What Makes a Good Writer?

Posted by Megan Tomaszewski, CNF reader for issue 4.2

myemotions_troyWho is a writer? According to Dictionary.com, a writer is “a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories etc., especially as an occupation or profession.” Merriam Webster Dictionary notes that a writer is “someone who has written something.” But are there any definitions out there for what makes a writer a good writer?

Working at Gandy Dancer this semester as a creative nonfiction reader has prompted me to reflect on the answer to this question a lot, especially when reading through submissions to accept or reject. While discussing submissions with my peers, I was captivated by the way our group would sometimes unanimously “no” a piece, whereas, other times, we would debate pros and cons back and forth. Sometimes, we’d all like or dislike a piece for similar reasons, sometimes for completely different ones.

It was a fascinating, engaging, and messy process unlike anything else that I’ve been a part of—a group of individuals with their own subjective tastes and backgrounds collectively deeming literary pieces as worthy of publishing is no easy feat.

Through all of our varying collaboration and conversation, though, I started to notice a recurring element in what did indeed unite us in our love of our accepted pieces. While things like grammar and organization were easy to discuss or agree on, the real work began when we started to look at more of how we felt in our hearts than in our heads—and when we tried to imagine our readers in the same position.

Yes, we were looking at grammar and spelling and organization and tone, but ultimately, we were looking for a message. And that’s where we started to really sort the good from the not-as-good, by looking at what the author was saying and the way they chose to say it.

Defining anything is hard, especially a talent. However, after my experience working at Gandy Dancer this semester, I think I’ve been able to come up with a definition of a writer that not only helps to better separate written work from quality written work, but also may help other GD readers when they’re pondering the same question that floated in my brain all semester: What makes a writer good?

Good Writer ɡo͝od/ˈrīdər/ noun: someone whose written work not only captivates the reader’s brain, but their heart. Someone whose writing makes the reader’s chest rise or fall. Someone whose writing draws the reader in so deeply that they fall through the pages. Someone who writes something worth saying. Someone whose writing leaves readers questioning, thinking, feeling more than they did before. Someone who writes to show us what may not see with our eyes. Someone who isn’t afraid to write the truths that stick on our tongues. Someone whose words describe what we never thought could be described with such realness. Someone whose words stay with the reader, even when the page is turned.

It’s “someones” like these that we chose to publish in Gandy Dancer 4.2. People whose works reached out to us and sparked fires in our hearts and heads. And so we thank you, good writers, for sharing your stories with us and letting us share them with the world.





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