What is Good Writing?

Concepts relating to creativity are sometimes slippery, hard to define. It can be difficult to strike off on a mission to become a ‘better writer’ when there really isn’t a definition of what that means.

In essence, to me, good writing can be broadly defined as words that create images in readers’ minds and captivate them. To go even further, one of my own measures of writing quality is what happens when I reach the end of something I’m reading. If I feel listless and can detect a vague sadness that the story is over, and can tell that I’m wondering where to look to find something else like it, the quality was beyond good. That doesn’t happen often enough.

Every once in a while, you come across something that helps wrap your arms around the creative process, slippery as it remains. The other day, while reading a piece online about the evolution of self publishing, there was a link to a commencement address by Neil Gaiman, given recently at the University of the Arts. It’s titled, “Make Good Art,” and even though it’s about 20 minutes long, if you are interested in working as a writer, photographer, videographer – or in virtually any facet of the arts – it’s worth carving out the time to watch it.

He addresses writing more than other pursuits, and one passage having to do with voice really struck a chord with me, given that I believe development of a signature voice is the brass ring writers should reach for…

“The urge, starting out, is to copy, and that’s not a bad thing; most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have, that nobody else has, is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write as only you can.”

Here is the link to the video: http://vimeo.com/42372767

Can you be a writer without being a reader?

The short answer to this question is yes, of course, you can be a writer without doing a lot of reading. But the complete answer is that you will be a better writer if you are also a reader.

Think of it this way: can you be an athlete without practicing? Sure. You can get by (even fairly well), if you’re blessed with talent. But you can never be the athlete you could be unless you eat well, train, stretch, rest, and learn everything you can about the sport you play.

If you are or want to be a writer, reading should be part of your practice schedule. There is great learning that takes place when you read. Your mind is naturally drawn to certain writers, because you like their style, their voice. Reading what they write makes you want to write, and can put you in the mood to start writing before you even finish the reading.

Think about what you enjoy reading most, because it can often be an indicator of what you should probably write. In other words, if you subscribe to In-Fisherman and devour the meaty how-to stuff, that might be a good place for you as a writer. If you subscribe to Sporting Classics and love getting lost in good adventure writing, that could be your place.

A perfect world would have you reading what you love to read, and writing what you would love to read. Follow that path as much as circumstances allow, but as a practical matter, writers who come to depend on paychecks from it have to pay attention to what sells best, too. In order to write well outside your primary areas of interest, reading others who excel in popular categories can be a difference maker.

Reading is fuel for your writing. It’s hard to go to the well of words day after day without pouring a few gallons of fresh treatments in the tank. Find writers that you like. Read what they have to say. Your own work will be better for it.

Can Writers be Made?

The question of whether artists of any kind – and writers in particular – can be ‘made’ through coaching and training, or whether you’re “either born with it or you’re not” has always fascinated me.

I do believe, to a large degree, that each person’s talent level is determined, more or less, by natural forces. But I also believe that there is far more creativity, storytelling ability, writing potential, in most people than they would think, and that it can be brought to the surface. I think a high percentage of people interested in becoming writers can do it, but it takes a weird combination of conscious effort and creating the right surroundings to unleash the words living inside each of us.

Perhaps the key ingredient is desire. If you want to be a writer you will put forth the effort it takes to see if you really have it in you. Combine that with coaching that can tap your voice and you have a powerful combination. Yes, there are technical aspects to the craft, but that’s the easy stuff. The real emphasis should always be on getting at the quality. If you can mine your own creativity, learn to put yourself in a time and place where you work best, it’s amazing what comes from that. It’s the essence of the training I have developed for those who want to be outdoor writers, or who are already outdoor writers but want to be better writers. Helping people discover their voice and bring out the writer they can be is extremely rewarding to me, and that’s why I created the Emerging Outdoor Voices writing course. If you dream about being a writer, or improving your writing, let’s work together, one on one, and make it happen for you.