Good Writing Demands Skill

You control sacrifice. You create focus. You surrender to vulnerability. You feel tension. And now to my favorite demand of good writing–skill.

Some will argue you are born with a skill or you aren’t. I disagree. You are born with personality strengths and weaknesses. The personality you have pushes you toward your passion. That passion pushes you to acquire skills that make your passion a reality.

In college, I quickly decided I wanted to major in English. It fit my personality. I wanted to read books and majoring in English ensured I would get to read more books than any other field of study. When you’re an English major, you read books and write about the books you read.  I didn’t always get A’s on these papers, but I always got feedback. Suggestions like, “correct subject/verb agreement,” “use consistent tense,” “get to the point,” “use a thesaurus for more word variety.” So I listened, and my writing skills got stronger.

In his book on writing,  Stephen King explains, “I am approaching the heart of this book with two theses, both simple. The first is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style) . . . The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while is is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible ,with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

Want to sharpen your writing skills? Here are some ideas:

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You may be a very creative writer, but lack grammar skills. You may be great at developing characters, but stink at creating believable conversations between these characters. Know your strengths and focus on those, while working to improve your weaknesses. Know that some of your skills can be both a strength and a weakness. For example, I’m a pithy writer. It comes from years of telling middle and high school students to take out the fluff and get to the point in their papers. Sometimes, it’s a strength. Like in blog writing. Sometimes, it’s a weakness. Like when trying to meet a word count. I work to make myself use more  examples, more illustrations, more points, and more descriptions, all while trying hard not to make any of it seem like fluff.
  • Read books for writers.  As Douglas Wilson writes, “We are explorers, sure enough, but we have maps. Those who have gone before us have accumulated a vast amount of information about words, which they have helpfully gathered in easy-to-find locations. Much of it is alphabetized, and so there is no excuse for not finding what you need.” Read books that instruct writers in the technical skills of writing, and books that inspire the creative skills of writing. I have 13 books for writers on a Pinterest board if you want to start there.
  • Be friends with writers. No one enjoys a good semi-colon joke like fellow writers, am I right? So find some writers and become friends. If you want to develop friendships online with other writers, you can check out those who linked up to the recent Write It, Girl series. Follow a writer you admire on Twitter and get to know her. If you can, attend conferences or workshops. If all else fails, just hang out at Starbucks. You’re bound to run into the next best-selling author at some point. And if you don’t, maybe you’re the next best selling author everyone else is trying to run into.
  • Read blogs by writers and others in the industry. Not only do some of your favorite authors probably have blogs, many of those who work in the publishing business do also. They can be a great resource for up-to-date info on trends and popular books topics. A few of my favorites include Grammar GirlJeff  Goins and Write Uncaged by Mary DeMuth.

“Writing well is more than mechanics, but it is not less.” Douglas Wilson

Good writing demands skill, but the good news is you can sharpen your writing skills. How do you strengthen your weaknesses in writing?

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Next week we’ll look at five enemies of good writing. If you don’t want to miss a post, please subscribe, become a fan on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. I find the best way to improve writing is to read well-written, published, books. My daughter is about to begin her PhD in English, and she has found the same thing, that published works, which have undergone the scrutiny of skilled editors are the best source of example.

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