What makes for a good piece of writing? What does it take to move from OK to good to excellent? These are questions that I find myself asking frequently, whether in setting assignments, advising students in the process of writing them, or marking the end results.
Of course, like any college, at Redcliffe we have clearly defined grading criteria that we use when assessing pieces of work. But today I came across a succinct and very helpful summary by Ben Myers in a post entitled On writing: thirteen theses:
There are four kinds of writing: bad, mediocre, good, and great. The difference between bad writing and mediocre writing is discipline. The difference between mediocre writing and good writing is editing. The difference between good writing and great writing is miracle.
Myers emphasises perspiration over inspiration (or at least says that you can’t make the most of the latter without the former):
Writing and editing. T. S. Eliot once observed that good writers do not necessarily write better than others, but are better critics and editors. Good writers cull the overpopulated paragraphs of their work. Like a farmer protecting the livestock, the writer lovingly separates whatever is sickly and infirm – and then loads the gun.
The self has a tendency to leak and dribble. Left to itself, it loses all definition, becomes a shapeless puddle. Writing, like ritual, is a cast into which the self is poured. Writing is care of the self. ‘He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem’ (Milton). A book is a few seconds of inspiration plus a few years – or a lifetime – of discipline. You cannot have a campfire without the first spark, but the spark is useless without the slow labour of gathering wood, building the fire, and maintaining it when it begins to die.
My thanks to Alison Lo at LST who passed this on.