What constitutes for a good piece of writing, and characterizes a good writer? This is a question we have no completed answer to. We have seen many exceptional authors throughout time, but what they possess to be a good writer is a mystery to us. We are unsure of the skills that separate the good writers, and what truly characterizes a good writer. Is there any one aspect that sets them different from the rest of us? Some would argue that people were born with the natural ability to link words together in ways that engage the reader.
Steven Pinker states in The Sense of Style that “good writers are avid readers”. Pinker delivers insight that good writers have an immense vocabulary, along with other skills, that they pick up from other authors when they are reading. These skills that are picked up when reading other pieces and learning from others, are what formulates a “good” writer. This makes sense, that when you are reading, you pick up pieces you like, and practice them yourself. On the other hand, I challenge the idea of Pinker, and believe that along with acquiring talent from other writers, there is a born natural talent for writing in a good writer. This is to say, I agree with Steven Pinker and the acquisition of skills through reading but would also include that there is a natural talent portion within every good writer. Pinker formulates a compelling chapter in The Sense of Style, that goes about what defines a good writer.
Steven Pinker states “no one is born with skills in English composition per se. Those skills may not have come from stylebooks, but they must have come from somewhere. That somewhere is the writing of other writers”. Pinker argues that good writers acquire their skills from the work of other authors, including vocabulary, idioms, and constructions that intrigue the reader, and construct a good piece of writing. In contrast to Pinker’s own belief, he states that there are writing skills that can be taught, but this all falls back onto his idea, that reading is essential to becoming a good writer “Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse- engineering examples of good prose”.
Pinker strongly believes that being an avid reader, will give you the ideas and skills needed to create a good writer. Succeeding this thought, Pinker later uses texts as examples of good writing, and his opinions to support the idea that the texts delineate good writing. Pinker goes on to pull apart the text and highlight the pieces that exemplify good writing skill. He begins by pointing out the use of paradox, imagery, and poetic expression in the piece of Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins. Furthermore, Pinker goes on to state the strength of the words used in writing, and that authors can flip the way we think in yet a few sentences. Pinker also analyzed the obituaries of Maurice Sendak and Pauline Phillips written by Margalit Fox, reporting that “the linguist and journalist Margalit Fox has perfected the art of the obituary”. Pinker highlights the mots justes, zeugmas, words, alliterations, and transitions that Margalit Fox had used effectively to honor the lives that have passed. Steven Pinker analyzes these texts to show that there is not one way to be a good writer; each author could possess a different style, and this does not take away from the effectiveness of their writing skill.
Lastly Steven Pinker summarizes his key ideas, that constitute a good writer. He begins by saying that “Readers who want to become writers should read with a dictionary at hand”. Pinker believes that words are powerful, and in order to use them effectively, you need to deeply grasp the meaning behind the language used. Pinker offers insight to qualities of a good writer, and strategies used while reading to soak up the skills of other writers. After analyzing the texts of Robert Dawkins and Margalit Fox, Pinker states “The authors of these passages share a number of practices: an insistence on fresh wording and concrete imagery over familiar verbiage and abstract summary; an attention to the readers’ vantage point”.
In Steven Pinker’s final words, he tries to applaud the passion these authors have put into their writing and goes on to state “They write as if they have something important to say. But no, that doesn’t capture it. They write as if they have something important to show. And that, we shall see, is a key ingredient in the sense of style”. Steven Pinker provides examples of good writing, and places emphasis on the integral sense of style used by authors, and the ways in which they are essential to composing a good writer.
From my experience in writing, I agree with Steven Pinker to the degree that humans have the ability to learn from others, and learn from experience, meaning that writers learn from reading. However, I disagree that this remains the sole attribute to becoming a good writer. Growing up, I had always been above my reading level for my age, surpassing the requirements. I was able to read and understand complex readings since grade four. When it came to start writing essays, I had been struggling because teachers would only let me write in one format, and this five-paragraph essay did not feel natural for me. I was forced to write among strict barriers, and for me, I felt as if I were being held back. When I was in elementary school, writing within these barriers, my teachers had always told me I possessed strong writing skills, and I had always been praised for the work that I would complete. This is where I begin to challenge Steven Pinker, and propose that good writers, possess a talent. I had only been taught one way, but within this, I was able to find ways in which I was able to create and formulate my own style. Now, for me in university, where I have the freedom to write wherever my heart desires, I feel as if I can put this writing to work and stretch the possibilities.
I agree with the ideas that Steven Pinker has, yet I also believe that there is a natural talent part to every good writer. To further expand on the idea that some writers are born with an innate ability to construct strong pieces, I begin to think of an example of author William Shakespeare. With attention to William Shakespeare, I firmly believe that he was born with the ability to construct strong pieces of writing, that are still studied to this day. Looking back at William Shakespeare, many people were not publishing work to be read, and studied by others. With this being said, it is possible that Shakespeare was born with his talent, instead of learning it from others, with consideration to his time, and the level of education attained. Some may say that Shakespeare’s work was beyond his knowledge “Skeptics also questioned how anyone of such modest education could write with the intellectual perceptiveness and poetic power that is displayed in Shakespeare’s works”. In like manner, William Shakespeare is a perfect example of a good writer, that was born with a natural talent to compose good pieces of writing. Shakespeare did not acquire knowledge, and was not an avid reader, and yet is one of the best English literature authors in history. To this day, students are studying and reading his work, and passing on his skill, to produce other good writers.
An author has the ability to captivate attention of readers by putting words together to construct an intriguing piece of writing. So what qualities constitute a good writer? In response, there is no exact answer to what creates a good writer, however Steven Pinker states that being an active, engaged reader, allows you to possess varying writing skills. Now although I do not completely agree with his point, I agree to the extent that we learn from experience, and we learn from others. I agree with Steven Pinker in the fact that we read what we love, and we can draw a variety of skills and ideas from good writing and apply it to our own. With this being said, I propose a counter idea that some writers are born, and naturally have the gift to be a good writer.
To conclude, Steven Pinker provides essential insight to qualities that construct a good writer and reveals that there is no one sense of style. To succeed as a writer, you may do all of these steps, yet still find your own, new sense of style.