Do you know what makes a writer ‘good’? When you pick up a book or article or another piece of work from someone, how do you know if they’re skilled in their craft? It’s possible to tell if someone has written something skillfully, but does that make them truly ‘good’?
It turns out being a ‘good’ writer is about a lot more than just knowing how to fit sentences together in a way that sounds pleasant. Good writing is essential for success in this field — of course it is. But there’s so much more to it.
These are all the things ‘outsiders’ — non-writers — don’t see. And they’re the reasons we’re writing, and they aren’t. Yet.
A ‘good’ writer is someone who writes well, and not just in the sense that they can get a message across or do so without grammatical hiccups. Good writing flows. It doesn’t try to mimic another piece of writing or ‘sound’ like a piece of writing should sound. It’s raw; it comes straight from the heart. It speaks the truth. It is enjoyable to read and difficult to forget.
To be a ‘good’ writer you also must focus less on yourself and more on the audience you’re writing to. When you do draw from your own life experiences in your writing, it should always fulfill one purpose: Making a reader feel understood. Relating to them in some way. Everything you write should aim to draw an audience to you and your work because it gives the impression your content is interesting, helpful, or both.
If you want to be a ‘good’ writer you must write. Not every once in a while, not “whenever you feel like it,” but often, consistently, almost always when you say you are going to. Good writers are good because they have too many hours of practice behind them to count. You can’t go from “I don’t write well” to “I’m getting the hang of this” if you do not practice. What your practice schedule looks like is completely up to you, but all that really matters is that you are putting in the time at LEAST several sessions per week to work on improving your skills.
‘Good’ writers will admit when they’re not good. No writer is perfect, and to imply you write and/or behave perfectly all the time creates the wrong impression for the audience of writers who looks up to and follows you. To have the strength to speak out not just when you’re on top of the world but also when you’re feeling crushed beneath the weight of it makes not just a good creative role model, but a good person too. More writers need to be reminded that everyone, EVERYONE, struggles. Even those who appear to have everything figured out.
They also learn from their mistakes and don’t knock other people down for making them. Good writers will look at a typo in a published piece of writing and say, “That shouldn’t have happened.” But instead of moving on from it, they go on to ask, “What can be done in the future to prevent this mistake from happening again?” Good writers are problem solvers. They seek only to improve their skills and processes and build up others who are trying to do the same.
A ‘good’ writer edits. It’s easy to pass off everything you write for someone else to fix, and this is a common practice that isn’t necessarily “wrong.” But if you do not gain experience and regularly practice the art of correction, you will begin making errors you’ll never notice need fixing. Editing is one of the best tools for becoming a more honest imperfectionist. It keeps you humble and reminds you that no matter how ‘good’ you might think you are, there is always room for growth.
‘Good’ writers help other aspiring writers develop good habits and take steps toward achieving their goals. “Becoming” a writer is not a race to the finish line and it is not a competition to see who can stay on top the longest. All writers who “make it” will have hopefully earned the right to have made it there, and the exceptionally good ones will tell honest tales of how they earned their success. Everyone has their own methods for going far in life, and you don’t necessarily have to share every single one of them. But offer help. Offer hope. All good writers do.
If you want to be a ‘good’ writer, you must be patient, but persistent. Those who try to speed and cheat their way to success will never stay on top for long. Good writing takes time, the same way writing a book takes months, sometimes even years, and not a matter of days. Good writers do the work and they keep trying even when things don’t turn out the way they planned. They let the sting of rejection affect them how it will and then they continue on stronger than they were before.
To be a ‘good’ writer, you must show up. Not everything you write is going to come out publishable. If that were the case, we would all be bestselling authors and award-winning writers by now. And you’re not going to wake up every morning excited to get to work — no human on this planet looks forward to work every single day of every single year. What makes a good writer, though, is their ability to show up and do the work whether they “feel like” doing it or not. You have to show up. You have to try. Most days, that’s all the world is really going to ask of you.
‘Good’ writers never quit. They might take breaks. They might actively decide to put a project on the back burner for a bit while they reorder their priorities and focus on other things. But they don’t quit writing — especially not out of frustration or disappointment. They don’t quit because they failed or give up because they didn’t get their way. They may stumble, they may lose confidence, of course they’re going to feel drowned by self-doubt on occasion. But they will always bounce back. They will always try again. They will always find another way.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.