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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Delany's About Writing: Good Writing vs. Talented Writing

The past couple of weeks I've been reading Samuel R. Delany's book About Writing, a book that collects a number of essays and letters that Delany wrote over the past 30 years on the subject of writing fiction. Although he first broaches it in his introduction, a concept Delany returns to again and again throughout the book is what he sees as the differences between good writing and talented writing.

Though they have things in common, good writing and talented writing are not the same (Delany, 4).

He goes on to define good writing as the basics of what we learn in English classes in High School and College: good grammar, avoiding passive voice, creating uncluttered sentence, varying sentence structure, precise word choice, etc. Good writing as he defines it is a skill, a learned craft that functions appropriately in writing forms like journalism, academic research papers, criticism, and---although Delany doesn't mention it---blogs.

Talented writing, on the other hand, uses those skills and rules and moves them into another realm. Delany says:

Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic (Delany, 6).
Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader's mind---vividly, forcefully---...(Delany, 6).

Talented writing also "uses specifics and avoids generalities---generalities that his or her specifics suggest (Delany, 7). In other words, metaphors and symbols.

Delany continues by providing examples to show how talented writing uses lyrical phrases and powerful descriptions to deliver new insights to the reader. This form of writing, talented writing, is what's required to create fiction. Or, at least, fiction that stretches beyond simple entertainment and warrants thorough, careful, multiple readings.

It makes sense, though. Writing that really stops me, that forces me to read it more carefully and pay attention to what it's doing often comes through beautiful, precise descriptions and details. These details make you pause and visualize the world the author creates and even think about things in a new way. That level of writing is a very special. all too rare skill.

The good news is that while Delany indicates talented writing is more difficult to achieve, he at no point states that it can't be learned. Through careful reading of the masters, through thorough editing and a lot of hard work it's a skill that's possible to learn, although more difficult than learning how to create good writing.

I guess there's hope for me yet.

Excelsior

4 comments:

uiyui said...
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xxmy said...
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dreaz said...
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