Too many writers are caught up with thoughts of whether or not they are any good. We are quite the neurotic bunch, aren't we? But what if all this self-doubt was actually self-destructive? What if there was no such thing as a “good writer“?
Most people's definitions of “good writing” vary. What one reader loves, another one hates. For example, J.K. Rowling, one of the most popular and most successful writers alive today, is often criticized for her prose (too many adverbs, some say). Similarly, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was called a “dud” by many of his contemporaries.
And of course, this goes for just about any other so-called “great” writer. There are those that love these writers and those that don't. And perhaps, that's perfectly fine. Because maybe what it means to be good is really just our way of saying “I like this” or “I don't like this.”
What if there was no such thing as “good writing”?
What if there was only effective writing?
What would that change for your and me the next time we sit down to do our work?
I've been coaching and teaching writers for over a decade, and I can tell you with complete certainty that there is no universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes “good writing.” It's a myth.
What we often think of as “good writing” is merely effectively communicating a clear message to a particular audience. And the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can get on with our job, which is not to be good, but to be clear.
Please, writers, let's conclude this obsession with whether or not we are a good writer and instead start trying to be an effective writer.
There is no such thing as good writing. There is only effective writing.
Tips for being a good, I mean effective, writer
There are six things you can do to be a better (ahem, more effective) writer. The following is what I recommend (click the links to read articles on each subject):
- Read. Good writers read. It's that simple. Words are the lifeblood of great writing. There's no way to get good without lots of valuable input.
- Get an editor. A good writer recognizes he needs help. He can't do this on his own (neither can you). You need to get someone to critique your writing, someone you trust. I suggest a peer editor for starters.
- Capture ideas. A good writer is constantly gathering creative input. Ideas are the inspiration for artists and writers. You need to have a system for collecting them. A great tool to help you do this is Evernote.
- Write every day. This cannot be overlooked. It's essential. You can't get good without practice. Even if only for a few minutes, you need to write every single day.
- Rewrite. An essential part of writing is rewriting,
distilling the fluff down to some core content that will actually make a difference. This is hard, but important. Stephen King calls this “killing your darlings.” And for good reason. It ain't pretty. But it's necessary.
- Get inspired. Hard to explain, but there's a part of the writing process that is mysterious. You can't take full responsibility for what you create. A good writer knows how to avail herself to the Muse. She knows inspiration is like breathing for the creative spirit.
You could also get outside your comfort zone and join me for a free video training to learn my three keys for effective writing. Writing is simple, but it's not easy. Why not learn proven techniques to help you structure your writing?
Good writing resources
Speaking of reading, here are some books and resources that may help:
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss
- The Writer's Manifesto by Jeff Goins
- Don't Hit Publish (a free tool to help you decide when it's time to publish a blog post)
The world needs better writers
But wait. Isn't there such a thing as bad writing? Yes, we've all seen lazy, ineffective prose. So I'm not saying that you don' have to try. The bottom line, though, is that if you're constantly chasing good, you're never going to feel good enough. What we need is for you, the writer, to be effective. To be clear. To connect. And when you do that, your writing will be just fine. I promise.
At a time when more people have something to say, and the Internet is everyone's megaphone, sometimes the best voices don't always get heard. There's a lot of noise and little clarity right now. We need you to be effective more than ever, so I hope you'll take the time to hone your voice, craft that message, and write with excellence.
Because this gift of writing we've received can be squandered. Your message can fall on deaf ears and be ineffective. And what a shame that would be. And if you need more help on deciding if your writing is good enough to share, check out this free tool: Don't Hit Publish.
What do you think it takes to be a good writer? Or is there even such a thing? Share in the comments.