The more you write, the more feedback you get about your writing. This feedback is essential for spotting out the weaknesses in one's writing. It often turns out to be less smooth and clear than it seemed while the writer was writing it. A writer's ability to spot these weaknesses is enabled, of course, by reading a lot of bad writing. The more bad writing a writer reads, the better she gets at editing. However, the novice writer cannot spend too much time trying to avoid these mistakes on the first draft.
The writers who are able to strike the balance between pure creative expression and critical evaluation are what we call good writers. When a writer has written enough good sentences and has organized enough ideas, the principles of style and organization are instilled in their DNA. Every word the writer composes thereafter is shaped by these habits and no longer has to pass through the filter of dos and don'ts. This is the point when the writer has developed her "voice."
The act of habituated writing may even change the way a person forms thoughts. Writing a lot helps a person organize their thoughts into something that might make sense on paper. Most good writers and almost all great writers have their own distinct style, their own voice. The style is the result, as well as the proof, of their proficiency in the craft of writing. Anybody that has done something enough will develop their habits and idiosyncrasies.
Counterargument: Writing is Merely Thinking in Written Form
Some will argue that being a good thinker is sufficient to make one a good writer. These people hold that writing is just thinking on paper and that anybody who can think clearly can write clearly. The fact that many good thinkers are also good writers appears to provide support for this position. After all, good thinkers who do not write well are rarely recognized as good thinkers because they cannot demonstrate the quality of their thought.
This view is also problematic for more fundamental reasons that have to do with the nature of thoughts as compared with words. Thoughts are very slippery compared to words. It is difficult and perhaps impossible to translate a shapeless, transient thought, however "clear," into the form of a word without leaving out some dimension of the thought. We can see words, but we cannot see thoughts. Therefore, there is no way for us to know if the word is an adequate representation of the thought.
Practice in the Act of Translating Thoughts into Written Words
For the novice writer, composing written sentences is not second nature. It is not, as some claim, like talking on paper. Thoughts often manifest as a voice in our heads, but the contents of these thoughts rarely come in paragraph form. Thinking is a solitary activity. Thoughts are generated for our consumption alone and they are delivered in our own unique shorthand. Furthermore, thoughts arise from naked self-interest and urgency, our mind's insistence that we attend to something now. Most people, excluding saints, would be hesitant to have their thoughts committed to paper as they arise in the mind.
Writing, unlike thought, is social activity. It is motivated by a desire to communicate, to make oneself understood. Many times, it is grounded in the urge to connect with people. Most good writers, in fact, are social in the sense that they like people and find them interesting in some sense. It is only such people who would be willing to articulate their thoughts in a way that is easy for others to understand, to find the balance between uninhibited expression and the modification of this expression.
Understanding the Function of Words: Symbols and Signposts
A word, the writer's medium, is only a symbol which we use to represent reality. The words themselves have no intrinsic meaning or reality. They are merely symbols or stand-ins for reality. As the modern spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle observed, "A word is only a signpost, which points beyond itself." What the word points to is a reality, or a certain aspect of a reality, which we typically call an idea.
By constantly writing, preferably about a broad range of ideas, a writer learns how to articulate ideas through the selection and arrangement of symbols. The practice a writer gets creating these symbols, these signposts, are particularly useful when trying to express complex, rarified, or misunderstood ideas. Though no writer can express an idea perfectly, but they can express them more clearly than they have been. These are the feats which readers appreciate good writers for.
Writers rely on many devices to help point readers to an idea. Sometimes, writers must resort to analogy, by using similes. Sometimes, they rely on imagery, through the use of metaphors. Unfortunately, a good simile or metaphor is never germane to the idea itself. It must be invented. The skillful invention of these devices requires practice if a writer is do it effectively and artfully.
The fact that words are mere symbols or signposts, empty of intrinsic meaning, means that no one word or arrangement of words can ever be the perfect expression of an idea. This is what creates infinite possibilities for the expression of an idea. Readers, however, prefer the writer who can express an idea most simply and most elegantly. It is this skill that a writer can always improve at, yet never perfect.
KING, S. (2000). On writing: A memoir of the craft. New York: Scribner.
PACK, R., & PARINI, J. (1991). Writers on writing. Hanover, Middlebury College Press, University Press of New England.
LEONARD, E., & CIARDIELLO, J. (2010). Elmore Leonard's 10 rules of writing. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.