It’s weird having a semester where I literally have no papers to write. I’m trying to do some journaling, but the reality is it’s been pretty sparse. I am fairly worried that my writing skills are going to be more than a little rusty by the time I get back into classes that are going to require me to actually write. With that, I got to thinking about what makes “good” writing. I was prompted after I did the entrance MIW research interview thing. Why is it that we can pretty much universally agree on good writing? What is the X factor that elevates truly great writing above all of the other stuff out there? Can it be quantified? More than that, can it be taught?
There are many factors that coalesce to make a final piece of writing: grammar, syntax, structure, organization, flow, word choice, content, argument, rhetoric, thesis, voice, tone, style, creativity, novelty of idea, the list goes on. I think at this point we can all recognize the subtleties and nuances that make all of the above listed factors slightly different from one another. Many of these things can be taught in school, some of them cannot, at least in my opinion.
Is Usain Bolt the fastest because he works the hardest, or has the best training regimen? You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue against a genetic component that makes him the fastest of the fast. Sure, practice is an undeniable component to elevating his performance above and beyond the rest, but he was born with some of that.
I took a sociology of sport class a few years ago and there was one concept in particular that stood out to me. It was the concept that in hockey specifically, most pro players are born in the first three months of the year. It goes on to say that because of the timing of the season and school starting and whatnot that kids born at the beginning of the year will be a little bigger because they are older. This in turn draws coaches to the bigger players and they give them more attention. This gives these kids more skills and they go onto be the better hockey players.
I think the same line of thinking can be applied to writing, or any skill really. If it’s noticed that at a young age, a person has a slight advantage or talent for a certain skill, they are more likely to get more personalized attention and tutoring so they become better. Furthermore, if a person gets that attention and outside reinforcement that they are good at something, they will continue to cultivate that skill as well. I think this goes for writing. What makes excellent writing is an innate X factor, something about a particular writer’s “voice” that really appeals to people.