Musings: What Makes a Good Writer?


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I believe when it comes to good writing, there is little more important than clarity. It’s still a learning process for me everyday. But working in a newsroom with some of the most experienced, sharp minds in journalism has taught me some very valuable lessons. Most of which can be distilled into one simple idea.

Clear writing reveals clarity of thought.

Fundamentally, writing is about conveying ideas. So what good is an embellished, convoluted essay if we lose the point or our audience to vanity?

As a child in school, you’d get higher marks for more extravagant vocabulary. But that’s when you’re six, and you’re trying to learn what big words mean. But as we get older, hyperbolic descriptions reek of trying too hard. Plainly put, it’s pretentious. The best writers in the world are kings of clarity. If you can explain the most complicated idea to a six-year-old, you’ve nailed it. If you wouldn’t use it in daily speech, it’s superfluous. Lack of deep thought can’t be camouflaged with frivolous words copied off of a thesaurus.

The biggest challenge a writer might encounter is finding a compelling voice. And my personal heroes are George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Milan Kundera, and even the often provocative Chuck Palahniuk. I thoroughly enjoy black humour, biting wit, and an unflinching voice. Great writing often comes from a place of extraordinary empathy, and a unique vision from having experienced both the most beautiful and grotesque things in the world.

It takes a lot of work to be a good writer. But the first step may just be to shoot for simplicity.

Who are your literary heroes? I’d love to hear what you’ve learnt.

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14 thoughts on “Musings: What Makes a Good Writer?

  1. I agree and disagree with you. While my favorites in the clear writing group consist of Alice Munroe, Hemingway (he is God!), Susan Sontag and Jack Kerouac, there is another list consisting of Salman Rushdie, Garcia Marquez and yes! William Faulkner – Faulkner’s style, even though opaque is terrifyingly prophetic, Rushdie is the wordsmith par excellence, while Garcia Marquez is simply, purely beautiful. Anyway, lovely post.:-)

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  2. Hmm, for me I guess what sort of writing I find appealing depends on how each writer uses their strengths to captivate their readers. There’s something to be said for exquisite wordplay when done right. Speaking of black humour, I really like Lemony Snicket’s writing, which I find darkly funny in a disturbing way. But ultimately I wholeheartedly agree with the statement that the best writing comes from a place of empathy. Thanks for the post! 🙂

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  3. I have a modest set of influences on my style and writers I enjoy reading. For my strongest influences, I would have to go with:

    Mark Twain
    Jack London
    Andrew Vachss
    David Webber
    Piers Anthony
    Stephen King
    James Clavell

    As for other authors I thoroughly enjoy:
    Harry Harrison
    Charles Dickens
    Ray Bradbury
    Kurt Vonnagut
    David Drake
    Janet Evanovich
    Caleb Carr
    Robert B. Parker
    Alan Dean Foster
    Tom Clancy
    JRR Tolkien
    CS Lewis
    and hundreds of tales of history and folklore of the North Woods and Great Lakes since I collect books of local history.

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  4. Good point. Sometimes the essence of your piece is lost in verbosity. As Hemingway says, “Easy writing is hard reading.” (Seems simple enough but has an important message in there) But I also disagree with some things. I think using the language of the everyday person is not the best idea always. Part of the beauty of being a writer is coming up with new phrases or using words in new ways. You don’t have to overpower your work with invention, but it’s nice to do it here and there to add to the literary tradition. And it also depends on the type of work and your audience. If you’re writing for the average person, a simpler approach may be best (for example, I write my articles in an overall simple way to cater to a wider audience. My goal is to show the beauty of some academic disciplines and reveal self-development secrets through some straightforward writing). Was a nice read and some good advice. Reblogging. Do check out my blog if you can for the things mentioned above. (revitellect.wordpress.com) Cheers and have a great day. 🙂

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  5. Pingback: The One Thing That Will Make You a Better Writer (via Angelalimaq) | ReVitellect

  6. I struggle with this every single day. How much color should I use? It tortures me endlessly. Debbie Macomber once told me most people don’t realize there is a huge difference between storytellers and writers — writer’s are the ones who agonize over their word choices.

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  7. Heroes … I reckon anyone who gives it a go, so bloggers are always great reads. 😉 I think that’s the only way to give our voice clarity. I actually agreed with a lot of what you said, I tend to loose myself in overcomplicating things in essays.

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