5 Characteristics of an Exceptional Writer

Posted by Amanda Ellison

If you want the mechanics of what makes a good writer, turn away now.

Any number of posts will proffer advice such as this: write every day, read widely, look at style models, and etc. 

All worthy advice, of course. And it should be taken. But following this advice may only make you an effective writer - not necessarily an exceptional one. 

The exceptional writer has a particular sets of characteristics they were probably born with. 

So do read on and consider whether you identify any of these qualities in your good self ...

1. The Exceptional Writer Knows the Basic Rules - And When to Break Them

The generic rules are important. Writers should be familiar with the ins and outs of grammar. They should read avidly, particularly within their own genre. They should try and write every day. But some of the most unique writers in the literary canon are those who had the confidence to break the rules and knew exactly why they were doing so. DH Lawrence shamelessly split his infinitives - ouch! And James Joyce probably didn't give a stuff whether his stream-of-consciousness style was perceived as ignorance of sentence construction. You see what I'm saying, I think.

2. The Exceptional Writer Bleeds Ink

This is the person who writes - and always has done - 'just because'. This writer isn't put off by lack of talent - because they more than likely are talented. This is the person who writes in their head, who takes every observation and mentally constructs descriptions around it. This is the person who is compelled to write down an interesting word they've encountered or is inspired by a turn of phrase.

I believe there is a word for such a state of being:


3. The Exceptional Writer Makes the Complex Simple

This is all-important in the exceptional writer. After all, what is the purpose of reading something that is as difficult to decipher as the Enigma code? This writer can sort out the wheat from the chaff and can reify lengthy and convoluted prose into a digestible form for their readers. Clarity rules.

This is partly a skill that can be taught - but it's largely inherent. In other words, this writer is unconsciously competent.

4. The Exceptional Writer Seizes on an Angle

The exceptional writer thinks conceptually. Their standpoint is unique and they have an innate capacity to view the world from an original perspective. This, in turn, gives their writing clarity and direction.

5. The Exceptional Writer is Inherently Unhappy

It's true. There are even studies to suggest that unhappy writers make better writers. Think of poor old Sylvia Plath, driven to her oven in despair. F Scott Fitzgerald was plagued by alcoholism and drug abuse. And we all know about Ernest Hemingway's gruesome demise. Such demons may not feature in the careers of ordinary writers. But intense misery certainly seems to inspire some of the best writing around ...


Comments are welcome - I think ...

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