What makes a good writer?

As far as writing is concerned, there are two kinds of people: those who think they can write, and those who think they can’t. And, very often, both are wrong. The truth is, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We are all capable of producing good writing. Or, at least, better writing.

Why does good writing matter? Because it does. It’s as simple as that. Good writing is absolutely key for communicating your own thoughts. So words matter. What you say and how you say it are your most cherished (and under-valued) assets. Yet they are so often overlooked.

Let me put it another way. If someone were to read a piece of your writing, shorn of all branding, would they recognise it as yours? Does your writing project a voice that belongs solely to you?

I have a few thoughts as to what good writing looks like, so here they are in no particular order;

  1. Good writing  anticipates reader questions. Good writing serves the reader, not the writer. It isn’t indulgent. Good writers are natural skeptics, especially regarding their own work. They think of things from their reader’s point of view: What experience is this creating for the reader? What questions might they have?
  2. Good writing is grounded in data. Data puts your content in context and gives you credibility. Ground your content in facts, not just your own opinions; your writing becomes more credible as a result.
  3. Good writing happens with the rewrite. Writing is hard work, and producing a crap first draft is often depressing. But the important thing is to get something down that then enables you to craft it into a coherent narrative.
  4. Good writers aren’t smug. Most of the really good writers I know still feel a little embarrassed calling themselves a “writer,” because that’s a term loaded with expectations.  But like many achievements in life – being called a success, or a good parent – the label seems more meaningful when it’s bestowed upon you by others.
  5. Good writing has a good editor. Writers get the byline and any glory. But behind the scenes, a good editor adds a lot to process. The best writing is collaborative.
  6. Remarkable writers absorb books for long stretches of time, clueless to the rest of the world.
  7. Good writers have patience. There will be days when you have absolutely nothing to add to your manuscript. There will also be days when you realise the end is far away and the only thing preventing you from finishing is white space. When that happens, just keep writing. Take it one sentence at a time; your persistence will pay off, and you will up with a finished book.
  8. Good writers are good listeners and observers. Both are excellent forms of research. What about a person’s personality intrigues you or makes you dislike them? Expound on those character traits and bring them to life. What about a person’s style of dress makes them unique?

There are so many opportunities to write and be heard today; with self-publishing and smaller, independent presses becoming more prevalent, this is a genuinely exciting time to be involved in this creative field. But of course there’s also the concern that, without any creative control – without any quality checking – there are just as many opportunities to produce awful work as well.

So we need to be careful, of course; encouraging writers to improve and learn their craft, and enable them to feel that their work can improve. Following these rules can be easy ways to make sure that we’re all learning to be better writers.

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