Good Writing is Still Valuable

30 Aug

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Those who don’t consider themselves good writers (or have never studied the craft) often fail to understand what that means: What makes good writing? No typos? Proper grammar? It should sound professional? Or maybe just natural, like the way people really talk? The best answer to these questions (and perhaps others like them) is disappointing:  It just depends.

Good writing is not a phenomenon—it’s a process, fueled by work. Much of it takes place before the fingers hit the keyboard, or the pen the notepad. Every piece of writing is created for a reason, a way to communicate something:  it persuades, informs, entertains, brags, consoles, requests, sells, influences, and tries not to waste people’s precious time. Before a writer can make something good (or, more accurately, effective) he has to understand the rhetorical situation: what he’s trying to do with his message and how he can do it (a simplified explanation).

Also disappointing for amateur writers is the idea that the work does not end there. Those who prepare well (in a word, research) assume the writing should then come easy, and sometimes it does. But as a trained writer, I understand how to manage my frustrations as part of my process. Hemingway had a mantra for this: “The first draft of anything is shit.”

After I write, I rewrite, polish, and then repeat the process. Before the deadline, I walk away only to return to it as an objective reader (so to speak), which is when I notice other things it needs or doesn’t need. I cut, cut, cut out all the clutter—even sentences or paragraphs I may have once thought were clever or funny or just soundedgood (the disciplined editor calls this “drowning your kittens”), deeming them unnecessary to the original goal and situation.


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