Ahh, the million dollar question! What we strive for, work at, sweat about. What we lose sleep over. I think this graphic sums it up well.
Can it really be that easy? Yes, I think so. Red Smith said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter, cut open a vein, and bleed.” Stephen King, who I quote often in my posts said, “But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”
I think that’s what the graphic is telling us. The writer has to not only bleed (Smith) and remember the scars (King), though. The writer has to write what is important to him or her. The scary stuff. The things that keep you up at night. Because if the writer does that, the reader will feel it.
I knew I was onto something early in 2014 when one reader screamed at me in a text using all caps and multiple exclamation points after reading Taking Lives, Prequel to the Lives Trilogy: “That brown-haired boy better not be Brett!” And then two days ago, another message from a different reader after reading my newest, Fan Mail: “I held them back (tears) but they were absolutely there. Billy’s reaction to Jeremy’s ‘heart thingy”; Tony’s dad’s reaction to finding him with a guy; Brian … sweet, sweet Brian and how terribly Jeremy handled things with him …”
Those, and some others in each of the books, were difficult passages for me to write. Honestly, I wept as I wrote them and then again when I did the editing. If the writer feels it, the reader will too. It is bound to happen.
So, what is good writing? Hell, I don’t know, but I know it when I sit down in front of the laptop and it rolls off my fingertips. I know it when I read it- my work, other author’s work. You just know. Much like listening to a song that grabs you: the melody, the lyrics, the voice. You feel it in your gut. You feel it in your heart. You feel it in your soul.
It takes practice. It’s word after word after word. It’s sweat and toil and persistence. It’s loving the craft and working at it. It’s willing yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it. It’s reading other’s work- reading constantly.
My ninth book, Fan Mail, is cleaner than my first book, Taking Lives. It has to be, because if I didn’t grow, didn’t learn, didn’t understand the arc of my characters and the events in their lives, I would be standing still. And if you’re standing still, your writing will suck! There has to be improvement. I mean, a guy going to the gym who works on his body every day or every other day, the gal who begins walking and then running, will improve. The same is true with writing.
When I began writing, I had no idea where it would lead. Did I have dreams of riches and talk shows? Oh yeah! But unless your last name is Patterson, Baldacci, King, Deaver, or Connelly, you might have to have day job, one that pays the bills.
I write because I like to tell stories. I write because I love my characters and I love dreaming up challenges for them, situations and circumstances that anyone can identify with. Truly, I had no idea I would win awards. I kept getting rejection letters: agents, publishing houses. Enough rejections to wallpaper a room in my house.
But then, an agent believed in me. A publisher, no longer in existence, believed in me. And then, another publisher, Black Rose Writing, believed in me- so much so, they republished my first four books and every book since then.
And then, people began to notice. At first, friends and family. Then, others, not only in the United States, but in other countries. And I began to win awards.
Humbling, really. Satisfying, to be sure. But these awards keep me hungry. They drive me to be better, to write stronger and more meaningful stories that I love, knowing that if I love them, there will be someone out there who might love them, too.
So, what is good writing? I will repeat, hell, I don’t know. But I know when I read it, just like you know when you read it. It brings a smile to your face, a tear to your eye, and sometimes it rips your heart and soul from your body. The tuning fork becomes perfect in its pitch. That might be good writing.
2 thoughts on “What is Good Writing?”
A wonderful post that speaks the truth, Joe. All writers should strive to grow with each book. The learning never ends.
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Thank you, Teri! I appreciate it!
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