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  • Good writing
    by Richard Brown at 09:49 on 29 May 2003
    I'd be very interested to read responses to Sqwark's excellent piece on what constitutes good writing. What is the optimum way to decide the 'art vs craft' balance? Is Sqwark right that we should not try to ape successful authors but rather be true to ourselves? These and other fundamental questions will be of interest to anyone who has struggled to find the most judicious mix of inspiration and technique.

    For the uninitiated, entering 'sqwark' in the WW site search box will lead straight to Sqwark's piece entitled 'On Writing'.
  • Re: Good writing
    by Account Closed at 13:06 on 29 May 2003
    My comments have been noted.
  • Re: Good writing
    by olebut at 13:47 on 29 May 2003
    Now this is a topic isnt it what makes good writing

    firstly you have to define good writing is there indeed any bad writing.

    surely all writing is good some is just less acceptable than others based on commonly accepted conventions

    Good do we mean grammatically correct

    do we mean commercialy acceptable

    do we mean earth shatteringly different

    what do we mean by Good?

    Is my writing influenced by the fact that depsite some peoples conceptions I had a better than average standard of education. As a child I was allowed and indeed encouraged to read anything I wanted to, taken to museums , stately homes , plays and the cinema on a fairly regular basis. I was encouraged to speak when I had something to say and to keep quiet and listen when I didnt.

    so has my writing been influenced by my command of the language my general standard of education and life style of course it has


    if I had had a poorer life style would that have made my writing any better or worse who can tell.

    Do I trawl for new words No if i need a word I am not familiar with I look it up in a dictionary or thesaurus .

    Life emotion feelings and a will to write influence your writing and not the ability to recal the contents of a dictionary
  • Re: Good writing
    by Richard Brown at 16:57 on 30 May 2003
    Right on cue - big piece in the Guardian of 30th May about the relative merits of bonkbusters and worthy literature. Apparently, at the Hay on Wye festival, Jilly Cooper and Joanna Trollope weighed in against the literary establishment. Trollope spoke of 'grim lit' that 'makes you want to slash your wrists.' She said that the 142 novels she read as a judge for the Whitbread first novel prize were enough to put her off reading for life. I'm not a Cooper/Trollope fan myself but I must admit there's something in what they say. There are not a few Booker prize winning novels that I have failed to get through. It does feel sometimes as though there is a tight band of self-appointed worthies who do their best to determine what is 'good literature.' There seems to be an 'emperor's clothes' effect which inhibits some people from saying what they think about books which have been given the establishment seal of approval. All a matter of taste, of course, but amongst my many 'unreadables' are E. M. Forster, C.P Snow and, more recently, Salman Rushdie and Ben Okri. (I'm ducking behind the parapet as I post this piece).
  • Re: Good writing
    by tweed at 17:05 on 30 May 2003
    'It's the way I tell 'em' -Frank Carson.

  • Re: Good writing
    by olebut at 19:33 on 30 May 2003

    sadly this censorship by the good and gifted is prevalent in so many things these days and literature and art is definately subject to their meddling

    One wonders if Shakespeare , chaucer, dickens and the like would ever have been published if they had been alive to day
  • Re: Good writing
    by Nell at 21:23 on 24 June 2003
    An excellent article but one that seems to raise more questions than it answers.

    As a painter I think I can better express my feelings on the subject using art as an analogy.

    I believe that an artist should have integrity - that is he/she should be true to their own vision. This means not making art simply to make money (although we all have to live), but by expressing themselves truly and honestly.

    Now comes the problem. How can the viewer know when he/she looks at the work of art whether the artist has been true to him/herself? Should the judgement be based on aesthetic values, the emotion the work provokes or the popularity of the artist? Let's face it, art these days can be difficult to assess. Much of it has the flavour of the King's new clothes, and if it has been critically acclaimed by experts it takes courage to disagree.

    I believe the answer lies in study and the aquisition of mastery of one's craft - whatever that may be. Learn the disipline, become proficient - if not accomplished - in the traditions and skills and only then create the sort of work that can be impossible to analyse subjectively, if that is your truth.

    If you look at Van Gogh's and Picasso's early works you can see that they were suberb draughtsmen.

    I've recently finished reading Gertrude Stein's Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Her work was firstly ridiculed then acclaimed as taking writing into the twentieth century, and I was completely bemused by it. Now I'm wondering if all her writing was similar, and how history has judged it in retrospect.

    Having written all of the above however, I daresay I could think of a few now-famous artists from the last century who couldn't draw, but were marvellous colourists and created wonderful aesthetcally accessible paintings.

    But the geniuses among us are sadly few - the rest of us need to gain the skills that will reveal the truth of our vision.

    Good work will stand the test of time, although the artist or writer is not always around to see.

  • Re: Good writing
    by Becca at 22:23 on 24 June 2003
    I read Sqwark's piece. I'm always surprised that there is ever any question about imitating other writers, it's totally pointless, it sort of means you're not really interested in writing. Sqwark ends up in the right place for me, writing must be individual and unique to the writer. I think as well, it would be quite difficult to learn how to write from reading other writers' writing, the only way to learn writing is to be writing, constantly.
  • Re: Good writing
    by Account Closed at 09:24 on 25 June 2003
    All a matter of taste, of course, but amongst my many 'unreadables' are E. M. Forster, C.P Snow and, more recently, Salman Rushdie and Ben Okri. (I'm ducking behind the parapet as I post this piece).

    Well, I've only tried to read one Rushdie book. Fury. I couldn't bring myself to read past the first chapter. The writing style was just... too up itself.
  • Re: Good writing
    by Becca at 18:34 on 25 June 2003
    ben Okri was very indulgent, but there were not very many African writers about at the time so he came up front. So I didn't mind it for that reason, and did read the whole of it, but had an interest as well, having worked in Africa, or being about to, can't remember. But I know what you mean.
  • Re: Good writing
    by Hilary Custance at 00:01 on 26 June 2003
    Hmm, just read Sqwark's piece and the various comments here and there. Now thinking out loud.

    What I want from good writing is to be moved. I don't mind which of my senses is tickled, but at least one of them must be sufficiently beguiled to make me forget myself. The writing must be 'good' enough to make me forget that it is only words on a page that make me feel this way.

    I suppose we may each have to approach writing down a different path. I think that whether the route is via reading or experience or even bad writing matters less than the overriding desire to communicate using words.Doing it AND getting people to read it AND listening to what they say should eventually result in good writing.

    I read non-stop for 45 years of my life before I really started to try and write for others to read. The learning process has resulted in some loss of pleasure in reading (think just how fed up agents and publishers must get). Awareness of errors of 'style, as well as all the more obvious ones, now distracts me. This process is irreversible so I'd better learn to write well to make up for the loss.

    On the other hand ee cummings (and I know I have misquoted him before) said something like 'since feeling comes first who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you.' I think I go along with that in the final analysis.
  • Re: Good writing
    by Nell at 09:53 on 26 June 2003
    There seems to be a problem with double posting on this thread, first mine, then Becca's, now Hilary's.

    Returning to Becca's post, I agree that it's a waste of time trying to emulate another writer's style. I believe however, that reading widely is vital to hone one's skills in the recognition of good writing, just as looking at paintings over the course of many years will 'open the eyes'and even a little good art instruction will enable the artist to 'see with new eyes'. (apologies for the cliches.)

    I finished The Famished Road with difficulty, but strangely it inspired a novel,(unpublished) The Golden Web, the first chapter of which I've recently uploaded to the novel writers group, so I have fond feelings for Ben Okri, although I've never read another of his books.

    Highly acclaimed books that fell from my hand include The First Circle,Alexander Solzhenitszyn, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust and One Hundred Years of Solitude.
    I do make a conscious effort to improve my mind by reading, but sometimes it's awfully hard work.

    Returning to Becca's original question about ageism, I don't think adjusting her reading mode for different ages of author falls into this catagory. Any sort of 'ism' to my way of thinking involves some sort of negative discrimination, and after all we have to make adjustments in the way we interact with others every day.

  • Re: Good writing
    by Nell at 08:21 on 27 June 2003
    I was wondering how much trust one should place in pure instinct. I get carried away sometimes and the writing seems to flow wondrously, then when I return a day later parts that had pleased me with their imagery/originality jump out as purple prose.

    It can be painful to excise these sections, but personally I feel that anything that causes one to either stop or quickly skim should be carefully revised, and one's instincts trusted.
  • Re: Good writing
    by Nell at 08:43 on 27 June 2003
    I seem to have my threads crossed. The post above mentioning Becca's question on ageism should have been posted on that forum. (Ageism.)
  • Re: Good writing
    by Anj at 16:05 on 19 September 2003
    Months too late, but I've only just read this thread.

    Nell - "I do make a conscious effort to improve my mind by reading, but sometimes it's awfully hard work."

    To me, that sentence encapsulates what is and isn't good writiing - if it's "awfully hard work" it's crap. There's nothing profound that can't be said simply. I can't bear literary novels (and I speak as a woman whose degree was in English literature (and politics)) where authors use their characters as a means to impress us with their sage reflections on the human condition. Especially the ones that use difficult language to impress further.

    Personally, after a young adulthood spent wading through portentous twaddle, I now immediately return to the library anything that's the least bit difficult to read. For me, the real artists are those who truly want to communicate in language anyone can understand - dare I say I rather admire American authors for this eg anything by Raymond Carver, or "I Know This Much is True" by Wally Lamb or "Amy & Isabelle" by Elizabeth Stroud.

    Coming back to the original point, I've been reading endlessly to learn how to write. The above authors taught me to be simple, but Sqwark's piece made me wonder if it was a mistake to study the great artists too much - will consider further.

    On John Irving ("A Prayer for Owen Meany" would also make my list), what Sqwark says reminds me of something my A level English teacher said to me. I remember becoming frustrated by having to analyse Keat's poetry, and a particular occasion when the teacher said something along the lines of "see how this word is reflected in this word 3 lines later" and saying with teenage derision "I really can't believe that when Keats was writing this he thought "Oh, I'll reflect that word in another one 3 lines later"" - to which my teacher responded "Probably not - and that's where the genius comes in".

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