What Separates A Good Writer From An Excellent One?

What kind of writer are you, and what do you have to change or improve to be where you want to be?

Wherever you are in your writing career, self-reflection and the ability to change course is always a useful vehicle for improvement. I ran across some notes I’d written to myself a few years, lifted and repurposed from an ACT therapist’s manual about the different categorizations of therapists. The manual asked the reader to imagine that choosing which category they wanted to be in (Good, Very Good, or Excellent) was as easy as selecting items off a menu. Everyone has intrinsic ideas of what category they are in, and which category they want to be in. I decided to repurpose this idea for my own profession – writing.”

I’d like to note that the categories below are only my opinion, and of course there are exceptions – like excellent writers who can’t take criticism, or bad writers who are actually quite intelligent. And everyone, whether a bad writer or excellent, are on different levels in their career. Some excellent writers, for example, may never have been published yet. And many were poor, had terrible relationships, and suffered because of their writing. These are just the common traits that I’ve witnessed, and also the traits that I believe would make each category.

The Common Traits of Different Categories of Writers

Bad Writer

Doesn’t write, or writes sporadically
Rarely finishes what they start
Doesn’t take criticism well, in any form
Inability to self-reflect
Low or average IQ (Although this isn’t always the case)
Doesn’t read, or reads very little
Doesn’t edit their work
Doesn’t have the ability to empathize with other points of view
Unaware of the current writing market
Employs cliches and genre tropes
Poor grammar or incomprehensible writing
Likes the fantasy of being a writer, but unwilling to deal with its day-to-day realities
Lack of focus. Often has several half-formed projects

Average Writer

Reads, but not a lot, or typically only in one genre
May not take criticism well, or mentally filters it
Edits very little
May want to be a good writer, but doesn’t make writing a priority
Has enough focus to finish a work, but may have a lot of unfinished projects
May publish on places like Reddit, Medium, DeviantART for the endorphin rush of praise, but not pursue greater publishing
Lack of range in writing. May write the same characters over and over again.
Average IQ (Normally)
Will invest energy in writing communities, critique groups, social media, and book groups but not as much energy into improving their own writing
Doesn’t have a unique style or voice. May employ lots of genre tropes.
Enjoys the social aspect of writing more than actually writing

Good Writer

Finishes what they start
Reads often and in multiple genres
Can take criticism fairly well
Understands how other people work, and can empathize with them
Makes writing a priority in their life, or leaves room in their schedule for it
Can write stylistically well, but may not have a unique or noticeable voice.
Has an understanding of the current writing market
Understands their audience
Knows what makes a compelling story
May get caught up freelance writing for things they’re not interested in, and ignore their passions or what made them start writing in the first place
For the most part, avoids cliche and genre tropes.
Edits their work, or understands when something isn’t working
Is published, but may not pursue higher-paying or risky markets because they don’t feel they’re good enough
Is often held back by the fear of not being good enough
May languish in low paying markets because they don’t push themselves
Has the ability to self-reflect, but oftentimes suffers from cognitive dissonance

Very Good Writer

Reads voraciously
Schedules their life around writing, not the other way around
A strong sense of self-awareness
A strong understanding of other people and their motivations
Has the ability to separate good from bad criticism, without getting ego involved
Has a unique voice
Has a deep curiosity about the world
Has a willingness to experiment
Has the ability to write in a wide range
Understands what they’re worth. Has the ability to publish judiciously.
Has the ability to assess their situation, and turn course.
Generally has a high IQ
Understands their audience, but ultimately writes for their own purpose
Has a driven purpose for writing, and understands what that purpose is, intimately
Edits their writing multiple times
Their physical body and personal relationships may suffer in the pursuit of writing
May have the ability to be an excellent writer, but the main thing holding them back is lack of focus and fear

Excellent Writer

Can be difficult to categorize. Has a certain je ne sais quoi that separates them from other writers. Either personal experience, personality, style, or passion.
Reads voraciously
A deep empathy and understanding of the human race
Devotes the majority of their time to writing
Knows how to take care of their physical body and relationships so that they push their writing further, not hinder it.
Has the ruthless ability to cut through extraneous distractions
Often experiments with different techniques
Has a deep and undying curiosity about the world and the mechanics of how things work
Has an incredible focus
Understands their audience, but ultimately writes for their own purpose
Doesn’t let fear control them or hinder their abilities
May ignore criticism, because they have such a driven internal system for improvement
A unique voice and excellent sense of style
Understands intimately what a compelling narrative is
Driven by a deep purpose of why they want to write, and what they want to express in writing
Edits their writing until they get it right, and doesn’t stop before that.
Has a high IQ

So the important question is, where do you want to be? And what are you willing to do to get there?

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