Monday, March 14, 2011

Defining Good Writing

It's important to continually learn, to improve your craft. But I find it hard to keep all those things I read about in the noggin as I write. I surround myself with images to help me keep good things in my head. I scribbled up this one to summarize a good discussion I read over on Brooklyn Arden.

Write Every Day!



  1. The more I think about good writing, the more I realize it has an element that cannot be defined no matter what we try to list. For lack of a better word, I call it magic.

    OK, OK, it’s ill defined, can’t be put in a box, or dissected into its individual components. Nor is it a catch-all for the many other minor items that should go on the list. Although you can’t define it, you know it when you see it.

    But to appease my list-making, analytical friends, I’ll take a stab at it. Easy enough to say writing magic is HOW one combines all the elements of writing. A little of this, a little more of that, and presto!: Good writing. Not exactly, but this is accurate to a degree.

    Maybe writing magic is a special potion that, should you possess it, you can sprinkle it on bad work and make it great. That’s why it’s called “magic”, right? I don’t think so. You must have the mechanics right. Magic obeys the laws of physics. We just don’t acknowledge that magic plays a role in all things science.

    No, magic is magic, otherwise it wouldn’t be “Magic”. If we don’t understand a bicycle, naming it a “fish” won’t solve the conundrum. Magic becomes more confusing the more we try to explain it. In the end, we don’t care what it is; all aspiring good writers want it, all good writers have it.

    To do magic you must first recognize it. Damn, it’s rare. That’s the fun of it. When I trip upon someone who has it, I feel like I’ve met a new best friend. I want to settle in, break out the good stuff, stay up until the wee hours of the morning, sharing sexy sentences.

    If you don’t know good writing when you see it, do not pass Go!, and surely to God, do not collect $200 from anyone. Stop. Put down your pen and get thee to someone who does. Read what they suggest. If you don’t see it, well…it’s been fun.

    Once you recognize it, listen. Then listen again. Read it out loud. Pick it up two days hence and read it again. Bathe in it. You may be tempted to count words, commas, multi-syllable words, adverbs, adjectives, sentence length, active verbs, passives, all the usual suspects. But they’re rarely the same, work to work, author to author. Fun to try, though. Magic can’t be counted.

    If you’ve made it this far, now the real work begins. Try to emulate the author’s style, tone, etc. Imagine yourself this magical writer. Put your hand in the glove of his voice. How would he or she say this or that? How…

    I’ll stop there because some, maybe most, believe this is impossible. OK, it’s possible to believe this is impossible, really easy to make anything impossible. Anything easy is not work. Magic-making takes work.

    Got to get busy.

  2. John, just for you, I'll add a sixth petal to my diagram.

  3. That's a great image. I may have to print that one to hang up!

  4. I feel this way too sometimes. It feels like there is just so much out there to learn. I'm a note taker--I find it helps to keep it all straight. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse