Patricia Iyer

By Patricia Iyer

How a Competent Writer Can Become Good

How a Competent Writer Can Become Good 150 150 Patricia Iyer

Stephen King, in his book, On Writing, lists a hierarchy of writers: bad, competent, good (and sometimes really good), and great, which he also describes as the genius level of writing.

Bad writers, King says, do get published. They may write for your local weekly paper. Some of them write best-sellers. If the subject of a book is sensational or compelling enough, a bad writer can do well.

Competent writers achieve a higher level of journalism. They may write genre fiction, which, again, if the subject is compelling, can do well.

He says little about his category of good writers, but he would probably include himself among them. He does very well.

The last category, the great ones, include Nobel Prize winners, Dickens, James Joyce, and others.

King says that bad writers can’t become competent. Competent writers can become good. Rarely will good writers become great.

I’m focusing here on how competent writers can become good writers.

Read a Lot, Write a Lot

In King’s view, doing a lot of reading and writing are fundamental aspects to being or becoming a good writer. I fully agree. I was Independently taking books out of the library at 4 a clip as soon as I was old enough to ride my bike one mile to the library. (Those were the days when kids could roam around town without fear of kidnapping)

Read doesn’t mean social media. While you may accumulate information, you will also pick up a lot of bad grammar and abbreviations. If anything, your writing may deteriorate from over-exposure. You’ll see such atrocities as “Me and him went to the library.” No.)

Reading does mean both fiction and non-fiction. If you’re planning a writing a non-fiction book, read a lot in the area of your specialty, from the perspective of seeing what’s been written. Make sure your book hasn’t been written, and absorb the style of your particular area of interest.

You should also be reading fiction. Your book may be non-fiction, but you will be telling stories in it. You want those stories to catch readers’ interest. Study how fiction writers write.

King recommends reading both good and bad novels so that you can learn the difference between them. Good writers write economically: no roller-coaster sentences, no nouns preceded by three adjectives. Without consciously knowing it, you will absorb a lot.

The odds are good that competent writers write every day. They may be journalists or technical writers. Your job in the C Suite may keep the words rolling out, but a different kind of writing can help you go from competent to good.

Keep a journal to develop more skill in expressing yourself and to focus on accurately describing what you feel. Write down a story about something that happened to you today or yesterday. Tell a story that’s interesting.

Take risks. (Remember, no one but you has to see this.) If you have an urge to write some seemingly unrelated words and phrases, do it. Write a poem or dialogue. Stretch yourself. to help you leap the gap between competence and good writing. Imagination makes the difference.

Seeing the progress you make during your daily writing will encourage you to continue to take more risks. As regular physical exercise increases your comfort in your body, so regular writing will help you to experience even greater enjoyment from writing than you already do.

Pat Iyer is a ghostwriter who helps busy people share their expertise without having to write a book. She also edits other people’s writing, an activity which she loves. Contact her through her website

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