it, hear it, touch it, smell it, taste it, read it… experience it in some way. Is quality, then, also in the eye of the beholder? That is a damned good question, but I think, intuitively, it exists outside of us. I strive for quality in my writing. I want it to be beautiful and… I know it when I see it. Could this be better, more “beautiful?” Undoubtedly. But it is good and it is certainly “good enough.”

One final thought on why I write is one that I am hesitant to admit, even to myself. It is certainly not the only reason and absolutely not the primary reason (that being a drive to create), but it is a factor, nonetheless. While my primary target audience consists of just myself, I do enjoy knowing that others have read and appreciated my work as well. It comes from a deeper place than the appreciation being represented by dollar signs. In the past I wrote for a living, but the acknowledgement that my pay provided paled in guttural significance to the real words others expressed about mine. Whether the feedback had to do with the content, the style or some combination of both, the external validation gives me ammunition in the “I’m not good enough” war. Therefore, as much as I try to keep my ego in check, I would be lying if I said what others thought did not matter.

Now, several hundred words later, what I would write about is clear. It turns out that the “what” is the why. I did not know it going in and it is not the first time I have reflected my thoughts on what I do in what I do. My primary audience is satisfied. If that is all I get from this then that, too, is enough. Peace.



Michael Althouse

Lecturer/professor of communication studies at California State University, Sacramento. www.michaelalthouse.com