Like all of us these days, I get too much email. I sign up for something and emails from a dozen purveyors of similar somethings invade my inbox. So I find myself depending upon headlines, which I know very well is an unsound practice given that charlatans are often the best headline writers.
I got a memorable lesson in headlines from The National Enquirer when they ran one stating “Secret of Eternal Life Found”. I paused at the magazine rack long enough to thumb through the rag and discovered not a word about that claim other than the headline.
Last week I came across the headline “The Key to Good Writing”, and clicked the link. The article told me that the key to making a piece of writing good was getting rid of the bad writing in it.
Now, being a teacher of writing, which often requires me to be a teacher of revising, I know very well that bad writing is a killer. But to say that getting rid of what’s bad makes something good is a classic logical fallacy akin to “ducks are birds and chickens are birds so chickens are ducks.”
Ridding our work of bad writing may make it technically competent but certainly doesn’t make it good, because the word bad in this context essentially means ineffective while good implies both effective and in some way valuable, worth reading.
University Creative Writing programs send legions of technically competent writers into the world but not nearly so many good writers.
When asked to judge a competition for an Arizona Commission on the Arts fellowship, I was given a hundred stories to read. Ninety of them I judged as competent. Five left me feeling pleased I had read them.
Making an article, story or poem good requires a whole complex of elements which I won’t list here as I don’t intend to make this post into a book. But I will suggest a way to know if you have written something good; put it aside for a month or so, then read it. If at the conclusion you think “I wish I had written that,” it’s probably good.
If you’re still not sure, consider the Writing and the Spirit degree program at Perelandra College.