What is Good Writing?
A Process, Not a Product
More Than Mechanics
What is good writing? Where does it come from? Could you pick it out from a pile of books? Poems? Scientific journals? Could you write it yourself if given the time? Though it is easy to articulate the components of bad writing and what makes a piece uninteresting or just plain awful to read, there is no clear definition of good writing. Bad writing has concrete flaws, while the qualities of good writing vary from writer to writer, genre to genre, and reader to reader. All good writing, however, consists of a core, deliberate idea that is creatively elaborated upon to involve the reader until clear purpose is achieved. Sources of good writing also vary, as good writing does not come from one person, or even one type of person. It results from a process of dedication to the craft of writing and appreciation of constructive feedback and input, rather than a natural skill or inherent mindset. Good writing results from a complex formula of strong mechanics, grammar, clarity, concision, while demonstrating purpose, provoking thought, interest, or emotional response, and connecting with the reader. Most importantly, it is achieved through a persisting process of revision and feedback, resulting in a piece of clarity, brevity, and eloquence. Good writing is a creative process, not a product.
These views of good writing are similar to the perspectives found in a study conducted by April D. Nauman, Terry Stirling, and Arlene Brothwick. They found that while “every type of writing requires different things to be good", "Good writing is like good thinking—fresh, clear, and honest. It artfully invites the reader into an idea or image with a quiet authority that cannot be resisted." "Good writing shows instead of tells" (Nauman, Stirling, & Borthwick), inviting the reader to become interested in a perspective rather than blandly and passively presenting a plot or argument. There is no set way in which to write well, however, good writing is memorable and involving, while always maintain a sense of the audience. It “shows” the reader a new world through writing.
The Hidden “Good Writer”
When looking at what makes good writing, it is key to look at who makes good writing? Good writing is more often than not assumed to be an inherent skill: either a person can write well, or they should not even try. The stereotypical “writer” has been built up to a person who produces exquisite first drafts and anyone else who occasionally struggles with writing will never be able to achieve such a product. Though mere speculation, this notion that good writing can only be produced by people who are “writers”, portrays good writing as unattainable, discouraging many from trying simply because it does not come easily. "Even famous authors, poets, and journalists have to produce a few rough drafts before arriving at their best work" (National Council of Teachers of English): writing is difficult for everyone, whether you are a novelist or a high school student. Good writers do not have to fit the common assigned stereotype, they “don't all look the same, they don’t all learn the same, and they don't all use the same methods… The point is that all writers are individuals” (National Council of Teachers of English) and they each have the capabilities to produce individualized good writing. Frequently, “good writers develop from dedication… not necessarily inherent skill” (Putnam), demonstrating that if a person puts in the effort they can achieve good writing. Incredible skill is not vital, however, time and diligence are required to create good writing.
Though many books display one author on the cover, writing is a collaborative process. All good writers receive feedback in one way or another and they all ask for help. John Collins, Professor of Physics at Wheaton College, believes “Good writers have probably read so much that they have spent their life indirectly seeking help from others”, demonstrating the importance of input from other people. It is important to actively seek feedback from a peer or mentor to help in the revision process and gain an outside opinion. Part of “being a good writer is learning from mistakes and listening to other peoples opinions and improving because of them” (Heston), thus consciously working toward the goal of polished, good writing. Good writers do not necessarily learn how to write well from a mentor, however, they learn to look at different opinions and make subsequent improvements.
Good Writing is Hard Work
“Good writing” is commonly perceived to come naturally to a thoughtful writer, while the work and time required to achieve this is underestimated. According to the article "Sociologists as Writing Instructors: Teaching Students to Think, Teaching an Emerging Skill, or Both?" by Suzanne S. Hudd, Lauren M. Sardi, and Maureen T. Lopriore, "Good writing takes time" and "Pre-writing, outlining, draft-ing, rewriting, and revision—are [required] prerequisites to producing good written work". Good writing requires a consistent dedication to its improvement, making it important to "Embrace writing as a process" (Hudd, Sardi, & Lopriore). It is a lengthy process, requiring multiple drafts and revisions. However, the process of writing is significantly undervalued because classes place more emphasis on the grade. It is also dismissed by people who do not want to exert the extra effort to revise their writing beyond a first or second draft. "We believe 'good writing' is that discovered combination of words” (Rohman), however, “that discovered combination of words” is not come across by chance, it is purposefully created and adjusted. Good writing may not happen in the first, second, or third draft, but the key is perseverance and reception of feedback in order to improve. The revision process is the most important step in writing because the author purposefully seeks to improve his or her writing. "Revision is one of the keys to producing good writing… and involves author returning to their thoughts, evaluating them, seeking to clarify their meaning" (Baer), and expressing them more efficiently and effectively for the reader to understand. Through multiple drafts, additional thought, and considerable effort, good writing can be achieved by nearly anyone; not just “writers”.
Achieving Good Writing