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Trademarks of a Good Writer

Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter formula as to what makes a great writer. Good writers might be identified by their credentials, but credentials alone do not determine the quality of the work they produce, and not all work may be held equal, either. A writer might specialize in fiction novels, which is very different from copywriting or nonfiction writing. Instead, it's more effective to look at the core skills that a writer needs to succeed. There are some rules that transcend genre, and it is by honing these that a writer will become more proficient in their chosen area of expertise.

Research, and the ability to conduct it well, is at the core of all good writers. Imagination and creativity go a long way, true, but without the factual evidence to back up and enhance what a writer has created, a story or ad can fall apart like a house of cards. Writers who were formally trained will research without a second thought – it comes naturally to them, since they were taught to research while learning how to write. The two go hand in hand. For those who have no formal training, learning how to research effectively can be a tricky matter. A historical fiction writer may need to research details of the time period to convincingly pull the reader into the world of the book. A copywriter must do research on whatever it is they're promoting, and must research the target demographic to understand how best to appeal to their interests and desires. Research is conducted to find – and answer – a specific question.

The actual writing process varies from writer to writer. Some cannot move forward until a plot outline is complete. Others write in short bursts, constructing the story or the document as they go and letting the work form itself along the way. For beginning writers, an effective strategy is to determine what they want to write and when they want to finish by, and to develop a structure for writing around that goal. The nonprofit organization NaNoWriMo – short for National Novel Writing Month – encourages participants to write a 50,000 word novel in just one month by breaking up the writing into a production of 1,667 words per day. It may seem daunting, but even first-time novelists find themselves with a weighty manuscript at the end of the thirty-day period. The most important part of writing, however, comes after the writing is completed.

One of the trickiest rules for writers to obey is this: "Write first, edit later". In NaNoWriMo, participants are expressly forbidden from any kind of editing until the end of the month. The editing process is all about refining the raw material, and it is often in this stage that works transform into something worthy of publication. This is true of all writing, regardless of whether the piece in question is fiction or nonfiction. Much like sanding a piece of wood, the editing process is where all the snags and splinters of the writing are smoothed away and polished to a gleam. The piece may have looked structurally good before, but editing transforms it into something that the audience aches to interact with and touch.

Writing is about reaching out and engaging the reader. A copywriter worth their salt will reach into the emotional well of the audience and bring up something that they never knew existed. They can sell a new car through mentioning the seatbelts and the airbags, and how the seats are specially designed to hold the latest, safest baby car seat. The audience will see the shiny red paint and the sparkling chrome details, but they'll buy the car because it enables them to be a better protector and parent for their children. The same is true of writers who aim to tell a story. Fiction writers – and even nonfiction writers – draw the audience in with some kind of spectacular adventure. Along the way, they remind the audience of the heartbreak that accompanies the end of a first love, or the wonder of staring up at bright stars on a cloudless night. In the end, the key trademark of a good writer is a personal understanding of what it means to be human, and the ability to share that viewpoint through words.

The Makings of a Great Writer

Writing Resources