What is great writing?

I’m bothered about the difference between “good” and “great” writing. Of course, there are lots of little rules for “good writing” and they are important, but what is “great writing? Is it just something we know when we see it; or at least we hope we do?  Or can we set out some criteria for “great writing”.  I don’t want to think that “great writing” is something intangible and simply unable to be defined. Maybe it is, but I don’t want to think that.  I need to know what I’m aiming for!

I don’t think any author can look at their own writing and say “this is great”.  Maybe for a moment and for a sentence or a paragraph, but usually the “high” subsides – at least for me. Equally I don’t think we can rely on what other people, like our readers, say.  Some people just love hyperbole – “this is brillant and hilarious!” and others are naturally reserved: “really good book. I thoroughly enjoyed it” (if you’re lucky)!

Equally I suspect that the “marketing professional’s take” on the writing process is just that.  Everyone thinks that “marketing” is critical and who am I to disagree. Recently I read that there are 12 rules for “irresistible content”  (if I understood them properly and I apologize if I’m doing them an injustice) : intriguing title; powerful opener, short sentences and paragraphs,  show your personality, use images, quotes, statistics, lists, effective stories and give the reader something to apply. The only thing omitted was the need for a “brilliant and attractive cover”.  Now all these may be useful tips for honing the writer’s craft and doing a good marketing job.  But to my mind, except for showing the reader your personality, they don’t have very much to do with “great writing”.

All I can say is: great writing has to make a connection with its readers; involve them; touch their hearts; make them laugh; make them cry; feel anxious and relieved. Make them feel they know the characters: care for them, identify with them, love them or hate them.  Make them want to read on and not put your book down. Make them want to know what happens next.   Help them discover something new or many things new or inspiring.  Leave them with  a feeling of enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure and even elation (if you’re lucky).  Maybe that’s not all!

But don’t ask me how to do all that – maybe that’s the mystery .  If I could do even half of it, I’d be happy ….. at least for the moment.

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One thought on “What is great writing?

  1. Pingback: Word waterboarding! Less may be more | Gary Heilbronn

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