I’ve been thinking about what makes a writer great.
The obvious answer is that he or she produces clear, concise, and creative content using the best-chosen, grammatically correct language. (No small task!) Of course, the much bigger question centers on how this is done.
Here are seven traits of great writers.
1. You are an avid reader.
Great writers are voracious readers. Like musicians who listen to music to analyze it, writers analyze what they read. They pay attention to structure, technique, and word choice, and incorporate these techniques into their own writing.
2. You collect words.
Great writers collect words with the intent of using them later. I keep a running list of my favorite words in the notes feature on my cell phone. Here are a few of them.
3. You pay attention to language, no matter where it is: commercials, conversation among a group of girls at a shopping mall, Twitter posts, etc.
Inspiration can come from anywhere. For example, I listen to public television pledge drives because the hosts are masters at transitioning from one topic to the next: “We hope you enjoyed that encore presentation of Masterpiece Theatre. Help create your own masterpiece for generations to come by pledging your support for public television.”
4. You are familiar with more than one style guide and are flexible in adapting style guidelines to a given situation.
Most PR Daily readers live and breathe the Associated Press Stylebook. Our college teachers tested on it, and our bosses hold us to its standards every day. Still, it’s important for writers to be able to cook from more than one cookbook.
For example, I use the American Medical Association Manual of Style at my day job, the AP Stylebook for my blog, and several “house” style guides for freelance clients. Knowing all these different style guides has helped my writing and given me a greater understanding of why certain style rules are in place. I understand why some style guides advocate the use of the serial comma and others don’t.
5. You know when something is not working and where to go for help or inspiration.
We’ve all stared at a blank screen, unable to call up the words. All writers experience writer’s block, but great writers know what do about it. This can include taking frequent breaks, writing in a different location, breaking up the writing assignment, and separating the writing and editing process.
6. You value constructive feedback and know it’s necessary to improve your writing.
Good writers don’t bristle when another writer or editor corrects their work. They can put their egos aside, analyze the feedback, and use it to improve their writing. This trait is not easy to come by; it takes years of experience to cultivate.
7. Above all, you strive for clarity in your writing.
No matter whom you are writing for, your audience will appreciate language that is clear and concise. Avoid jargon; use simple words in place of complex ones; cut the clichés and buzzwords from your writing. Use the active voice and strong verbs.
PR Daily readers, what else makes a writer great? Any other traits to share?
Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor. Read more of her work at Impertinent Remarks.