Sometimes it seems that everyone is a writer, or at least wants to be one. We're a world full of scribblers, dreamers and general writer wannabes, and the advent of the Web only opened the floodgates. At one time, fledgling and amateur writing found permanent homes in either journals or editorial slush piles; now every random thought is tacked up in public somewhere.
But in the eyes of many - if not most - you're not a real writer unless you've survived the gauntlet of an editorial desk and found yourself in print somewhere. That leads every new writer to ask themselves at some point, "Am I good enough to be published?"
Perhaps, perhaps not. And perhaps the hurdle isn't as high as you make it out to be.
I'm going to cut through the pretense here for a moment. I've gone down this route myself. Unless you're either a natural genius or extremely well-connected, you're not going to make your grand entrance on the world stage in Time or Newsweek or The New Yorker. Working stiffs start writing for the penny rags, free papers and nonprofits; they work their way up to the low circulation magazines, and leverage each success into bigger, wider markets. Each new stage brings more money, better work and a higher degree of professionalism.
Until you're out of the regional consumer magazines and on to a national (or international) level, the quality of the editorial staffs you encounter will often vary from a sometimes clever competence to the linguistic equivalent of a medieval torture chamber. The good editors are very rare at that level. If you're familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Style Guide, you'll discover quickly how many working editors aren't. When you see your work in print, you'll find that your editor has given you credit for inventing entirely new English grammar rules. And, in the end, you'll often curse the gods of serial publication craftsmanship - but you'll do it very quietly and respectfully, knowing full well that you need their good graces to collect that check that only gets pried from the accounting department after a ninety-day hostage standoff.
Are you good enough to be published?
Better question: are you crazy enough to get published?
Not wanting to burn too many bridges with my editors here - and no, I'm not talking about you, you're a top notch editor! - but my point is that the hurdle to publication isn't the high standards of an editorial desk. It's the ability to bypass the editor altogether, by writing and editing at the same time, and by putting the reader ahead of your need to be read. If you get into the habits of writing to word count, editing strictly per the Chicago Manual, keeping your prose lean and simple, and making sure your research is solid and documented, there is no reason you can't seek publication right now. Beyond those skills, everything else is marketing, with a little bit of legal stuff thrown in for flavor.
So stop doubting yourself and let 'er rip. Some rejections you receive will be because your work is flawed, and others will be due to editors using hallucinogenics; either way, you're not writing to please the editor. You're also, contrary to popular belief, not writing for yourself.
You're writing for your reader: the lone individual digesting your words and attempting to find meaning in them. The readers are ultimately the ones who will judge your work, not the editors or the advice givers or even other working writers. It's an editor that holds the keys to publication, but the reader that holds the keys to being a "real" writer.
The sooner you take that truth to heart, the sooner you'll be good enough to be taken seriously - whether you're published or not.