Great Writing vs. Good Writing

From the very dawn of humankind, we have been sharing stories. Lisa Cron describes it as one of the very core elements of our need for survival in “Wired for Story” as she explores why we crave stories so much, and what that has meant for us throughout history. From early bedtime stories meant to scare children into good behavior, to many of the hard hitting social and philosophical analogue of our modern day fiction, we still rely on effective story-telling to guide us through difficult terrain.

This will be less of an exploration of that necessity of story, as it will be an analysis of why some books that seem to be written poorly are so completely relevant and necessary, and why other books that are beautifully written, put us to sleep.

I really enjoy E. E. Cummings. His work, nearly completely devoid of punctuation flows beautifully and is still regarded as some of the greatest works in poetic literature. What I enjoy about him the most however is not just his writing, but the example he presents being an effective and powerful writer while breaking a rule we all grew up learning in middle school.

I am often a very insecure writer. I made mistakes frequently, and I focus on the voices that shout “that’s unprofessional” or “that’s embarrassing”. In fact for a long time, they were the only voices I heard and it was almost impossible to bring myself back to writing at all. Do I make mistakes? Yes, sometimes a lot of them. In fact just this week I wrote a resume that said I was a “righting coach for a year…” instead of writing coach.

The truth is grammar and writing well are important, often difficult skills to keep up, and as someone who often struggles with focus it can sometimes seem impossible because what I read in my head is correct, but what is on the page is not always correct. It is a real struggle, but great work can still come out of work that doesn’t meet the standards.

In fact writers like E. E. Cummings reset the standard in ways that has progressed the English language to be this beautiful and dynamic thing that is nearly impossible to fully grasp. Other great poets follow and practice his style because as long as intentionality and clarity exist in ones writing, the words become timeless giving life to work that exists above the plain of correct or incorrect.

Consider this, the Bible is this most famous book in all of history. Whether you care to read it or not doesn’t really matter because no one can argue against its impact both in culture and history. From a writers perspective though, some could knit pick it for its errors until they were blue in the face, but the detractors of its “correctness” are so few because the text itself implies much heavier and more important things for its readers to consider.

I for one grew up reading it, and now, despite having a copy on a shelf, have no need or intention to read it as a Pagan. That doesn’t matter though because it still is a very important book. So to close I’d like you to think about it, and share in the comments what you think makes a book great! Does it need to be well written, does it even need to be near perfect in its grammar, or is it something else that turns off that editor in our brain that activates something more instinctual that really earns a book the right to be great.

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