A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

What Good Writers Do

good writers

Remember these posters from elementary school? I used to believe that good writers did all these things and if a writer did all these things, they were good. Now I’m not so sure. Sometimes the best writers are the ones who break the rules. I suggest the following revisions to the elementary good writer rules.

What Good Writers Do. . .

1) They think about their topic. More often, they don’t know what they think about a certain topic, but they still write. Sometimes it’s by writing that you discover what you think.

2) They scribble. They doodle. They scratch out words. They make word maps. The write furiously fast so they don’t lose a runaway idea. They are rarely neat.

3) They pay more attention to drawing word pictures than they do to observing every single rule. They learn the rules to pass freshman grammar. They scrap the rules to create new stories, emotions, and settings.

4) Finger spaces made our handwriting neat and readable, but good writers know that neatness doesn’t count – at least not in the beginning. (See #2 above.)

5) They read it over and over. Then they change words, shift scenes, tighten phrasing, and correct mistakes. In the end, they scrap 75-80% of what they wrote and start again.

6) They ask, “How can I make sense of ___?” Then they write until they do.


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12 thoughts on “What Good Writers Do

  1. Love this post! Totally can relate to it. I was never a neat person (sometimes I can hardly read my own handwriting), thank god for keyboards & computers.

  2. Hah. I don’t remember the “write neatly” or “leave finger spaces” rules. I think I was always too busy writing to do those. I did get my low penmanship grades, but somehow it never once transferred to my writing grade. As an English teacher, I often told my students they needed to learn the rules first and THEN–and only then–could they break them. (And I’ve gone back several times in this simple comment to change or shift a word. Some habits stick with a person). –Wendy

  3. I want to see the doodles. You are a good writer so this must all be true!

  4. As a former college writing teacher, I love this! I would spend half my time teaching rules and then spend the remainder convincing them that the rules are just grammar – the real meat is in the process. I’m book marking this for if I decide to teach a class next semester!!

  5. Thanks for a fun post. I never considered myself a writer. I just write. But, after reading your post I’m wondering if I’m a writer after all.

  6. SO true. Amazing how some of those elementary school lessons can be applied to adult life with only slight modification. I still sing the School House Rock songs about conjunction junction. 😉

  7. I enjoyed reading this — classic advice!

  8. Loved this post, Jan. I’m with you, especially identify with your first point: don’t know what I think about something until I write about it.

  9. I’m struggling to break out of years of the writing rules and writing for a corporation – trying to color outside the lines and put in the doodles! Thanks for the advice.

  10. Love it so much I “liked” it, and tweeted it! – So true…if you wait for perfection, you’ll never do anything!

  11. I like this. I so often need to give myself permission to break the rules of neatness or ordered steps to craft a good story. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Pingback: Simply Jan – A Writing Year in Review « simplyjan

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