What Makes Great Writing?

Wow, this is GREAT!
Wow, this is GREAT!

Writing goes from good to great when the author becomes aware.

When I first started writing, I was able to write in an interesting and engaging way that readers enjoyed. It was partly my natural inclination for humor – being funny involves not letting the subject matter get boring. (I didn’t say I was always successful at that.)

I was very young, so the topics were not super weighty to begin with. When I put out my first couple of books, the writing was good, the stories were engaging, but it lacked a few things. Better editing, better deleting, and some polish, for sure.

Somebody might be a better natural writer than me, but shame on me if they outwork me.
Somebody might be a better natural writer than me, but shame on me if they outwork me.

My latest stuff has been told to me — by people who’ve been reading my stuff for a while now — as much improved. (It wasn’t a backhanded insult, either!)

The difference is. I listened to and embraced the input from writers who were better than me. That’s what the meme “read more, write more” is all about.

They weren’t better storytellers. Some were simply better at different aspects of a story than I was. And by embracing what they brought to the table, figuring out how to understand what they were trying to tell me and then trying to express it in my subsequent writing, my work improved. (I would say it improved dramatically. Sorry, early book buyers!) Some of the things they asked me to do were things that they knew a reader might not even perceive as being a problem, but when you get done with the book and you’re trying to decide if it was great or good or whatever, some of those little differences make ALL the difference.

Yeah, what he said!
Yeah, what he said!

So I listen, I learn, I practice, and I employ. It’s hard work because we let it be hard work. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

I don’t want to diminish the capacity of luck in the equation, either. I’ve talked about that. It’s a factor, plain and simple. (So are connections. If you have them, use them. And fuck you for having them.) But at the end of the day, if you write from your heart, and if you write true and honest, and if you write something compelling and interesting, you can be proud of what you did no matter what its “success” is.

On the other hand, none of us would turn away being named a New York Times bestselling author, would we? So there’s that.

But I believe it starts with the awakening, the awareness. Til then, it can never be great.

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Your humble host.
Your humble host.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE.

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12 thoughts on “What Makes Great Writing?

  1. You are so right. Often, we tend to write to please people, imagining what they MIGHT like or would like. We unconsciously model ourselves on the writers we have liked in the past and though we may not sound the same, we try to incorporate elements from those writings into our own. Until one day, CLICK, something happens and we are on our own. So many of us struggle with the concept of style, being unique, to be lofty or popular or intelligent. But, in the end, it is what remains as our final test- whether we can be transformed into writers or not but with our own style. Why should it matter if it is imitation in the beginning or if it is slapstick or nonsensical or even trite? But, in the end, if that click of awareness does not come, if the style languishes as a mere imitation of some other person’s genius and if there is nothing changed at all within ourselves, then it is time to bid goodbye to writing. That is probably also when a writer becomes utterly selfish, detached and cold – “To hell with the world. I am going to write this whether they appreciate it or not. If they don’t like it, phooeey. If they do, then they are doing me no favour either. So I am writing now.. and the world be damned”. But you know what, Dan? That takes courage, takes times for that fearlessness to manifest itself. That seems to me to be the path to being a writer, nothing else – the courage of conviction to write regardless of the worry that critics might pan it, that friends might critique it too harshly, that the world might just ignore us.
    Thank you for this wonderful post, it reaffirms my belief in quite a few things.. (And oh yes, fuck them for their connections.. hahaha.. and it makes me wince to say that.. but hey, what the heck.. fuck them)…

    Liked by 2 people

      • Haha, what can I say.. I am sort of.. like that little kid who is unsure of saying those “bad words” and yet cocky enough to blurt out at times and then feel ashamed I had to use the words..

        Nah, too old for all that.. but it makes me slightly queasy to use them in public, these days.. oh, trust me, I used to swear a blue streak in my days.. still do, I suppose, but only within my own hearing 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe you had the “voice” but worked on your “craft.” It is great to continue growing and practicing, Dan. There are other famous authors who let their quality diminisg. My good friend and I ate dinner on Friday and listed some of our favorite authors who don’t have the same level if details, are more “skeleton” writers. We miss the elegant descriptions!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like to think so. Some stories don’t need the detail, others do. I wrote a story that was sparse in detail on purpose so whenever I slowed down and really went into a scene in high def, readers who were paying attention noticed. “Hey, he’s getting into all this for a reason; maybe it’s important.” The ones who didn’t pay attention wanted the “slow” scenes cut down. To me, the contrast made the story, and the detailed scenes are some of my favorites.

      Like

    • Thank you, Kristina. If somebody had said it was a lifetime of cheesecake, it would have been easier for me to… well , no; that wouldn’t have worked, either. The hard things we have to learn are only hard at the beginning. They get easier each time we do them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post Dan. It’s true many writers write for a particular audience, while others (like you and I) write what we like to write and eventually find an audience who enjoys our style of writing. I was told by a prominent author once, on my first book, that he enjoyed my voice through the book. I had received reviews with the same comment, so I was so glad to have that aspect appreciated in my writing. Some say it takes them awhile to find their voice, but perhaps it comes more natural with nonfiction writing? As for improvements – there is certainly always room for that, and we certainly learn more as we grow. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I bet nonfiction authors develop it faster. One of my critique partners said she’d know my voice in writing if it she were given a blind submission. On occasion she’ll say “This section has a ‘Savvy Stories’ feel to it.” It’s like a gear I can slip in and out of, so I usually give it to one or two characters in fiction and enjoy the interplay.

    Liked by 1 person

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