Let’s start with this: there is no single metric that can measure a good writer.
Most people think it’s easy to be a good writer. I would say that it’s one of the most underrated jobs these days.
Writing is a subjective and complex skill. However, people usually want simple answers. We, humans, like to simplify things and quantify everything. I think that’s one of the reasons why most people underestimate writing skill in the end.
So, the question remains. What does it take to be a good writer?
Disclaimer, as I previously stated, writing skill is subjective. So, these are entirely my opinions as a writer myself and as an editor for almost 15 years.
This is the writer’s main arsenal. Our language is certainly limited, compared to our abstract knowledge, emotions, and imagination. That’s why, the more we learn about language, the less limitation we have when we pour our abstractions.
Unfortunately, this is also a skill that most people undermine. We transfer our knowledge and emotions using language. We even think and imagine things with our language. Language is our bridge to the abstracts.
“Logic and mathematics are nothing but specialised linguistic structures.” Jean Piaget.
For example, how could we count if we don’t label the numbers with language? Maybe it’s true that maths is the language of our universe but our human language connects us with that universe. Yes, physics is the law of life but we would not comprehend it without our language.
So, how to learn more about language? It’s simple. We listen and read thoroughly, endlessly.
Pay Attention to Details
The devil is in the details. I think good professionals, in every expertise, should have this trait. So does a writer.
Writing needs a lot of details. Language, the first tool in our arsenals, has a lot of checklists. Grammar, structure, or vocabulary are the basic checklists that a writer should adhere to.
Ideally, writing articles also need sources and quotes, to say the least. There are other small details as well that a good writer should pay attention to. Brand name capitalisation, for example, is one of the small details. It’s “iPhone”, not “Iphone”. It’s “VALORANT” not “Valorant”.
Every character matters.
Even more so in this digital era, usually, content writers have to follow SEO guidelines too.
Copywriting, translation, scriptwriting, fiction writing or any kind of writing also have some minimum checklists to do.
Being a good writer also requires us to do comprehensive research, every day.
Even a good fiction writer has to do deep research. Tolkien had to research many languages when he constructed his Elven language.
Just like academic papers, there are two types of research: field research and library research. Therefore, a good writer has to be a good listener (for doing interviews), a meticulous reader, or a combination of both.
Years ago, I had a translation job on “how to calculate a truck’s gradeability”. I asked the client who will read the result. He said that it’s for the mechanic-in-training. So, I need to do two things first. I have to understand the calculation and I need to speak to professional mechanics to learn their jargon.
I strongly believe that I have to understand the topic clearly before I could write it. Don’t hope the readers will understand what you write if you don’t understand it yourself. Hence, a good writer has to have a good capability of understanding new and complex concepts.
Usually, the writing process itself is so much quicker. It’s the research that needs so much more time. Sadly, because of that, in this fast-paced digital content era, most people just do the minimum research or no research at all. Just do the SEO checklist, since it’s all that matters – for a lot of media. That’s why, research is no longer correlated with professional writers.
For this part, I think I might be biased.
I’m a sceptic. I don’t believe in a single answer or a single truth. I believe it makes me a better writer. It forces me to keep on learning. When we believe we have all the answers, we will stop looking – and for me, it’s detrimental.
Being able to see from different perspectives also helps me to get along well with many people, which would be beneficial for the research purpose. It has another name, empathy. Empathy also allows me to put myself in my reader’s shoes. By doing this, I could convince my reader easier or, at least, make my point clearer.
Seeing the same thing from different angles also helps my creativity – which is undeniably a good trait for a professional writer.
In this part, I also want to talk about logic. Many people think that being logical is also needed to be a good writer. Yes, it is. Logic is needed to learn many things, including language. Logic is also crucial when explaining things. Good writing should be coherent and structured. Consistency and cohesiveness require good rationality. Both of them are essential factors in an enjoyable reading.
However, logic is a tricky thing. Everyone will certainly believe themselves as logical people. Yet, different people could have different logic.
This is why I include logic in this part. Having multiple perspectives also requires logic. If you ask me, it’s the next level of being logical and it will be the last ingredient to make a good writer.
Feat Image: Leah Kelley via Pexels