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But I'm a good writer! (No you're not)

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Editors? Beta readers? Buyers of our books?

I think it could be any of those. Also (good) critique groups, other authors, mentors in your genre...
Always striving to improve and writing will naturally change how you write over time. My current books sound nothing like my first book. My first book has that debut novel feel.

One of the things that is vital to improvement, besides writing more, is having people tell you the truth. This sucks. I feel asleep in this part. Did you hit your head? Once, my editor wrote on my MS 'i do not think it means what you think it means.' I burst out laughing. That was the best correction I ever had. (Princess Bride in case I'm a bigger nerd than you are). Ego strokers aren't helpful.

Anyway, that's all I got. :)
First of all, while I respect Gladwell as a dang good writer, and while I think Outliers was an interesting book, I think that 10,000 hours thing gets touted a bit too much by starry-eyed writers. You have to understand that 10,000 hours with specific feedback is a generality, arrived at by Gladwell through his own observations, which he then condensed into a digestible nugget of information as the basis for his book. That's all it is: one man's observation rendered into a sound bite. It is not a magic bullet, nor is it a rule.

Now, that being said, I think it's a pretty rational sound bite, all things considered. The more you practice at a skill with a specific goal in mind, and the more you seek critical feedback and use that feedback to improve your work, the better you will get at what you do. That's a given. What isn't often considered by so many writers on so many forums is that you can be really, really good well before you hit the 10K-hour mark. Many factors contribute to success. Practice and criticism are undoubtedly very important, but they will not solely determine whether you succeed. In my opinion, many more contributing factors come into play when we're talking about becoming a successful writer: observation, confident risk-taking, very wide reading (and reading critically, not purely for entertainment), deep empathy, the ability to be objective about one's own work, and more. To some extent, lots of these things can be picked up while you accumulate however many hours of practice. Others may be inborn characteristics that perhaps not everybody can develop, and perhaps others have already developed so well before they even think to try writing that their writing is welcomed by readers relatively early on. Who knows. All I'm saying is, there is not a magical formula. Neither X amount of time, nor X amount of practice, nor X amount of natural aptitude will make you a success. No one knows how all the pieces fall together to make a successful person a success, and a lot of people who follow all the apparent "rules" never get there, even though they do absolutely everything right.

So don't expect yourself to become a "good" writer after N years. Similarly, don't expect yourself, if you haven't put in your 10,000 hours of criticized work, to suddenly wake up a failure in N years, even though people told you you're a good writer.

The question here is, what is good? With a skill set like chess, you have a specific number you can put on "master," and you know exactly how many points you are away from that rating, and how many you need to accumulate to get you to your goal. There is no such cut-and-dried number for "good writing." To a very large and very real extent, you are good if somebody tells you you're good, assuming they are giving you their honest opinion. No book has yet managed to impress all its readers equally; no one agrees on who the best writer is. There are as many legitimate definitions of "good writer" as there are readers.

A singer may be said to be a bad singer if he can't stay on key. But the judge of a singing competition may also tell a singer he's not good enough to win simply because his style doesn't fit with the show's image. If he can hit all his notes and emote well, but he sings barbershop-quartet style instead of modern-pop style, is he a bad singer? Or is he a good singer? Depends who you ask, and under what circumstances, doesn't it?

You will never go wrong with your writing as long as you are always striving to improve. Work hard at developing objectivity so that you don't have to haunt your own dreams with questions of who is the chess master of writing. Because, dang, there are too many readers on the planet to count, and all of their opinions of your work may be equally valid or invalid, just like the various opinions about that barbershop-quarter singer, right? You should seek outside criticism, because it does make you better. I have had killer beta readers whose opinions and suggestions knocked my socks off and allowed me to see my writing in totally new and helpful ways. I have had beta readers who, I kid you not, told me I should look to Stephenie Meyer for an example of how to develop good characters. You may love Meyer's character work, but I find it absolutely abysmal. So some beta readers are great. Some are awful. It's not easy to find great ones. I've had great editors and terrible editors. I've had glowing reviews of my books and one-stars that ripped me a new one.

So the answer to your question is: there is no easy answer. If you find a beta reader who seems to get what you're trying to do and who makes suggestions that make sense to you, count yourself lucky. If you run into an editor who suggests changes that make you shake your head and wonder what they're smoking, don't be surprised. If readers tell you you're a good writer, then you are. If readers tell you you're a bad writer, then you are.

What do you tell yourself? And how did you arrive at that opinion? And what are you currently doing to actively improve your work? I think those are the most important questions to ask yourself.

tl;dr. Peace out.
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I think editors and beta readers (in particular ones who're writers themselves) are your best sources of critique. Buyers can have helpful advice, but there's often a lot of unhelpful advice mixed in there too.
A desire to improve your writing and never think you've reached a point where you're "good enough" is probably the most important thing though. When I left university I had it in my head that I was a pretty awesome writer with heaps of natural talent, because people always told me how great my work was. As a result I never really made a concerted effort to improve my writing. For a couple of years I just wrote the same way I always had, and while I probably improved a little during that time I wasn't making any effort to identify my weak points and work to improve on them. Once I'd moved beyond the critique group of a class of students I realised that, in the grand scheme of things, I'm still a long way off being a genuinely "good" writer. :)
Oh, and setting some tangible goals for yourself will help you determine how close you are to hitting 2200 and becoming a chess master.  Everybody's goals will be different.  Want to sell X copies in a year?  Want to get a print deal?  Want to win some awards?  Want to write a book that gets a 4.5 average star rating after 100 reviews?  Figure out what "success" means to you and you will have a much easier time determining who can help you get there, and how close you are getting.
I've been selling my writing for 40-some years. I still feel that I'm learning and getting better. That said, my only pertinent comment is this:

You are asking the right questions. That bodes very, VERY well for you as a writer.

I'm sorry that I don't have answers for you. I don't have answers for myself!

But if I could buy stock in your career, I'd do it. Because you are asking the right questions.  Because you are questing. Because you're trying hard to be the best writer you can be.

I don't know what the writer equivalent of "break a leg" is, but consider it extended to you!
The key is understanding the difference between what is interesting and what is not.

I've met some tedious people in my life. I doubt they will ever write "good" books. Now, a person must not be outgoing to be interesting. Sometimes the guy who sits listening and only makes one pithy comment is the most interesting one.
J. B. Bouman said:
Then I thought of the book Outliers. It stated that you had to not only put in the 10,000hrs but they had to be 10,000hrs of practices with specific feedback. A director or music teacher would critique the aspiring musician. A coach would give feedback to the sports player.

Here's my question.
For a writer, who is the equivalent of a chess master or music expert or sports expert - to help us improve our writing? Editors? Beta readers? Buyers of our books?
In N years, am I going to have poor sales and I won't know why and the terrible truth will be that I'm a poor writer and I have grown very little because I've been making the same mistakes year after year? I'll be like that singing contestant saying, "But I'm a good writer! I've had lots of people tell me I'm good."
You start with teachers. They teach the basic mechanics of writing. From there you can move onto critique groups or beta readers. After that, your fan base will grow if you're doing it right.
Dalya said:
I've met some tedious people in my life. I doubt they will ever write "good" books. Now, a person must not be outgoing to be interesting. Sometimes the guy who sits listening and only makes one pithy comment is the most interesting one.
How's this for a monkey wrench?

Yes, practice makes perfect.  Yes, feedback and constructive criticism help.  Yes, talk to and take advice from readers, editors, etc.

BUT BUT BUT... I have published three novels (Nov. 2009, March 2011 and Dec. 2011).

Many people and several reviewers commented that the writing was stronger/better/whatever in book three.  Lots of readers responses were that book three is the best plot, blah blah blah.

The surprising thing is that book three, while the last to be published (for various reasons), was actually written (or about 75% of it was) long before the others.

I don't think there are any hard and fast rules - it all depends on the writer and the story you want to tell.
FWIW, another soundbite:

"Three steps. First, take Robert McKee's three-day course: Story. He gives it in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Dallas, London, everywhere... Second, read my book, 'The War of Art.' Third, sit down and do it and don't quit no matter what. P.S. If you do Step Three, you can skip One and Two."

~Steven Pressfield: On giving advice to young writers
I've learned a lot by submitting short stories to good magazines and then paying attention to crit in the rejection letters that I got.

I also workshopped some stuff at OWW (Online Writer's Workshop, I believe) and got very useful feedback there, too.

The key is to find someone who a) knows their stuff, and b) will tell you the unvarnished truth. Finding someone like that can be tough, but if you can, that person will be priceless to you.
I can see the more that I write, the better I get.  However like when I worked for Dell, the more I learn is less and less as time goes on.  I would say in a couple more years, my writing will reach a plateau.  Probably after I finish my new series or the series after that.  Already I have looked back at my first book and rolled my eyes in comparison to the third.

I can see the wisdom in the advice that your first 10,000 hours or million words are un-publishable.  There seems to be a lot of "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." threads lately.  However if you have completed a manuscript.  Had it edited and a few sets of unbiased eyes on it then you should go and publish it.  If you wait, all you're going to do is miss out on a huge learning experience.  The worst that can happen is you fail to make YOUR own goals and milestones and you hit the un-publish button.
The ones to learn from are not necessarily other writers, though it could be. Anyone who can give good, intelligent, thoughtful feedback on something you've written is a person you can learn from. It could be a writer, an author, or maybe the guy at work you gave your book to. You never know. The 'it's good' and 'it sucks' are unhelpful for everyone.
There is no way to do that.  Writing is too subjective.  What is trash to one person may be a piece of literary brilliance to another.  Pick an objective and chase it.
Bruce Blake said:
The ones to learn from are not necessarily other writers, though it could be. Anyone who can give good, intelligent, thoughtful feedback on something you've written is a person you can learn from. It could be a writer, an author, or maybe the guy at work you gave your book to. You never know. The 'it's good' and 'it sucks' are unhelpful for everyone.
this is so true! The very best beta reader I've ever had has never written anything beyond assigned writing in school. She just loves to read, and she knows a good book when she sees one. And she's brutally honest!
J. B. Bouman said:
Good stuff.
Sounds like I need to solicit feedback from almost anyone; editors, beta readers, teachers, myself, reviewers, critique partners, etc.
Some other good take-aways for me are - read/write a lot, evaluate the any feedback I get, keep trying to improve, be a critical observer, get out there and do things and take risks- and be interesting (don't be boring). :^)

I've had three very good beta readers. I think I need to work hard to get a few more good ones.
And on the flip side, too many opinions at once can make you go postal too.
The trouble with being a writer is that there's no one around to anoint you as being good.
You have to anoint yourself--and it's a messy business. ;)

Writing good rule #1

Dont use two many werds.
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