What Makes a Good Piece of Writing?

Like a disturbing volume of others my age, I’ve often felt a bit ‘priced out’ of modern life and have considered ways to make some extra cash.  I’ve sometimes wondered if my writing may be a useful vehicle for such.  It is, after all, something I massively enjoy doing, and I’m a huge advocate for the idea that the more passionate you feel about something, the greater the chance of doing something good with it.  At the very least, it becomes more important to try and see where it can lead to, cash motivations aside.

It sounds a bit cringe-worthy to admit, but very now and then, there’s a fleeting daydream of opening up – with fluttering fingers – a copy of my first book as it arrives to me fresh from the publisher, and breathing in a huge sense of pride and relief that the time and effort spent on those words turned out to be ‘worth it’ (in the sense of mass produced matte covers in bold colours that are nice to run my fingernails down, and fresh white pages.)

But for every daydream there’s a resounding countenance of realism and I know that the above only turns out true for a minority of writers, so it would probably be unwise for me to invest too much hope or need into the visual (but I’m still going to give it my best shot).  For the most part, the content of my writing is confined to this Blog, which I don’t tend to advertise overly often.  There’s something about having the product of your heart and soul be critiqued by strangers on the world-wide-web that makes me hesitant to share it too much, although every now and again I’ll find the courage to send it off to places. Sometimes,  somebody might publish it (a very proud day even though the ‘Comments’ section promptly turned into some unrelated gender-based debate on a post that was effectively trying to promote a positive message. Oh internets, you big ol’ misery guts).  But most of the time, they might reply with the standard, “sorry, not this time” e-mail. And that’s really okay, because success – generally – would render itself meaningless and yield less joy if it didn’t have to battle past it’s stubborn opposition along the way.

In my more recent quests to do more with my writing I’ve been looking online for possible outlets, and I must say it’s been pretty depressing; not for a lack of opportunity, but for the number of articles I’ve stumbled across about ‘what makes a good piece of creative writing.’  These articles all claim to offer tips and guidance on how to compose the kind of pieces that would apparently be any publisher or audience’s supposed wet dream, and they jar me immeasurably.  Like with most forms of art, who exactly determines what’s good and what’s not?  And since when was it ever suitable or okay to implement a definitive set of regulations like this?  That just can’t work; there is nothing out there that doesn’t divide opinion somewhere along the line, even the best-selling authors in the world are not without those who are indifferent to their work.

The whole point of creativity is that it comes from the heart and soul.  It shouldn’t just be a fabricated product of one too many (often contradictory) recipes for success published around the internet by people driven by formulas and a nauseous thirst for ‘likes’ and ‘hits’.  To tailor your writing to bay into the ideals of the self-appointed directorate when really the beauty of writing (or any other kind of creativity) has only ever been – and should only ever be – about one’s ability to express what they mean in a way that may just so happen to resonate with those who view it, just seems so inherently wrong.

I’ve been writing in this Blog each month for six years not because I’m trying to sell anything or look for acclaim, I just like to write, and wanted somewhere I can keep all my articles in one place as a personal portfolio.  And I would far rather keep it that way, than create pieces in which I can no longer recognise myself due to a pressure to amend it in line with the experts’ view.  To me, that’s tantamount to plagiarism.

Creativity should never be about trying to force your work to fit a particular model, and that isn’t just me being reticent to how much I would love to have my life totally ‘made’ from this hobby, because that would be amazing, and I’ll continue to look for opportunities to send off pieces that I think particular websites could be interested in.  Who wouldn’t love to be comfortable and financially secure from something which they’re happy to pump out twenty four seven?  Who wouldn’t love to have fans of their work? However, if that lifestyle meant having the products of my heart and soul prodded and poked with beyond all recognition, then I don’t think I would want to have it.

I’ll give an example.  When rejecting one of my pieces, one very famous host-site suggested that I could improve the likelihood of things being published if the topic was ‘more current’, on the basis that more people would have an interest in it.  It’s a sensible theory, of course, but what if I have nothing to say about those topics?  Enthusiasm is hard enough to feign in person, let alone in writing, despite having Caps Lock and exclamation marks to aid us (I’m SO excited about Pippa Middleton’s wedding I might need a glass of coconut water to contain myself!!!) It just doesn’t work, does it?

Nothing makes me happier (excluding crisps, gin and cured meats) than people telling me they like what I’ve written here, but I wouldn’t feel as content about it if I couldn’t feel like I ‘owned’ the words I posted, and any creative who does what they do out of love for doing it probably feels exactly the same.  A completed ‘Paint by Numbers’ can look worthy of the Louvre from a distance but you wouldn’t exactly be heralding the person who completed it as the next Edgar Degas once you found out that they had been told what colours to put where.  Plenty of people can follow a recipe or set of instructions but only one person can say what you want to say, so say it. Do it.  Colour it. Write it. Bend it. Send it. Pan-fry it and serve with curly kale, if that’s how you want to do it…

There’s every value in looking for guidance when you’re trying to build up confidence in your skills, in fact if I could have my dream job it would be to help people learn how to express themselves through creative writing.  It’s when you start going against your heart though, and start to make your painting or chapter more reflective of what you think people want to see, that you become in danger of losing the special relationship you have with your paintbrush or pen (or, well, keyboard).  The importance of that relationship should never be underestimated, particularly not in a society that can be superficial enough, because essentially that relationship is the key to making creativity enjoyable.  That’s what makes a creative piece of writing good.

I don’t know if anything more tangible will come out of my love of writing, or if I’ll ever run fingernails down any matte covers, but I’ve had a nice couple of hours writing this, and that’s payment enough.

Song of the Day: Sondre Lerche – Violent Game (Ice Choir Remix)

Every now and then you discover a piece of music that stops you in your tracks in awe as you try and take it in for the first time, and for me, this is one of those pieces.  Sondre Lerche’s slow Norwegian indie-pop meets Ice Choir’s energetic synthesisers and comes together for four and a half minutes of absolute wow.

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