Thomas Mann on what makes a good writer

What Makes a Good Writer

Someone who has a flair for worded expression can be a good writer. Someone who doesn't think of writing as a chore can be a good writer. Someone who writes like a natural can be a good writer. So, let us really find out what makes a good writer.
Of all the bizarrely relative things in this big world, good writing is something that is undoubtedly that - pretty, darn relative. Let's talk War and Peace for instance. Not disputing its classic status for a nanosecond, you've got to be honest and admit that it may not rank that great in all minds as a page-turner.

Then there are some of us who are of the opinion that being a page-turner does not qualify a piece of writing to be considered "good".

So there you have it. Not for nothing is it said that one man's meat is another man's poison. We've barely skimmed the concept of good writing, and have encountered conflict already. Deciding what makes a good writer ain't gonna be a cakewalk for sure.

Which is why we've sought out the opinions of some of the greatest writers to have wielded the pen, and this is what they have to say on the topic at hand.

Here we go...

7 Great Writers on What it Takes to be a Good Writer

1. "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."
― Robert Frost
Feelings and emotions are the hallmark of all living beings, be it a dolphin, or a person. Writing pretty much revolves around the same thing, which is emotion. Every person who has not spent his entire life in an isolated cave has a story to tell. But if it was just that, we'd all be writers, wouldn't we?

Writers, above everything else, need to be extra perceptive. To be able to move someone with your words, you must first be moved by them. Only then can you expect your writing to strike a chord with someone.

2. Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."
― Kurt Vonnegut
Simplicity, an unhindered simplicity in the train of thought is always welcome. One really doubts if Kurt Vonnegut had a personal score to settle with semicolons. Therefore, we'll assume it to be his peculiar way of telling us to keep things simple. Here's an example.

Semicolons say that you've (probably) exhausted the commas, and yet haven't finished what you have to say, so it really means that you are quite confused about it in your own mind, and there is a distinct possibility that you may be rambling, and it is at this point that your reader may be frustrated, bored, or annoyed, especially if you've kept doing this throughout your writing, which can only mean that you aren't very good at writing; in fact, you suck.
Good writers keep it crisp and concise.

3. "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
― Thomas Mann
Yes, you did read that right. It is always said that a good writer is a "natural", and is someone who can write effortlessly. A real writer, however, will tell you that it is the exact opposite. A good writer endlessly seeks perfection in his words, and doesn't rest until they mirror the thoughts nesting in the deepest recesses of his brain. This quest is arduous, and writers experience days when writing seems nothing but loathsome. But they also brave through phases like these only to emerge with what can be termed as a perfectly acceptable piece of writing.

4. "Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's."
― Stephen King
For a piece of writing to qualify as readable, it needs to posses this basic quality - a good piece of writing has got to be engaging. Leaving the reader spellbound and fascinated can be a bonus, but before it comes to that, it simply needs to hold the reader's attention. And when we mention attention, it is assumed that the attention is positive.

The web of words is spun in the writer's mind, but it needs to be effective (and engaging) enough to trap the reader ever so subtly that it goes unnoticed. Within a heartbeat, the reader is enslaved. In a good way, of course.

5. "Easy reading is damn hard writing."
― Nathaniel Hawthorne
Isn't it ironic? Writers may often make the mistake of going that extra mile to ensure that their writing sounds highbrow and esoteric. Recondite, even. With their noses in the thesaurus, they bend backwards to make it abstruse and perplexing. Are you a little confused as to where this is going? Well, the point that's being made here is that complex words don't make a good writer, enjoyable writing does. Also, entwined plot lines have the potential to be interesting, only if they aren't muddled up in confusion. As an aspiring or an introspective writer, you need to double your efforts not to complicate things but to simplify them.

6. "The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies."
― Ray Bradbury
If there is one thing most readers find loathsome, it's got to be pretentiousness. Mind you, even a first timer can spot this quality from a mile across. Overdone writing is to no one's taste, and is eventually spit out for all the right reasons. Writers who only aim to sensationalize, resort to crassness and cheap gimmicks to lure readers, and end up selling their work in high numbers. So it ain't all bad, of course. But you know for a fact that your writing stays in your name for as long as you live, and even beyond. So, you need to take the call on that.

7. "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."
― Mark Twain
And finally, good writers never aim to please each and every one in the world. American writer and humorist Mark Twain had a rather well-chronicled score to settle with some writer by the name of Jane Austen, who lived across the pond. Twain criticized Austen's works with the intensity of a schoolboy crushing on her. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice... does imply that several attempts were indeed made to read it, suggesting that there was more to this saga of transatlantic hatred. Jane Austen remains a popular and widely loved writer, and so does the illustrious Mr. Twain himself. Good writers have to leave their inhibitions behind when they write, because for every Jane Austen, there will always be a certain Mark Twain.

Much as we'd like to ramble on about what makes a good writer, there will be scores of those who defy every point mentioned here, and still go on to charm us with their words. A beautiful piece of prose lies in the eyes of the beholder, after all.
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