What Makes a Good Writer? 6 Unique Traits

This is a truly thought provoking and very challenging list. I’m a long way from being a remarkable writer, but I’m working on improving my skills and I’m particularly heartened by your last point, because I re-work and edit my stuff to death! I’ve sometimes worried that it’s a weakness, particularly when I come across bloggers who claim to do very little editing. You’ve got me thinking it’s not such a bad thing after all.

Characteristics of a remarkable writer

1. Remarkable writers have the ability to size up content

Other professions do the same thing in their fields — programmers with software code or military strategists with an enemy’s battle plan. What makes this unique to writers is that it lies in the mechanics of the language.

2. Remarkable writers are able to connect the dots

Although you might find her with her nose in the spine of a book (in a room strewn with scattered volumes), she’s actually 30,000 feet above, scanning her mental landscape, spotting potential material and logging these ideas away.

3. Remarkable writers can express ideas clearly

During a conversation I can have several responses to one question — but those responses are muddied with emotions and half-baked positions. What I long to do is sit down and sift through those thoughts on paper — after the conversation.

“Writing is in some way being able to sit down the next day and go through everything you wanted to say, finding the right words, giving shape to the images, and linking them to feelings and thoughts. It isn’t exactly like a social conversation because you aren’t giving information in the usual sense of the word or flirting or persuading anyone of anything or proving a point; it’s more that you are revealing something whole in the form of a character, a city, a moment, an image seen in a flash out of a character’s eyes.”

4. Remarkable writers can write in their heads

5. Remarkable writers read with a deep purpose

  • Libertarian — He is free to read whatever he wants. Whenever he wants. However he wants. Scan his reading history and you’ll see Mashable blog posts, Stieg Larsson novels, National Geographic magazines and bottles of shampoo. Think promiscuity.
  • Social conservatives — He is a little more purposeful in what he reads. He might grab The Hustle or be a member of Oprah’s reading club. Either way, he narrows his reading scope by taking cues from social authorities.
  • Extremists — This is the PhD preparing for her doctorate in medieval chemistry. The defense attorney hunkered in the library to bone up on local moonshine statutes. The writer working on a memoir of Hungarian-Jewish physician Joseph Goldberger. The writer is absorbed (and obsessed) with one topic — and one topic alone.

Remarkable writers absorb their books. For long stretches of time. Clueless to the rest of the world. Of course, writers can’t exactly claim a monopoly on this trait. The next trait, however, they most definitely can.

6. Remarkable writers swing the snow shovel

It begins with a foot of snow (you dump a rough draft on to the blank page). You start to shovel (edit) down the sidewalk (page). You reach the end of the sidewalk (page), wipe your brow with your cap and look behind you.

“At the beginning of a novel, a writer needs confidence, but after that what’s required is persistence. These traits sound similar. They aren’t. Confidence is what politicians, seducers, and currency speculators have, but persistence is a quality found in termites. It’s the blind drive to keep on working that persists after confidence breaks down.”

That ability to re-work a piece of copy ad nauseam is utterly unique to a writer. No other profession can claim that ability. And that, my friend, is both how to be a good writer and what separates a remarkable writer from everyone else.

Technical skills

Involving the reader

Remembering your reader is vital. Unless you are writing purely for yourself, successful writers are always aware that what they are writing will be read by a reader, and that reader needs to be able to follow your narrative, believe in your characters and invest in the story you are unfolding for them.

Being good with words

Words are a writer’s basic tools, and writers need to be highly proficient in their use. Would you trust a mechanic who didn’t know how to use a spanner? Then why would you trust a writer who couldn’t construct a decent sentence? Good writers not only have a natural facility with words, but they should enjoy using them and take pleasure in the language they use to communicate their ideas.

Using the right words

Skilled writers use the appropriate language for what they are writing. They do not use big words just to show off that they know what they mean. The best writers use clear, concise language that gets their message across, and they never sound as if they had eaten the dictionary and spat out its most indigestible adjectives.

Finding your voice

Good writers write in their own style, and finding it is one of the aims of all writers. You may have to experiment with different styles to find what your writing voice really is, but it’s time well spent when you realise that now you are writing in your own unique voice – one that readers will recognise as being yours.

Plotting

Proficient writers understand that whatever it is they’re writing, it needs to have a strong storyline and a trajectory that gets its reader from the beginning to the end. Think of your writing in terms of what happens when, and to who, and it’s worth spending time working out what your main plot incidents are and the order in which you need to put them to make your plot as satisfying as possible for your reader.

Structuring and pacing

Good writing needs bones, ie structure. This involves the writer in creating tension, contrast, light and shade. It needs its writer to know where to place dramatic incidents, and when not to reveal too much too soon. Its writer needs to know when to reveal things to the reader, how to sow the seeds of a twist ending, how to use foreshadowing. A good writer will vary their pace and make sure that even their sentences are not always the same length or the same structure.

Dialogue

One way you can always spot an accomplished author is that the dialogue their characters use rings true. They don’t use dialogue as an info-dump (‘But Sir Charles, the reason Lady LeStrange acts the way she does is because she was dropped on her head when she was a baby’) but as a way of revealing their characters – because good writers understand that readers will be more likely to be invested in their writing if they are involved with their characters.

The ability to write good beginnings. And endings. And middles.

Paying attention to every aspect of their manuscript is what skilful writers do automatically. Of course they need to write a good opening, in order to hook their reader. The middle needs to be a satisfying narrative so the reader doesn’t lose interest. The ending needs to be an effective resolution so the reader feels their reading time is an investment that has paid off. Basically, a good writer takes care of everything.

Grammar and spelling

Writers want their readers to concentrate on their writing, not look for mistakes in it, or stop mid-way through a paragraph to try to make sense of the grammar. Grammar and spelling are invisible in good writing, meaning that the reader doesn’t notice them – readers only notice things like that when they are used wrongly, which makes them stick out.

Understanding the market

Astute writers understand their readers, which on a broader level means understanding the market and its conventions. If you are writing cosy crime, you will do well to understand the genre and its readers and platforms, and the same goes for YA, literary fiction, experimental poetry or long-form journalism. Doing this helps good writing to find the readers it has been written for.

Personal skills

Persistence

No-one ever said this writing game was easy, and successful writers are often the ones who didn’t give up at the first hurdle. Or the second, or the third. Good writers are the ones who keep on going even when its tough. It may be a writing cliché that the difference between an unpublished writer and a published one is persistence, but it’s true.

Commitment

Writing is like any other skill: it takes practice. The best writers are committed to their writing. They put the hours in. They make time for it. They work at honing their writing so that it’s the best it can be. They show it the love and care it deserves. Good writers realise that just as in any successful relationship, their writing will respond well to being nurtured.

Resilience

Every writer’s work gets rejected at some point, and there may be times when even the most brilliant writer in the world feels like throwing the towel in. This is where believing in your work comes in. Writers who do that are committed to writing the best piece of work they can. Sometimes other people may not agree, and they may be the editors, agents and publishers who turn your work down. Good writers understand that you learn what you can from the down times, and keep going.

12 qualities of a good writer

Azuka Onwuka

Whenever I teach people the art of writing, they want to know what skills or qualities they need to possess to write well. It is usually a difficult task, but I have tried to aggregate some of the qualities that will make one a good writer.

According to popular writer, editor and literary critic, William Zinsser, “Good writing doesn’t come naturally, though most people seem to think it does.” This is one point about writing that many people do not realise. Many assume that once a known writer picks up a pen or hits the keyboard, wonderful writing springs out ceaselessly. Zinnser throws more light on this issue thus: “Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s hard because it is hard.”

Everybody can write, but not everybody can write in a way that will excite and interest the reader to read from the beginning to the end and take positive action, as expected by the writer. In this era of the Internet when the attention span of people is short, and there are hundreds of materials demanding the attention of the reader, a writer has to do something different to get the attention of the reader and retain it.

1. Every good writer is a good reader. Good writing does not just happen overnight. What the good writer does is to unconsciously regurgitate all the writings and styles of the good writers he or she has read over the years. If you hate to read, please don’t bother to dream about being a good writer.

2. Like Friedrich Nietzsche says, good writers “would rather be understood than admired.” The most popular African book on fiction is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Achebe wrote it when nobody knew him. He was not a professor of literature then, he was just a university student at Ibadan. He just wrote passionately about something that touched him deeply. He did not write to dazzle or prove that he was well-read. The result was that Things Fall Apart became a global classic.

Most times, the more educated we are, the less impactful our writing becomes, because we tend to write more to prove that we are “too much” than to be understood. Our writing, therefore, loses some originality and natural connection with the reader. The more educated we are, the better literary critics we become but the less good writers we become. In summary: good writers write to express, not to impress. Please note this.

3. Creativity is a trait every good writer has. Good writers task themselves to bring out new ideas or present old or common things in new and exciting ways. They choose words that convey their thoughts best. A lazy writer will use “lovely” to describe a lady, a car, a dress, a baby, a voice, a house, and a handwriting. But a good writer will say “a charming lady”, “a sleek car”, “a stylish dress”, “a cute baby”, “an angelic voice”, “an exquisite house”, and “an artistic handwriting.” These words create better mind images than using “lovely” for all of them.

4. Good writers are passionate about the correctness of grammar. They have a love relationship with their dictionary – regularly confirming the meaning and usage of words. This is because good writers do not want to spread bad grammar all over the world. Bad grammar is a turn-off in communication. Note that wherever you see the department of English in a tertiary institution, you also see literature. Language is the channel through which literature is communicated. The same thing goes for Hausa and Hausa literature, Yoruba and Yoruba literature, Igbo and Igbo literature, etc. When you read the works of a great writer, you will learn correct grammar.

5. Good writers strive for perfection. Is perfection possible? No. Our duty is to continue to strive to be perfect. When we strive for perfection, we achieve excellence. Excellence is praised and rewarded by the world.

By striving for perfection, we mean that good writers are never happy with their work. They keep fine-tuning it, looking for more appropriate words and expressions to use in every sentence. Good writers do not have the it-doesn’t-matter mentality. This mindset makes people assume that anyhow something is done is okay. This works against good writing.

Good writers are not in a hurry to post or publish their works. They pay attention to details. They take their time to check both the correctness of every word or phrase and the appropriateness of every expression in the write-up. This may take days, weeks, months or years, depending on the type of writing involved. Writers are not praised or given prizes for finishing first; they are praised or given prizes for writing well. They are loved for writing well; they are talked about for writing well; they are quoted for writing well.

Sources:

https://copyblogger.com/remarkable-writing/
https://www.writers-online.co.uk/how-to-write/creative-writing/what-makes-a-good-writer/
https://punchng.com/12-qualities-of-a-good-writer/

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