“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Maybe it was the post-it notes my mum used to slip into my lunchbox, or the teacher who lived and breathed his craft. Or maybe it was the chance to discover other world and to cast a new light on my own: I’ve always loved writing and reading. And chances are, if you’ve clicked on this post, you do too. Hello!
I write for work, and for pleasure. And I’m often asked what I think makes good writing…and a good writer. As someone eternally learning and exploring the art, I am thoroughly unequipped to offer a definitive guide. But, through my travels, these thoughts have emerged on what makes good writing and writers.
- Read. In order to be a good writer, be a great reader. I’ve never met someone who produces good writing who isn’t an avid reader. Become skilled in subject matter and thought as well as the technical aspects of style (and even just plain old grammar!) Read different genres and learn from better writers as you would from teachers in the classroom.
- Be curious. Observe. Keep notes on your phone or a notebook in your bag and jot things down. I have some of my best thoughts on the train or late at night. Take in your surroundings, allow yourself to ponder what seems ordinary, play around with metaphors and turns of phrase, and write it all down. Who knows when you might use it!
- Write what you know. Don’t force it: if you have something to say, you’ll find a way to say it. Put your own experience and thoughts and imagination into words. Carve out your niche, become an expert and address the things you know best.
- Throw it away. Spill your guts and commas and pictures, and then step away. Come back with a critical eye (or invite another one in, if you’re feeling brave) and get rid of stuff. Be ruthless. Draft. Write. Re-write. And then do it again.
- Give it some texture. Provide your reader with multiple layers to engage with. Was your coffee as bitter as your break-up? (Maybe don’t write about your break-up. I’ve just always wanted to use that simile. You’re welcome.) How will your audience feel from the tips of their toes to the tops of their heads when they interact with the product you’ve just described? What colour were the trees when he awoke to fight the dragon?
- Write from your scars. But don’t write from your wounds. Nadia Bolz-Weber writes brilliantly about this. Let yourself heal (this may of course involve writing privately), then offer your healing to the world as a gift: don’t ask your audience to heal you.
- Know your audience. This is as relevant when writing marketing copy as when writing a short story for toddlers. Get to know your audience: engage with them as much as possible. Do your research. Mimic their habits or vocabulary (particularly good on social media!) One of my favourite speakers once told me he sat in coffee shops to remember who he was writing his messages for. Get out, or stay in: but always remember who you’re writing for.
- Create space. Write so that someone reading can say “me too”: there is nothing more powerful than finding, through someone else’s words, that you are not alone. Write to make the world a warmer, safer, better place. Build it with your words.
Eight pointers on good writing and good writers. What would you add? Stay tuned for another post coming later this month featuring some of my favourite writers’ thoughts on this!