For me, there is never a short answer!
A fellow blogger—I trust I can be called a fellow blogger—asked in a recent post about blog writers:
“Is there a je ne sai quoi, a special something that separates the women from the girls and the men from the boys when it comes to writing?
“Talent ? Skill ? Practice ? Passion ? Enthusiasm ? Creativity ? Empathy ? Intelligence ? Rich parents ? Chocolate ?
“Some of you aren’t writers, some are wannabe writers and some of you are writers – what do you think it is that makes a writer a special snowflake, versus the rest of us?” (Don Charisma, January 8, 2015)
This is my view of writers, in response to Don Charisma’s question. (http://doncharisma.org/2015/01/08/theres-writers-and-then-theres-writers/)
To me, there are two major groups of writers: those who write for themselves (and a very tight circle of like-minded readers) and those who write for (or want to write for) a broader audience.
Talent: I do believe there are those writers who are innately talented. They possess the ability to convert observations and experiences into “word pictures” as easily (and more clearly) as most people talk. These talented writers—the “snowflakes”— are like all-star athletes that possess an innate talent that they finely hone through practice. There are many more of us, who possess the desire, the knowledge of the required skills, and are willing to practice, and work at communicating whom I call journeyman writers. We may not win Pulitzer prizes, but our readers understand (and continue to read) our work.
Practice and Skill: I once read somewhere that the brain (which we use for writing) is like a muscle; it needs to be exercised through learning and practice. Included here is an appreciation for, and knowledge of, grammar and vocabulary—the building blocks of intelligent communication. As a technical writer and editor for many years, I can attest that accurate use of grammar and vocabulary are essential to achieving a shared understanding between writer and reader.
Passion and Enthusiasm: I believe there are those who are “driven” to write—for many different reasons. There are those of us who enjoy writing because we enjoy learning and writing gives us a reason to research and share what we have learned. Others just want to tell an interesting story. Passion and enthusiasm are needed to actually sit down and do the work of writing, for whatever reason.
Creativity: This is certainly a useful talent. For me, the creative element comes out in writing headlines and lead paragraphs–and this continues to be a challenge for me. That is not the same level of creativity that it takes to successfully write fantasy or fiction—that level of creativity eludes me.
Empathy: I had not really thought about “empathy,” however, the more I do, the more important I think it may be. At the very basic level, it simply means understanding what the reader cares about whether it is a new widget or technology, or probes more deeply into exploring the human condition. Yes, writers must care about their readers.
Intelligence: It certainly helps! But I have read posts that did not seem to be backed up by much intelligence!
Rich Parents: I would not know, but pass the chocolate.
I am what I would call a journeyman writer. I understand my tools. The tools are grammar, research, clarity of message, reader consideration (empathy), and editing proficiency.
I spent nearly 30 years as a “professional” writer and communicator in a technical writing environment. The objective was to explain or describe a process, technology or theory in terms that intelligent professionally interested readers could grasp quickly and easily to be able to make a decision regarding funding a project. As the “communicator” for my organization, I did not have to fully understand the details of the technology—we had engineers and scientists for that. I had to translate the concepts into clear language that not only described the technology but also why it should be useful the reader.
Incidentally, “self editing” is my single greatest personal writing challenge!
Writer’s Side Note: I firmly believe that the most important academic courses at all levels of education are communications courses. Regardless of profession—pilot, pipe fitter, engineer, research scientist, writer, teacher, etc.—each of us will find that life is much easier (and maybe profitable) if we communicate clearly and accurately with management, coworkers, employees, customers, physicians, friends, and family.
Don Charisma (blogger) posed a question about what it takes to make a good writer, and also observed there are those who “aren’t writers,” some are “wannabe writers,” and some are actually “writers.” He refers to the cream of the writers (my words) as “snowflakes” (his word). About Writers In Response to Don Charisma is my meager response to his query.
About Writers In Response to Don Charisma is my meager response to Don Charisma’s query on what makes a good writer.