Writing is not easy. And yet, in this day and age of social media, mobile telephony, email, and various other forums, it just seems as though everyone is writing something. Someone nonchalantly types a text message on their cellphone, and suddenly, they are a writer because the text has been forwarded to everyone in their town. Another updates their Facebook page, and this statement with dodgy syntax garners 100,000 ‘likes’ from across the globe. A tweet becomes a hash tag, and these writers become instant celebrities.
But there’s a world of difference between writing and good writing. When regular writing is juxtaposed with good writing, it is almost as distinct as listening to someone who speaks your language properly, and another that butchers it to pieces. And yes: One does not always have to be a good writer to express himself or herself, or achieve an overall objective. Nonetheless, much must be said about good writing, and one ought to know that there are four keys to ascending to the standard of good writers of prose or poetry.
The first key to good writing is audacity: You must be willing to subject yourself to torture; to criticism, redacting; some will tell you to try your hand at another trade. And in the process, you may even watch pedestrian writers become wildly famous. If you combine this sheer, bloody misery with audacity, and then put in the hard work required to accept the kind of feedback that improves your writing, you have the foundations of a good writer.
Secondly, you must be a ferocious reader. And here, no writer is too small to be read. Everything from obituaries, the New York Times editorial, and to Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is fair game. This disparity may allow you leeway to adopt styles and expressions for your own use in the future. Invariably, while we may recognize good writing because of alliteration, allusions, hyperbole and the occasional oxymoron, there are really no rules to writing itself. No writing style is paramount to the other: People enjoy the nonchalant way F. Kafka tells his story in The Trial just as much as they are enthralled by the pugnacious detail of Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.
Thirdly, just like you will find in minimalistic architecture (or in talking to the police without your lawyer), less is usually so much more in writing. The only ones impressed by big, superfluous words are those who welcome Obi Okonkwo home in Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease. Besides, writers are not in the business of intentionally impressing anyone. Their objective is to answer questions, to tell stories and to be a cypher for a specific or even unspecific message. If you set out to impress people with your grasp of the facts, or your ability to string words together in a paragraph and grasp of analysis, you may never be as good a writer as the world requires you to be.
Lastly, whether you intend to write a novel or provide copy to a magazine advert, you do not matter. You are just the vessel. The person or groups of people that matter are those that consume your book. What do you want to say to them? What is your message? How will it impact their lives? And again, you must go back to the first key. You must be brave enough to be humble. Give the people what they want, and they will give you your due. Just ask any of those texters, sexters and twitters.