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RadioSerenade May 29th 2015 04:02 AM

What Does it Take to be a Good Writer?
This was a message originally sent to the world renowned author/Youtuber/unofficially titled comedian John Green, and his brother, fellow Youtuber Hank but I wanted to get your advice about it as well:

"This is just a quick question for the new podcast, but what do you think it takes to be a writer?

I have been feeling slightly inadequate lately, in my writing and expression, particularly by way of essays. I am quite proud of my ability to write essays, but I went to my teacher once and I can't remember what the conversation was but mid-way through she says "anyone off the streets can write a good essay, essay writing is easy".

I watched your video (John) about the editing process and how complicated the role of an editor is. You read out some of the sentences from your editor and in particular, this complicated statement surrounding the role of one of the characters, asking the question "what constitutes martyrdom?" I had no idea what any of that statement meant and if someone sent that advice to me, I wouldn't even know where to start. I don't know any of the really complex literary techniques that are out there and I don't know what subordinate clauses are, nor do I know what any of this means:

1.Like all dependent clauses, it will contain a verb (and it will also contain a subject unless it is a non-finite dependent clause). However, in a pro-drop language the subject may be a zero pronoun—that is, the pronoun may not be explicitly included because its identity is conveyed by a verbal inflection.

2.It will begin with a relative adverb [when, where, or why in English] or a relative pronoun [who, whom, whose, that, or which in English]. However, the English relative pronoun may be omitted and only implied if it plays the role of the object of the verb or object of a preposition in a restrictive clause; for example, He is the boy I saw is equivalent to He is the boy whom I saw, and I saw the boy you are talking about is equivalent to the more formal I saw the boy about whom you are talking.

3.The relative clause will function as an adjective, answering questions such as "what kind?", "how many?" or "which one?".

However, I probably use "non-finite dependent clauses" all the fucking time. I was tested on complicated grammar concepts such as the one above, and I obviously failed the test, but it made me think do I need to know this to be able to write. Am I a good storywriter if all I am is a good writer of stories?


Age of Ignorance May 29th 2015 06:35 AM

Re: What Does it Take to be a Good Writer?
Sometimes I feel like I suffer from paragrammatism.

I have a friend studying linguistics. The study of grammar, syntax, phonetics, etc. seems to fly right by the waist-side for me. Yet, I have never had an issue with understanding basic sentence structure and its effects, particularly because the law requires some form of knowledge of the effect of subject vis-a-vis object in a compound sentence, amongst other syntactical matters. That being said, I don't claim to be a good writer, but because I have a basic understanding of sentence structure and have never been critiqued on it (aside from my first year of law school), I feel I can safely say I am at least a good enough writer.

I am a little confused though, are these your words or was it written by someone submitting an advice request to John Green?

To avoid any more digression, here is what I think makes a good writer:
  • Ability to design an engaging plot, progression or essay structure;
  • Ability to character, lore and history design, in the case of a novelist;
  • Ability to tell a story in the case of a novelist;
  • Ability to concisely deliver an argument or factoid in the case of an academic writer; and,
  • Ability to keep a reader engaged, through appropriate use of sentence structures, vocabulary and format.

Who the hell cares if you don't know what a "non-finite dependent clause" or a "relative adverb" is? Tell me a story, deliver it well, and I'll consider you a good writer.

RadioSerenade May 29th 2015 06:59 AM

Re: What Does it Take to be a Good Writer?
Yeah, those were my words, in the quotation, and I sent them to the guys, because they encouraged anyone with questions or problems to send details to their email address, so they could try and answer them in a new podcast they created :). Thanks for that!

Kate* May 29th 2015 07:19 AM

Re: What Does it Take to be a Good Writer?
I don't know what any of those mean either, but if the story is engaging, it flows without being too predictable (I can't stand when I can tell exactly what's going to happen, but I also hate completely shocking twist endings), and isn't so corny or stupid that I can't finish it then you're doing just fine. Also, varied sentence structure and good use of vocabulary, but not so advanced that I can't understand it.

Always * May 30th 2015 05:57 PM

Re: What Does it Take to be a Good Writer?
I agree with Kath and Mitch. I think a lot of people now basic sentence structure and that's about it. Even I, who has to be a good writer by trade, do not know what a non-finite definite clause is or if I (unconsciously) do it or not. I'd like to refer you to Mitch's bullet points.

I mean, there are tons of people who are amazing story tellers, but might suck at the grammatical side of it. Does it make you a bad writer to be bad at grammar and you have to edit tons? Or does it make you a bad writer if you can't tell a good story and nothing you write Is interesting or remotely comprehensible? I honestly think it's worse to be unable to construct even the most boring or convoluted information into something somewhat engaging because you can always learn to be better at spelling and other grammar things, I think it's a lot harder to learn to tell good stories. However, both are learnable.

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