Opinion (29/9/2020): 12 Qualities Of A Good Writer – By Azuka Onwuka


Whenever I teach people the art of writing, they want to know what skills or qualities they need to possess to write well. It is usually a difficult task, but I have tried to aggregate some of the qualities that will make one a good writer.

According to popular writer, editor and literary critic, William Zinsser, “Good writing doesn’t come naturally, though most people seem to think it does.” This is one point about writing that many people do not realise. Many assume that once a known writer picks up a pen or hits the keyboard, wonderful writing springs out ceaselessly. Zinnser throws more light on this issue thus: “Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s hard because it is hard.”

Everybody can write, but not everybody can write in a way that will excite and interest the reader to read from the beginning to the end and take positive action, as expected by the writer. In this era of the internet when the attention span of people is short, and there are hundreds of materials demanding the attention of the reader, a writer has to do something different to get the attention of the reader and retain it.

1. Every good writer is a good reader. Good writing does not just happen overnight. What the good writer does is to unconsciously regurgitate all the writings and styles of the good writers he or she has read over the years. If you hate to read, please don’t bother to dream about being a good writer.

2. Like Friedrich Nietzsche says, good writers “would rather be understood than admired.” The most popular African book on fiction is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Achebe wrote it when nobody knew him. He was not a professor of literature then. He just wrote passionately about something that touched him deeply. He did not write to dazzle or prove that he was well-read. The result was that Things Fall Apart became a global classic.

Most times, the more educated we are, the less impactful our writing becomes, because we tend to write more to prove that we are “too much” than to be understood. Our writing, therefore, loses some originality and natural connection with the reader. The more educated we are, the better literary critics we become but the less good writers we become. In summary: good writers write to express, not to impress. Please note this.

3. Creativity is a trait every good writer has. Good writers task themselves to bring out new ideas or present old or common things in new and exciting ways. They choose words that convey their thoughts best. A lazy writer will use “lovely” to describe a lady, a car, a dress, a baby, a voice, a house, and a handwriting. But a good writer will say “a charming lady”, “a sleek car”, “a stylish dress”, “a cute baby”, “an angelic voice”, “an exquisite house”, and “an artistic handwriting.” These words create better mind images than using “lovely” for all of them.

4. Good writers are passionate about the correctness of grammar. They have a love relationship with their dictionary – regularly confirming the meaning and usage of words. This is because good writers do not want to spread bad grammar all over the world. Bad grammar is a turn-off in communication. Note that wherever you see the department of English in a tertiary institution, you also see literature. Language is the channel through which literature is communicated. The same thing goes for Hausa and Hausa literature, Yoruba and Yoruba literature, Igbo and Igbo literature, etc. When you read the works of a great writer, you will learn correct grammar.

5. Good writers strive for perfection. Is perfection possible? No. Our duty is to continue to strive to be perfect. When we strive for perfection, we achieve excellence. Excellence is praised and rewarded by the world.

By striving for perfection we mean that good writers are never happy with their work. They keep fine-tuning it, looking for more appropriate words and expressions to use in every sentence. Good writers do not have the it-doesn’t-matter mentality. This mindset makes people assume that anyhow something is done is okay. This works against good writing.

Good writers are not in a hurry to post or publish their works. They pay attention to details. They take their time to check both the correctness of every word or phrase and the appropriateness of every expression in the write-up. This may take days, weeks, months or years, depending on the type of writing involved. Writers are not praised or given prizes for finishing first; they are praised or given prizes for writing well. They are loved for writing well; they are talked about for writing well; they are quoted for writing well.

6. A good writer must have good research skills. A good writer should know the subject of discussion deeply, have a thorough understanding of the target audience, write relevant, quality content that has a logical flow of events and still grabs the audience’ attention.

7. Good writers are unique – that makes people want to read them. They create their own style. By unconsciously combining an amalgam of styles, good writers create a unique style that interests their readers.

8. Good writers avoid clichés or trite and worn-out expressions. They avoid those expressions that people use regularly like “political quagmire,” “all and sundry”, “pay lip service to”, “met his Waterloo”, “easier said than done”, “neither here nor there”, “think outside the box”, etc. Use of clichés shows a writer that is not creative, a writer that is lazy, a writer that does not like to think. When a cliché comes out newly, it is exciting. But when everybody starts using it, try to avoid it as much as possible.

9. Mind pictures are great tools good writers use to enthral readers. Good writers use words to create mind pictures. Good writers make their readers to visualise what they are reading. Example: “Tears streamed down her face” is more exciting than “tears flowed down her face”. Such picturesque expressions create more impact. Good writers send words on errands.

10. Good writers give the necessary information. There is a reason for every piece of writing. A good writer ensures that the reader gets all the necessary information in as few words as possible.

11. Good writers entertain while educating. A piece of writing should not be bland and colourless. While passing the information across, a good writer ensures that the reader is taken through some unforgettable journey. This entertainment may include the use of humour, fable, satire, irony, etc.

12. Before boredom sets in, good writers end their writing. And they end on a memorable note. There are some write-ups you read and complain: “Is this not the last paragraph?” A good writer does not wait for the reader to get to that state before ending the write-up. The reader needs to ask for more at the end of the write-up, not heave a sigh of relief.

Finally, a good writer is made, not created! Therefore, everyone can be a good writer. However, this is a person

*** Azuka Onwuka is the author of the three recently released books: English Incorporated, Two plus One, and Secret of the Egret.

– Onwuka is a respected columnist with The Punch

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