Turning competent writers into good writers

“…no matter how much I want to encourage the man or woman trying for the first time to write seriously,” says Stephen King in his book On Writing, “I can’t lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers. Some are on-staff at your local newspaper, usually reviewing little-theater productions or pontificating about the local sports teams. Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive-voice constructions behind them. Others hold forth at open-mike poetry slams, wearing black turtlenecks and wrinkled khaki pants; they spout doggerel about “my angry lesbian breasts” and “the tilted alley where I cried my mother’s name.”

All areas of human talent and creativity can take the form of a pyramid. It is the same for writers. At the bottom of the pyramid are the bad writers. Above them – a smaller group – are the competent ones. These are often your better local newspaper writers, bloggers that you follow, the paperback authors that you pick up at the local bookstore. Above them, on the next tier, are the really good writers. This is an even smaller group. The good writers are the ones that, once you have picked up one of their books or read one of their articles, make you go in search of more.

At the top of the pyramid you find a different breed altogether. The Tolkiens, the Rushdies, the Faulkners. Again, let me allow Stephen King (one of the geniuses though he’d never admit it) to describe this very small subset in the writing community:

“They are geniuses, divine accidents, gifted in a way which is beyond our ability to understand, let alone attain. … most geniuses aren’t able to understand themselves, and many of them lead miserable lives, realizing (at least on some level) that they are nothing but fortunate freaks, the intellectual version of runway models who just happen to be born with the right cheekbones and with breasts which fit the image of an age.”

The sad reality is this: it is near impossible to turn a bad writer into a competent one. I have had work come across my desk that I have had to send back with a note saying, as diplomatically as possible, that “it is not an editor you need at this point, but a coach.”

In the same way, it is near impossible to turn to a good writer into a genius. It is possible, though, through dedication and hard work, to turn a competent writer into a good one. There are things that must be mastered (such as the fundamentals of grammar, vocabulary, and elements of style). There are tools you must employ, and habits you must acquire.

Over the next two weeks I am going to introduce you to – and guide you through – some of these tools. While there are many, I have isolated just ten which I believe will be an excellent jumping-off-from point. These are the tools that, when employed, will give you – the competent writer – the stuff you need to take your art to the next level, and challenge for a spot on the “good writers” tier of the pyramid.

You will find a series of videos on my YouTube channel, going into these ten tools or concepts. I will briefly discuss each one. You can, also contact me at adrian@apartridge.co.za, and we can book an online consulting session to look at your work, and see where you are doing great and where you can improve.

The first video is here, and good luck on this exciting journey!