On writing, Neil Gaiman once said, “You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” And another wise mind once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” Though Yoda and Neil have the same idea – that the bulk of writing is found in physically sitting on the divan and simply doing the stuff of it – there’s more to writing than meets the chair.
It’s true: To write, one must do. But to write with style, ah—now that means going beyond the doing to exercising the five must-haves of great writing.
First, good writing is logical. It makes sense. Whether writing truth or fiction, good writing flows in a linear path—a path natural to both the writer and the reader. It’s important to know how to write plausibly, rationally, and reasonably, so that others understand our mind’s path from beginning, to middle, and to end.
Second, good writing moves us—both in the physical rhythm of the text and the content’s compelling, progressive nature. Like good music, good writing has a physical sound and pace naturally stirring us forward. Aside from the clicking consonance or mellow-o assonance of the singing sounds that all words possess, creating a rollicking or lulling movement, the emotions embodied within our text must also move. Like birds on a wire, one after another stretched along the dotted-line cable and, eventually, rising to fly away, the compelling internal nature of the meaning of the phrase must lead us along and, with lifted wings, move us to act.
Third, good writing engages. To engage is to touch emotion that pleases, allures, rivets, or even horrifies. Engagement can incite terror or pleasure, rage or contentment. Whether in the smiling hail of a friend or lodged in the highway accident coercing the eyes to stay on the wreck, you and I are drawn to emotional engagement.
Fourth, good writing is powerful. Even in academic settings, a writer’s goal is to unleash the power of the word. Powerful writing takes breath from our lips, makes our heart race, and creates desire. The power of writing lies in our ability to choose single words as well as smoothing and stacking words into phrases eliciting powerful feelings.
Finally, good writing is clear. Clear writing gives understanding. Without following the phrase’s meaning, as displayed by the reader’s every thought walking in the very footsteps of the writer’s intention, the reader looses her way. In great writing, clarity reigns supreme.
To write is to do. By capturing the skills and practicing the art, writing becomes easier as we do, and do, and do. As Philip Roth says, writing is to “turn sentences around” and then to look “and turn it around again.” It’s in the turning that we find our writing becomes logical, moving, engaging, powerful, and clear.