09 April 2009

What Makes A Good Writer?

So, a conversation I had some time ago with a friend of mine went something like this:

Friend: she... she's a good writer, but she isn't ready to be a good writer, if that makes sense
Inky: she has no sense of self-worth - yes, that makes sense
Friend: no kidding
Inky: you need a bit of inner strength to be a truly good writer, I think

Which brings me to today's topic: What makes a good writer? What are the qualities that good writers possess?

Obviously, the thing at the head of our list will be 'can write well', followed closely by 'can edit well', followed again by 'writes regularly' (and I'm not talking regularly as in the way I horseride, which is extremely regularly, but not very frequently - once a year, to be precise :D).

But other than the ability to write, and to do it day after day, what does a writer need?

Persistence. Flexibility. The ability to adapt and change. (See here. There's also a nifty quiz you can take here). The ability to listen to the advice of others, and take constructive criticism.

All these are pretty logical, and are quite obvious when you think about it. Anyone who's been dabbling in the writing industry for any genuine length of time should be able to find a whole bunch of sources that agree with these qualities.


But what? But a lot of people have these qualities, and it still never happens for them. A lot of people are good writers, midlist writers; but some people are great writers.

Sadly, I'm not (yet) one of those, so what I say here is pure speculation. One day I hope to hold empirical evidence in my hand as to the true of my suspicions, but for now, suspicions:

I think that to be a great writer, you need to know deep down that no matter what people say, you are still of worth, and what you say and think has value. You need to know you have a story to tell, and you need to be one hundred percent committed to getting it out there. You need to value it, and you need to value yourself.

And above that, because you value yourself, because you value your story, and because you're committed to making both the best you can be, you need to be able to dig deep within yourself and rip out your heart, and plaster it to the page. A bit dramatic, maybe, but it equates to this: You must be able to write honestly.

And that, I think, is the difference between books which are merely good, and those which have become classics (in whatever genre). The writers of the classics are honest; they're not fooling anyone, and least of all themselves. They respect themselves enough to dig deeply, past the pain, and find the truth - and it lights up their work and makes it shine throughout the centuries.

Of course, I could be wrong. This is just my random thought for the day. So tell me, what do you think??


Lady Glamis said...

I think you have great suspicions! And I agree with you on most of the points. As far as the classics go, I have lots to say there. But I'll be saying it all in a series of posts I'll be doing called "What Is Art?"

I think I can call myself a good writer. In fact, I'll just shout it out that I am! And I'm sticking to it, dang it. You can't be good if you don't believe in yourself. :D

Davin Malasarn said...

This is turning out to be a harder question than I thought it would be when I decided to comment. THe first thing that came to mind for me was persistence. I think the ability to see oneself clearly is also key...which goes along with being able to take advice and know when not to take advice. For some reason, I don't feel like honestly is absolutely necessary. I mean, I feel like some great writers are able to sort of step away from themselves and "work" as opposed to pour their hearts out. It's an interesting thing to think about and I don't feel like I can say anything intelligent for sure. I think of Mark Rothko who said something to the effect of, "If you do the same thing over and over again, you'll convince other people that your work is worth paying attention to." That seems to be a combination of persistence and courage. Maybe those are the essentials for me.

beth said...

I so agree. I think the biggest flaw with a lot of my past stories (and maybe the one I'm working on, but I hope not) is that I didn't go far enough. I presented the problem, I made the characters cry, but I didn't make the readers cry because, in the end, the characters were just speaking lines I put into their heads, not being true to themselves or the situation. Pushing deeper and deeper--emotionally, at least--is difficult for me to do, but something I'm striving for.

Captain Hook said...

That was a fun quiz. Yuna and I are both meant to be writers (took it at the same time).

Inkblot said...

Glam - looking forward to your posts! And good on you for believing in yourself :o)

Davin - such a great and insightful comment. Thank you for writing that. This comment prompted today's post, and I'm eagerly awaiting your response :o)I definitely agree with you that persistance and a large dose of courage are required.

Beth - this is exactly what I mean about being 'honest'. My earlier work suffers from the same problem; it's dramatic, but it's melodramatic because what I wrote isn't honest; it's not real.

Cpt Hook/Yuna - hoorah! Glad you're both meant to be writers, since I like your (plural) work :D

Thanks, everyone, for commenting :)

Angela said...

Perseverance. It's not quite the same as persistence, because one is keeping at it, and the other, enduring. Perseverance is what allows a writer to achieve balance through the rough times and stay persistent on their course, if that makes sense.

Great Post!

Inkblot said...

Angela - huh, good thought! I think you're right that it's more than just sheer persistence. Thanks for sharing :)

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