Here’s what one editor says about good writing:
“During the decades that I served as an editor and publisher, what drew my attention to a piece of work more than any other factor was the use of apt particularities, the detail that differentiates one person from another, one act from another, one place from any other like it,” writes Sol Stein in Solutions for Writers: Practical Craft Techniques for Fiction and Non-fiction . “I’ve seen the use of particularity make an article on a mundane subject sing on the page. The nonfiction books I edited that became classics all had the quality of particularity.”
Good writers are “particular.” That is, they have a unique way of expressing themselves that goes beyond drawing readers in. They keep readers hooked, and make them beg for more. Some writers may be born with these writing skills, but most of us have to work at it. If you’re one of us — a writer who has to work at it — read Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. Learn!
Reading and rereading collections of professional writers’ essays is one of my favorite ways to see different types of writers in action, compare their styles, and improve my own writing skills. For instance, I just finished reading Afterbirth: Stories You Won’t Read in a Parenting Magazine, which is where these examples of good writing are taken from.
Examples of Good Writing From Published Writers
What makes good writing good? It depends on the reader, but there are certain universal truths to writing good stuff…
Good writing offers leads that startle, provoke, or make readers wonder
Here’s one of my favorite sentences in Afterbirth– a book that skewers the fantasies of parenting. “What can I tell you about my personal battle with breast cancer? Oh, wait a minute, that’s next week. This one’s about kids.” That was Matthew Weiner’s introduction to his essay, “Go Easy on the Old Man.” What makes this an example of good writing – and a brilliant introduction? It made me stop, think, and laugh. And I was curious about whether he did struggle with cancer, and how he makes a living as a writer. Above all, I wanted to keep reading.
Good writing shares anecdotes that are real – but light
“Cocaine was strictly for parties, to enhance my Tae Bo workout, to motivate me to clean my apartment, and occasionally to snort off a stripper’s ass during a threesome – whatever, it was the ‘90s,” writes Marta Ravin in “Baby Powder.” “Anyway, after I got married, I slowed down the drug use quite a bit except for the rare bender over Yom Kippur.” Why is this an example of good writing? Because it reveals the writer’s personal struggle with addiction without making readers want to weep. It lightens a heavy topic and endears us to the writer.
Good writing offers “just the facts, ma’am”
“We’re Having a Maybe!” contains a great example of writing in your own voice and style, as if you were telling a story to friends at dinner. This is Cindy Chupack on safari in Africa, in her bungalow: “Then I heard this thump thump thump thump thump, and I knew something wasn’t right, so I got up and looked into the living room, and there were seven monkeys, throwing food around, and they froze as if I had just walked in on a teenagers’ party. One was on a table by a big bowl of fruit, and it just stared at me, holding an apple, midbite.” What make this an example of good writing? Her long sentences mimic the breathless style of someone telling the story in person. She describes what she saw and heard without embellishing it with unnecessary details.
Good writing shares insight, change, self-revelation
The best, most interesting stories, articles, books, or even blog posts reveal a change in the writer. In “What Grown-Ups Do”, Brett Paesel describes how her son was being bullied at school, and how she confronted the bully: “I know what you did,” I say, bringing my hand up and jabbing two fingers in his direction like as hex sigh as I warn him ominously, “I am watching you.” What makes this an example of good writing is her ending: “Of course, the child I was protecting today wasn’t Spencer, who might have been able to handle it all by myself. The child I was protecting was me.” A writer’s revelation doesn’t have to go on for pages or chapters. Just a sentence will do; a sentence that reveals change and self-insight.
Do you think there’s a common denominator that ties these examples of good writing together? Is there something that all professional writers do to make their writing better? Comments welcome below…
If your dream is to become a professional writer, read How to Become a Professional Writer, and Earn Money Writing.
Don’t give up on your dreams, fellow scribes! You can write as good as any old professional writer can – you just need to keep practicing.