What Makes a Good Writer

by frankbeswick

There is no magic to good or great writing, but there is much hard work.

I think that everyone who writes for Wizzley would love to be a great writer, and we have among us some really good ones.But none of us is perfect, for there is always some way in which our articles could have been better. In this article I want to reflect on what good writing involves, and it seems that there is no magic dust that we can sprinkle to make our writing better.Good writing is not an achievement reserved for an elite, for it is in the reach of most people.

Photo courtesy of Juulijs

Some Examples

The Catholic Herald recently published a book review of Dictator Literature by Daniel Kalder, which spoke of "..the tedium and horror of dictators' prose. The review by Ed West speaks of Lenin's aggressively tedious prose that was full of hatred and bitterness. West points out that Stalin fared a little better, having some natural talent, but that Mussolini was a goodish journalist, but no fiction writer. But it also claims that Mussolini was an obsessive anti-theist, firing rhetorical firecrackers at a series of straw men, which shows that is work did not rise above the level of mere propaganda. The book reserves its most critical language for the arch-monster Hitler,   whose combination of an ignorant mind and a monstrous ego gave us the appallingly bad Mein Kampf, the work of one too arrogant to acquire either literary skill or wisdom. 

What can we learn from Dictator Literature? Kalder wants to map the devastating wastelands of the human spirit while exploring the terrible things that happen when you put writers in charge. While there is some truth in the concern that no single occupation group can be trusted with ultimate power,mention of Czechoslovakia's president Vaclav Havel is a useful counter-example to Kalder's pessimistic claim, for Havel was a writer who turned into a successful and respected president. But the devastating wastelands of the human spirit that were expressed as these dictators' policies were the source of these dictators' turgid and generally unattractive writings.writing. Ugly policies came from ugly ideas, which were reflected in ugly prose, but the reality was  worse than the literature. Mein Kampf  was bad, but it would be worse to meet the SS in the flesh; and having once met a man who had seen and listened to Hitler, I was assured that it was not a pleasant experience, which led the man to get away as fast possible. 

The key idea is that what we write is the expression of our minds. It is our individuality in words. We express ourselves in what we write. So the first step in good writing is that we should begin with our own minds, cultivating them and being determined to improve them. Without cultivation of the inner life of the mind no one can be a good writer, and it is a lifelong process.  Within our own minds we must endeavour to realize the True, the Good and the Beautiful good qualities that these tyrants did not  make real in their lives, quite the opposite in fact. 

All writers must strive to express in words the great trinity of values: the True, the Good and the Beautiful. We might do this in a simple way by writing about interesting recipes,but we might be profound in our analysis of the gospels, but as long as we realize through our writing in some limited way these three values we are on the right path, for we are giving readers' sparkles from the sun of truth, goodness and beauty.   

 Catholic Herald July 26th 2018,Ed West. 

Nourishing Your Mind

Nourishing the mind comes via reading and reflection.When we read we absorb the author's ideas and language, and we are subtly, sometimes substantially changed by what we have read.  But reading needs to be accompanied by thinking, for there is no point in reading unless we think about what we have read. This active engagement with the written word requires digesting what we have encountered during our reading. We also need to have read in the genre and subject  in which we are writing, and there is no point, for example, in trying to write a novel unless one reads novels. I recall once visiting a second hand bookshop to buy a book on religion. A customer there had a stack of paperback novels and the very pleased owner asked him did he read a lot. The customer answered, " I write novels. I am reading these for ideas." This reminds me of John Rowe Townsend, who wrote the children' story, The Islanders. To do the research for his novel he  read seventy books on islands, before focusing on the ideas from two. 

Writers need strong interests that fill their minds and about which they think. Note that I write on a limited range of subjects [religion, walking, gardening and occasionally politics] for these are what I think most about. You will never find me writing about fashion or golf, to subjects in which I am totally disinterested. When Veronica came to Wizzley I advised her to find a specialist niche, which she has done.  

Nourishing our minds means acknowledging our errors and correcting them. Sometimes we can identify the  errors ourselves, but at other times we need to be told by others. For example, when I was twenty two my college tutor criticized my writing style. I took aboard what he said and sought advice on how to improve it. I  hope that I have succeeded, well considering that this happened  forty six  years ago, if there has been no improvement in all that time I have problems. But we can and should be critical when we read our own work. We always have to be aware of typographical errors, but often the computer shows  these to us, but not always. Sometimes we can miss our own errors in speech or writing, so we need to be careful.  Doctor Johnson advised that we should never be satisfied with our own work and that if we feel content about a piece we should rip it up. I cannot recall where he said this, and it probably is an overstatement, but there is a kernel of truth hidden therein that self-satisfaction is the enemy of improvement as a writer.  

An Art Form.

Each of us has his or her own favoured form of artistic expression. Mine for sure is not the visual arts,for I am a poor visual artist.  But for me my art form is the written word, thus when I write I want my words to flow as well as possible. All writers should attempt to make their work a thing of beauty. If  someone tells me that beauty is subjective I will say "That's fine, but I will produce what satisfies me and hope that others like it."   

The aesthetic sensibility of a good writer involves a sensitivity to language,even to the details. This means that words should be carefully selected to create the maximum literary value.Just as great painters attended to the visual details of their work, so the verbal/literary details require just as much attention.    

I think it important that writers should be perfectionists. If we look over our work and find an error, we should endeavour to amend it. Being satisfied with errors in writing, however small, is not the mark of a good writer.  I have just gone over the first section of this article and made three improvements which I missed on earlier re-readings. That's the trouble , it is easy to miss your own errors. 

Of critical  importance to a writer is to be true to your beliefs. It is no coincidence that in Animal Farm Orwell shows that even less significant than the dishonest propagandist Squealer who lies for the dictator Napoleon another pig Minimus [Latin for the very least] the dishonest writer who produces false accounts  of Napoleon's excellence, also appears. For Orwell writing was a sacred task. Maximising the True, the Good and the Beautiful, even in accounts of small daily matters,  is essential to the writer's art

Updated: 07/25/2018, frankbeswick
 
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?
2

Comments

Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
frankbeswick 16 days ago

When I was twenty two my tutor told me that my style was wooden, so I worked on it. In my late twenties I began to venture into publication, with no success. So at 32 I decided to develop my mind by doing a master's degree. Only afterwards did I reject my tutor's willingness to put me forward for a Ph.D because I knew that it was time for me to write. Writing has been a long road requiring much commitment, but giving me great happiness. As I grow older [ I am sixty eight ] there are two sides of my life that I will never let retirement sweep away: writing and gardening.

dustytoes 16 days ago

Having begun blogging about 10 years ago, it is where I first began writing anything, and it was pretty bad. I have improved over the years, but I am still lacking in writing skills. It's not my favorite thing to do, but I do want to get better at it. Frank, you are an excellent writer! I always enjoy reading your articles. I've also begun reading novels recently and I do agree that reading is important for expanding ideas and skills. Writing on my piddly blogs is one way I practice.

frankbeswick on 08/06/2018

I think that not only should writers read for research into the project on which they are working they should be widely read in general to provide them with a good background and to give them general knowledge.

WriterArtist on 08/06/2018

I always do some research before writing. With some key ideas and awareness, I have better control in expressing my views. I agree with you, without nourishing the mind - nothing better can come out. Otherwise it is - 'Garbage in and garbage out', I especially feel it is good to establish yourself in niche areas as a good writer.

frankbeswick on 07/26/2018

Good points made. I had to mention the bad and ugly when I spoke of dictators, but as you iply, it was necessary for the focus on the good and the beautiful.

blackspanielgallery on 07/26/2018

Frank, let me assure you that your writing is quite good, and interesting.
I find it best to let work alone for a couple of days before rereading it. I do not do this in writing, for I am in a hurry to get the work out, but in my math work I can easily miss an error by reworking the problem right after writing it and its solution.
As for the three great principles mentioned herein, some topics require us to choose one, and let the other two go, or even write counter to them deliberately. For example, in writing about environmental problems, including the truth might require for effect the painting with words of a picture that shows the bad and the ugly associated with the truth. I suggest one element must be there, but having the shock value of the other two lacking could be the most effective approach. As with most things, being absolute can be problematic, for thought is a very needed component of our work. I do not wish to take issue with what you have written, but must point out there are exceptions. Inclusive a=of all three principles is usually best, and truth can never be the one lacking.
Writing must also take the audience into consideration. It would be inappropriate here on Wizzley to produce an article aimed at an audience of experts in any given field using field related jargon. Our audience here is general, and we must choose words and details appropriate to all.

You might also like

How to Self Publish a Children's Book

Deciding to self publish a children's book may seem simple, but there are man...

Fun Writer's Mugs with Famous Quotes About Writing

Coffee mugs with famous quotes about writing from the likes of Emily Dickinso...

Success In Writing Is Up To You

We all define success in our writing, in a very personal way, and one way you...


Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...
Error!