I’ve always believed that when the going gets tough, the tough get writing. Sometimes about writing.
While there are no doubt prolific writers who crank out copy as if they’re making sausage, don’t count me among them. I’m more like Sisyphus, the mythical Greek guy condemned to forever roll a boulder up a hill only to have that big rock come tumbling down every time he nears the top.
For me, at least, writing is no less a Sisyphean task. In my day job as a newspaper editor, I no sooner complete stories and columns in time to meet one deadline than another looms. It’s almost always a struggle. And the whole troublesome process invariably starts with the same quandary: What do I write about this time?
After putting it off for I don’t know how long, I once wrote a column about avoiding procrastination. Stymied by writer’s block, I wrote a column about writer’s block. It’s not especially surprising, then, to fall back on a familiar strategy in writing about writing.
So what makes writing good? After working as a writer for 40 years, I’ve reached one immutable conclusion: I have no idea. It remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Nonetheless, I know good writing when I read it. Nearly everyone does.
To that end, three general attributes come to mind.
Writing is compelling enough to keep readers reading. Otherwise, what’s the point? There’s the risk they’ll move on to more interesting pursuits — flossing their teeth perhaps.
Writing offers the stuff of revelation. Good writing provides insights and draws conclusions that leave readers scratching their heads over the implications. Great writing leaves them slack-jawed in realization.
Writing is personal, inimitably so. Good writers bring to their works not only their distinctive styles and voices, but also their unique experiences and perspectives.
Writing can be tough, an unrelenting struggle to turn thoughts into words and arrange them artfully on the page.
But when the going gets tough, the tough get writing.