What is Writing Well?
After seeing a comment on my recent post from friend and prolific writer, Harvey Stanbrough, I realized that I didn’t do a very good job of defining what “writing well” actually means. Ironic, considering how Adler and Van Doren felt one of the keys to “reading well” was to come to terms with an author–in other words, what do certain words mean in the author’s mind?
So, let me revisit and state my basic assumptions of what I mean by writing well:
- Parts of writing well are dependent of the mode of delivery. Are you writing fiction or non-fiction?
- Parts of writing well are independent of the mode of delivery. No matter what you’re writing, to write well means to do your best to help the reader understand or experience what it is that you’re trying to transmit.
Fiction is mainly about conveying an experience. Non-fiction is mainly about conveying information.
Obviously, it’s not an either/or proposition.
You can learn a lot about physics from science fiction novels, just like even academic papers on microbiology require a smattering of rhetorical flourish to hold the reader’s attention.
It’s a matter of degree.
But if you’re looking to write non-fiction as well as you possibly can, to transmit information as clearly as you can, it’s helpful to know your audience and to clearly establish your terms, propositions, and arguments.
Fiction? You want to transmit an experience as clearly as you can. You do this through a myriad of skills: pacing, characterization, setting, plot, emotion, and so on.
If you can learn the parts which make up the whole of “transmitting information” or “transmitting an experience,” you can practice those, therefore you can practice writing well, and therefore you can form the habit of writing well.
Speaking of matters of degree, you guys know my primary focus is fiction. I promise to do my best to share what I’ve learned when I get back to writing my Learning How to Learn Fiction series, but in the meantime (and in addition to), here are some great resources:
- WMG Workshops (founded and taught by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
- Harvey Stanbrough’s Daily Journal
Hopefully, I’ve done a better job of defining my terms here, but I’d love to hear your thoughts either way. Comments are always welcome. We learn from each other.