Beyond the Basics of Good Writing By Angela Meredith

We’re all familiar with the basic elements of good writing: focus, organization, well-developed ideas, clarity, and good grammar. To take writing to the next level, beyond the fundamentals, let’s look at process, style, and technique.

girl writing at desk
When considering process we must first ask the question, how do I write?

When considering process we must first ask the question, how do I write? By asking this question we begin to think about our writing process. Some of us map our thoughts with an outline while others dive right in, trusting that the piece will flow as it should. We may write from our body by feeling the story or poem unfold, or we may write from our minds, thinking our way through every step. Process is always there in some shape or form.
Annie Dillard says in her book The Writing Life, “Process is nothing; erase your tracks.” While writing teachers often say, “Writing is a process, not a product.” Novelist Robert Olen Butler in his book From Where You Dream asserts that great writing comes from our white-hot center—the deep emotional, sensual, metaphysical core—and that this is where our writing must spring from in order to ring true.
It’s my experience that strong writing demonstrates an allegiance to both ends of the process spectrum; it originates from the writer’s white-hot center, and is therefore imprinted with authenticity , yet it is also intellectually vetted and well supported through consistent style and, when needed, solid research.

sketch of woman head
Ultimately the writer creates style through his or her choices, so choose wisely.

Each of us has a writing style, whether we’ve consciously created it or not. Developing style with intentional choices helps writers avoid unknowingly copying someone else’s style or being bland. Consider word choices, sentence structures, title configurations, and overall tone and you’re likely to cultivate an identifiable style. Sure, you may be similar in style to other writers, and that’s okay
You may find that your style is inherent; it’s simply how you express yourself without trying to come across in any particular way, and this is a great starting point. Developing your style from here is much like enhancing your natural beauty (and you are beautiful, by the way), yet in order to develop something we must first recognize that it’s there. So take time to consider your writing style. What writer do you most admire? Is your style similar, and how is it different? Is there something about your style that you’d like to change? Something that would feel more “you”?
Style is often developed to suit an audience, and this is a great instinct. For example, you’re running late for work and there are two people you need to tell. First, is your rather strict boss, and second is a friendly co-worker; you’re formal with your boss, and then casually deliver the news to your friend. What’s true in verbal communication is also true for writing. We want our style to be appropriate for and appealing to our audience. Ultimately the writer creates style through his or her choices, so choose wisely.

Another way to create style is to utilize writing techniques

Another way to create style is to utilize writing techniques such as figurative language, rhythm, repetition, and other tools that add range and depth to writing. Using metaphors and similes connect the themes of your writing to larger contexts, increasing the layered effect that often distinguishes good writing from the rest. Having a good ear for language is helpful in creating a natural rhythm in your writing. Reading poetry aloud is a great way to learn the musicality of our language. It may not be a rhythm you can dance to, but there’s a pattern of sound nonetheless. Take some time to listen for it and see if your writing begins to flow with unexpected alliteration and assonance.
Repetition is a tricky technique because it’s also a common mistake for beginning writers. So how can it be used to add meaning and sophistication to writing? I learned the power of repetition in an undergrad literary course. We were reading Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and had come to a part where she repeats the word “genius” numerous times in the span of a few paragraphs. She used it enough times to indicate an obvious significance. The teacher asked the class what we thought the meaning was, and we sat there for a few moments scratching our heads. Then it occurred to me that repeating “genius” took the power out of the word. If everyone and everything is genius, then what’s the big deal? Bingo! That’s how repetition can be used artistically, and there are other ways to use it to hammer in a point. Try it yourself and see what happens.

It’s difficult to summarize what makes writing good. As I close this post I realize there are more elements, aspects, and ideas that are the building blocks to good writing, but for now I leave you with this. I hope it’s helpful, and that perhaps it inspires you to create your own synopsis of good writing. What would you add? What stands out as essential? We’d love to hear from you, so please share your thoughts with a comment.

Byline: Angela Meredith,

Thanks Angela! What “aha” moments did you glean from Angela writing tips? Feel free to weigh in.

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