Is there even such a thing as “good” writing?

That’s the thing people ask me when I tell them I’m studying Creative Writing. Heck, that’s what people ask Arts kids all the time. After all, writing is “subjective.” Just because someone didn’t like your story, doesn’t mean it’s bad. But of course, we then run into a problem: how do we “grade” these stories, in an academic setting? Or, how do we decide what to publish, in a professional setting?

Standards

During my first year of undergrad, I took an immensely helpful creative writing course that shed some light on this question. Now, of course, everyone has their own standards (as we can see by the polarizing effect of books like Twilight), so I will try to tread carefully in this post.

I don’t think there is such thing as “good” and “bad” writing. However, I do think there’s such a thing as “good” and “better” writing. The first thing I noticed when I showed my first piece of university writing to a TA, was that she used the words “strong” and “weak” instead of “good” and “bad.” As in: “this sentence is strong” not “this sentence is good.” In other words, there’s not a “wrong” way to say something, but there are good ways and better ways. A very simple example:

skyscraper

I feel on top of the world today.

Better: I have such a heightened mood today, it’s like I ran 80 stories up a skyscraper and had enough breath left over to scream at the top: “I LOVE YOU, WORLD!”

The first sentence isn’t wrong. It gets the point across: you’re happy. But it’s a cliche, and it’s not specific. I know you’re happy, so what? A thousand other people are in a similar mood right now; what makes me want to pay attention to your happiness especially? The second sentence, though, provides a unique perspective. Not only does it relay to me the fact that you’re ecstatic, it tells me the degree of your ectactic-ness, plus it shows little bit of your quirky character. Hence, the first sentence is good, and the second sentence is better. (Of course, how good this sentence is is debatable, seeing as I made it up in 10 seconds and never went back).

The person most instrumental in judging your work as good or better will be your reader. Hey, some readers like cliches, and readers will be readers. But in general, I think there is a sort of minimal “standard” people can live by. Simply by sitting down with your piece and asking yourself: “is this really what I want to say? Have I addressed the point adequately?” should make your piece better.

blood sweat and tears

And slowing down and mulling things over will make a huge difference. I’ve been in workshop situations where someone (from another faculty obviously taking creative writing for the arts credit or whatever) turned in something they word-vomitted 2a.m. the night before. If you don’t work hard on something, if you don’t care about it, it shows.

So I guess my parting advice is: work hard. Don’t necessarily pursue academia’s definition of A+, but do pursue your definition of excellence. Then again, whose to say I have the right to give advice?

What is your definition of “good writing”? Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Picture credits

Skyscraper(Donaldytong), Girls gotta have standards , blood sweat and tears

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5 thoughts on “Is there even such a thing as “good” writing?

  1. Pingback: Asking people “Do you like my writing?” | breakfast with words

  2. ^Agreed with the statement about the zone.
    When you read ‘good writing’, does it make you feel like it’s good because it adheres to a single style in an effortless way that makes you feel as if you are really reading ‘something good’ for the first time? Like a blend of great content AND great wording so seamless you can’t pick it apart?
    So personally I’ve never trusted an A I got in creative writing if it didn’t feel great to me because whatever I put down wasn’t what I meant to say and if that’s considered good then they’re telling me to stop trying and say ‘bad’. What is academia’s A+? Structured, logically flowing essays? But is there an A+ standard for fiction? If there is, what is that?-no cliches, clarity of expression…? …perhaps writing is too broad to paint with one brush stroke; I’ve wrote my fair share of florid essays to the tune of A+s that really were terrible content wise.
    Good point about ‘bad’. Bad is a stage, more than description of quality (such as weak). It just needs work.
    This blogpost was a work of strong writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Seeing an “A” on my creative assignments doesn’t necessarily make me want to happy-dance. I satisfied one person; but does that really matter? Maybe for this semester’s GPA it does, but in the long run of things…hm, not really.

      What I do instead now when I share my work is ask the reader: “What does this piece make you think of” instead of “what do you think about this piece.” The latter question is just a clouded way of saying “Er, do you approve of my writing?” I’m more interested to see if the reader has gotten my message. If what they say in response to my piece is what I wanted the piece to say, then I consider the piece a success.

      Thanks, Wrider, for your support! I think I will extend this post with what I just said in this comment for a future post, as I think that’s an important point.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that there are a million types of good writing and a million types of people who will agree or disagree. In terms of my own writing, I write better when I am “in the zone”. I get in a certain mood and that’s when the best stuff comes out. I write at other times too, but I am never as satisfied with what I produce then as compared to when I am really raring to write.

    Like

    • I think I see what you mean. I’ve heard of many artists that produced their best material when they were depressed or euphoric. For me, I see myself more productive and more willing to work hard when I’m in a good mood. I guess taking advantage of these “zones” is a reliable technique to ensure good writing.

      Liked by 1 person

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