What Makes a Good Writer? 6 Unique Traits

What Makes a Good Writer? 6 Unique Traits

Reader Comments (72)

  1. HI Demian,
    Blogging is the best platform that enhances your writing skills .But keep in mind that for writing a unique& strong post you must have a good research ,Knowledge ,Ideas .You can make ideas through daily life .Either at your home or at your college .Keep a diary with you ,Collect points note these, do some research on it and then express your ideas in your post in such a unique way that your audience impress from it .I think a blogger should be copywriter.

  2. Demian,

    I am so glad you avoided the nonsense, generic lists that you can find all over the web, ones that site generic categories as if they are looking into a crystal ball, trying to guess which ones you might have so that the article will please me. I gain nothing from an article about writers that says we are a tenacious, sensitive, and deep bunch.

    Instead, you go after the qualities that seem intangible and etherial, those characteristics that make this kind of article a lot of work because they are difficult to pin down. As you spoke of the great writer’s “ability to size up content” and “connect the dots,” I realized that this list also pinpoints what is missing on the internet in large part. So much fluff and regurgitated stories float on the web that it becomes suffocating as a reader. The web would benefit considerably from this story, which pushes beyond the fluff to arrive at the analytical and problem solving skills great writers possess.

    If you and your readers could share some of their favorite “great writing” sites, I would REALLY appreciate it. And Demian, you should create a search engine that would scour the web for just this sort of thing. You’d make a fortune.


    • There are some people who are doing that successfully: Matter, for example, or Copyblogger. I also like Fast Company and Wired, but I don’t read those regularly. I usually consume online content by way of research–and then bookmark it for later on. I also subscribe to a few aggregators like Gangrey, Atlantic Wire’s 5 best articles or Arts and Letters. Still, way to busy to even stay on top of those, too. Like I said, most of my consuming comes by discovery during research.

  3. Demian,

    I think this is perfect timing for this post and hopefully many readers will follow your advice. I think we will see a lot more articles in 2013 (stated by Inc. Mag) and unfortunately a lot more PLR and junk. Great article!


  4. I completely agree with you about #2. Remarkable writers find new ways to connect things and paint an entirely new picture for their readers. They help explain things is a new way that make it that much easier for the rest of us to understand.

  5. Hi Demian,

    This is a truly thought provoking and very challenging list. I’m a long way from being a remarkable writer, but I’m working on improving my skills and I’m particularly heartened by your last point, because I re-work and edit my stuff to death! I’ve sometimes worried that it’s a weakness, particularly when I come across bloggers who claim to do very little editing. You’ve got me thinking it’s not such a bad thing after all.

    Thanks very much – this is one I’ll squirrel away and return to again and again, I’m sure,


    • Working something to death can be a weakness if it keeps you from ever publishing. I usually give myself some sort of parameter (like six times at the most). You can always go back and change it later on, too. And you can usually tell when someone does very little editing. It’s not something to brag about. 🙂

      • Thanks Demian – good advice – I do set myself limits, not so much number of edits as deadlines – as you say, if you take it to extremes you’d never get anything published.


    • Demian,
      Forgive me but…what she said haha. This gives me s tentative checklist for improving my own writing and evaluating my process. I think I’ll print them out and post them to the wall in my office to keep motivated 🙂

      I’ve definitely employ parameters for editing in my own life because I’m a major mother hen when it comes to my work. But it’s very true that there will never be a “perfect time” and it’s very rare when we’ll ever feel like our writing is “just right”. The way I see it, I’ll never become a remarkable writer if I never give myself opportunities to write, edit, publish, and improve.

  6. Having the courage to speak up in writing is the #1 trait of good writers. Sales copy is written with courage on behalf of the client, but an article, blog post or book is written with my own courage. So that means I gotta have some. First courage, then analysis, expression, revision and publication. Perhaps “focused courage” would be a better way of saying it. What do you think?

  7. I loved the post and I definitely identified with most of the qualities. I am corporate trained so it has been difficult for me to write in my own voice. I continue to think that I have to be PR sensitive until I remind myself that it’s MY blog and I can be me :).

  8. “That ability to re-work a piece of copy ad-nauseum is utterly unique to a writer.”
    Great line. It is also the fun part of writing…where you can really craft sentences and paragraphs.

  9. Great stuff, Demian. I really like the last point. I always dream that I can think so clearly about an article that it just comes out close to perfect the first time. But it just doesn’t happen that way. I had a recent blog post that I sat on for a long time. And it was still snowing by the time I published it. But I feel like the effort was worth it.

    • Sitting on posts for a long time: we would have so much more great writing if we could do more of that. But there is such a thing as a deadline, and such a thing as getting something out there–MVP. Minimum viable post. 🙂

  10. I’m not sure that these traits are things that only remarkable writers CAN do, but it is definitely a list of things that all remarkable writers DO. For example, a great CEO probably can do all of these things, but maybe it isn’t his natural inclination. For someone who is driven to write (and therefore practices writing and becomes remarkable) these things probably happen without effort.

    Not that I am claiming to be remarkable, but I remember turning in five drafts of a paper in English 101 and wondering why people were asking questions about how to do a rough draft. Re-writing is natural to me. So, to answer your question, I’m not sure these traits are unique to writers, but they are certainly hallmarks of writers.

    • I don’t think re-writing is natural to all writers – it’s something you have to learn to appreciate, in my opinion.
      Personally, I didn’t write a rough draft until college, when it was part of the professor’s requirements. It simply never occurred to me, since I always got an A without a rewrite.

      It was only much later when I saw what a difference a rewrite could make – and didn’t just write a paper for a grade- that I decided it might be a good idea to do a rewrite. (I liked to write, just never pursued is as a profession).

  11. A good writer finishes his writing easily and hits “publish.” A great writer is always tightening, considering words, paring sentences… and only lets something go for publication by the sheer force of her will to share.

  12. I’ve been a writer and journalist for my whole career and have trained many reporters who’ve gone on to great things.
    You are right – some people are remarkable writers – it’s just in their blood.
    Some people think they are remarkable writers.
    There are also some people who write but ought not to.

  13. I would agree that spotting material in a sea of information is the mark of a good blogger. In the digital age we are bombarded with so much info that a good blogger can point out what is really valuable and what is just filler.

  14. I think this is a great list and cool, different perspective. I’d also like to note that many people reading won’t think they are remarkable writers, or that it will take forever to get there. Demian doesn’t say one has to have all of these characteristics to be remarkable. Everyone who has them will have them in different strengths and combinations. Yes, generally it does take practice, skill and time, but don’t sell yourself short. Look closely at what you do and how you do it. You may already be remarkable.

  15. I agree with Point #4, “Remarkable writers can write in their head.” I’m always in my head. 🙂 If I hear a word or phrase, it will trigger an article idea or headline. If I hear a name, I think to myself, “That’s a great name for a character.” I use a variety of tools to record my writing ideas: Evernote, notebook, and text document. I probably should collect all of my notes and keep them in one spot. But I never know when an idea will “pop” into my head. Sometimes, I have to record them on my MP3 or BlackBerry.

  16. I liked the point about writing in your head. I think that is absolutely magnificent statement and I know for sure, remarkable writers, just like remarkable public speakers, can write the whole story in their head before anything comes out in a tangible form.

    A great article with a lot of great pointers for improving on our writing skills as we progress further. I am taking a lot of points for myself and improve upon my existing writing skills. Thank you for sharing such awesome article.

  17. Demian, Another hit blog post! As a 25-year book coach, I can relate to most of your points. A book coach should have these qualities to bring to the table to help fledgling writers/clients with their book, and short cut their time doing the book.

    Over Editing? I did that 24 years ago with a ttile “Passion at Any Age” unitl I got discusted (9 years!). Since then, I’ve created a chapter blueprint to help less confident writers and bookcoaching clients to hook their golden nuggets to a simple chapter format that includes hook, benefits, questions/concerns of audience and author’s solutions and endings that motivate readers to the next chapter.

    this chapter blueprint combines persuasive writing with creative story telling–that even a large company contractor (not my typical client of consultants and entrepreneurs) could do effortlessly. His book makes him stand out from all the other reconstruction companies to get the most from the fire insurance companies and brings him a lot of new business.
    This system markets while it informs and entertains. in ch 3 of my book “Write your eBook or Other Short Book Fast!”
    Added to your delicious tips, I hope these help writers here.

  18. Good post– I can only aspire to be great someday. Like anything else, practice and absorbing all the best information guides me, and editing and re-editing removes the junk and leaves the best parts (hopefully!)

  19. Incidentally, the same traits that make a remarkable writer also go toward making a remarkable programmer. As someone who does both, this is a brilliant post.

  20. For me the best way to write is like to talk to a friend. You don’t want to lecture him/her or being pompous with your words and tone. You want to be approachable, friendly, interesting (not boring), add some interesting stories to illustrate and drive to your point (if you are non-fiction writer), and put a note of humor from time to time. The best advice: is to write as you talk to a friend (or friends). Don’t force your idea, but write driven with a certain flow, a purpose, and over all have fun while writing. Otherwise you will lecture and bore your readers. Of course, re-read your text right off for corrections, and then let it sit for a day, and read again with a fresh mind. Play around with ides and words, color your text with feelings and images, and when you feel your text is informative and entertaining, you may launch it to the readers. The key is to have fun writing.

    • Emrick — I couldn’t agree with you more. Just as being able to write excellent copy comes with practice, so does writing copy that is (successfully) conversational and witty. Sometimes I go back and re-read posts where I attempted to be funny or snarky, and it just feels flat. Other times, it reads just as I intended. I’m still figuring out my witty and conversational voice. But I’m glad you left this comment…thanks for validating me. 🙂

  21. Hi Demian,
    Lovely, thought provoking work…and I accept that challenge!
    In my profession (Project Management), I see different shades of these characteristics in the very best Leaders – I’d love to explore this idea a bit further and see what comes of it. What a wonderful idea to think about today – thanks so much!

  22. I do number 3 all the time when I’m writing a post. Thank goodness this is the computer age. If I used a typewriter, I would make my husband crazy with the noise.

  23. Do you think you can learn these skills? If so any recommendations?
    I think I already know I should read other content and takes notes. Experiment in my own writing. And focus.
    I really think my copy needs help so any ideas on improvement are appreciated.

    • I think you can learn them. The thing is that I didn’t set out to do those things I wrote about. I didn’t sit down and say I want to teach myself how to write in my head. I want to read deep. I want connect the ideas. I just found myself doing those things. But that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t do that. So a great place to start is by training yourself how to do those things. With connecting the dots the only way that I can think of helping that along is to consume a lot of material. If anybody has any suggestions, please share. Also, working through some of the writing tutorials on Copyblogger will help you, too.

  24. Demian,

    Great post! I enjoyed how you made the list intriguing and not the generic lists. I can definitely relate to laying in bed thinking about what to write next.

  25. Thank you. I certainly don’t think of myself as a remarkable writer though I hope to become one. But reading through this list and identifying with a number of your points gave me great joy and confidence. Especially the third point. I have struggled with the idea that I often think of what I should have said in conversations yesterday but now realize that the patience to examine the thoughts and ideas presented, to arrange them correctly in my head first before blurting them out, is part of my writing process that has spilled over into my social interactions. Great post; thanks.

  26. I think you’ve done a fine job here. Overall, what I think is unique to writers is that they work with words. Their skills may be similar to those found in other industries and professions, but ultimately remarkable writers have a handle on language like no one else. We have all encountered really bad writing that was written by a so-called “professional writer.” Being a professional doesn’t by default make you good at it!

    Also, you wrote: “I might seem lost. But I’m not. I’m actually exploring.” This really resonated with me, particularly as an introvert. I spend a lot of time in my head, and when I’m forced to think aloud I feel like I sound scattered. To me, this is the root of all things that make a remarkable writer unique. Writers are willing to explore; to dig through details and facts and make connections between them; to spend time with concepts and put the puzzle pieces together. Mathematicians do this with numbers; writers do this with language and words.

    At the end of the day, though, one of the neat things that comes out of a post like this is the fact that it is so hard to put our finger on what makes a writer remarkable. There is a certain x-factor out there. If we knew what it was, well, we’d have more remarkable writers. It reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk about the “elusive creative genius.” The great thing about it is that if we can master the list you have written here, we can hope to be struck by genius at some point or another. It is a possibility for everyone.

    • I love that Gilbert talk. As I mentioned to someone else who asked if they could learn these traits I said that I didn’t think that was impossible, but it’s hard to teach someone to connect the dots, size up content or edit endlessly. It sort of like you have to do the rain dance and hope the gods hear you.

  27. Demian, I recognize some of the traits you list in my intent to become that writer I imagine I would respect after my work is published. And I recognize some of those traits in me as if intrinsic, but not yet matured. As an entrepreneur for many years, the art of mastering knowledge that becomes one’s best skills is not new to me. However, what inspired me as I read—what I have taken away from your observation that is unique to writers is within the vectors of the writers triangle if I may: remarkable-writers’ confidence, ad nauseum, and remarkable-writers’ emotional and technical intelligence.

    My personal journey: I write as one—the only witness to testify that I did say as I felt I should say; and as the Chasm—childlike-candid-intent – of course, framed by the adult—the protector: the writer to become—courageously in search of preordained knowledge, of events long since authenticated earthly, that only I could ingest and vomit: ordained-public-cleansing for keeping and making new friends and followers.

    Demian, thanks for the inspiration!!!!

  28. No. 3 hit home with me. I would love to write but I don’t and I don’t really know why. I am not sure what is holding me back. Maybe I should start writing a blog for only myself to read and slowly let people around me read it. But that makes it sound like I need approval, and when it comes down to it, I think that’s it. Maybe, just like you said in no. 3 about not wanting to sound dumb in social situations, the same goes for when I write. And this, as you stated: “During a conversation I can have several responses to one question — but those responses are muddied with emotions and half-baked positions. What I long to do is sit down and sift through those thoughts on paper — after the conversation.” – that could have been me saying that. But I have had a few friends ask me, based on my random Facebook statuses, “why don’t you blog? I would love to read your blog!” When I was a kid in elementary school and we had story writing assignments, I was the one who didn’t sweat it and left it until the last minute and still got an A. Says something, doesn’t it? That was so many years ago. So maybe I should just follow the Nike slogan and JUST DO IT. I really enjoyed reading your post.

  29. Wow… #3… Nice to know I’m not alone. I, too, am an introvert. I’ve actually been having this inner dilemma lately, which this post cleared up. It goes something like this:

    “I think I’m a good writer. Other people seem to like the stuff I write. But how is this possible when I can’t even string a coherent sentence together in a social setting?”

    Demian, you nailed it again.

  30. I’d like to add a few:

    Good writers take breaks at the “wrong” moments. Once the idea comes, most walk away from the keyboard for a while and let it percolate before returning (after jotting down some essentials of course). They usually wander around doing something seemingly aimless in order to make a complete break (I know one who goes for a half-hour run). They instinctively know the difference between word and thought processing.

    Good writers over-write first and edit later. It’s like that story of the statue of David– take a large piece of stone and just cut away everything that doesn’t look like David. Good writers often generate 2-5 times more copy than needed for the end product, and cut away ideas and constructions not absolutely needed to get to the final piece. It’s bettter to by work cutting down than trying to build something up.

    Good writers eschew external organization. Sure, some start with an outline. Then they do something else, an idea comes, they write down some surrounding concepts to support it, and then walk away for a while. And invariably never look at that “starting” outline again until the piece is complete (and are usually amused at how irrelevant it was).

    Maybe you’ve noticed a common theme in these distinctions: the habits of good writers inevitably infuriate poor writers and non-writers. In corporate communications, I can’t tell you how many times a client has reacted to seeing me walking around the cafeteria when “I should be at my desk working on their project,” unaware of the fact that I just cracked it, got the central theme down, and am now clearing my head to let the rest fall into place. Or gone ballistic when handed my preliminary draft marked “unedited-for concept review only” in big red letters, and fixated on the word count instead of their meaning. Or become upset when, after demanding to see an outline first, are told I don’t have one to show.

    That’s why in order for good writers to practice their craft, clients and bad writers should be banished from a 100 foot zone around them until the project is finished.

  31. I was with you for a while, but got lost with the reading part. I rarely read anymore. I know, I can’t possibly be a good writer without reading. But here’s the thing – I read like 50 novels in college as a lit major. I don’t have the temperament to sit and read. The process bores me. Plus, whenever I read and I admire the writing, I invariably try to emulate that style in my own writing. It’s ridiculous. So my not reading is an attempt to be as original with my own voice as possible. Which isn’t all that, but it’s mine. And people tell me I’ve got some skill.

    • Jim, I think that’s normal. Many writers take long reading breaks (years, even decades). I read novels voraciously and stopped in my twenties, and those ended thirty years ago. I read entirely non-fiction now, for some reason I can’t go back to fiction.

  32. Is there someplace online where writers just starting out can write and have their work critiqued? Of have sort of a mock audience to get some feedback? I would love that!

  33. That is a great resource, Don’t you think yourself as a remarkable writer ? Even you have all these qualities that is the main reason, you are able to write such a long a desciptive article, pinpint the deatils and work very hard on headlines. I will also trying to write some great article like this for my own readers. Thanks for posting this wonderful resource.

  34. “That ability to re-work a piece of copy ad nauseum is utterly unique to a writer. No other profession can claim that ability. And that, my friend, is what separates a remarkable writer from everyone else.”

    Your last point certainly is full of bait and that is very smart of you to include it. So I will play the patsy and say I disagree with your last point and lead in with my two cents.

    In software development, often times, software architects and programmers undergo a process called “refactoring” which is essentially revising the code structure to make it more efficient.

    And really let’s be honest, anyone involved with earning a living has to persist otherwise they may find themselves out of a job.

    An entrepreneur and/or an independent software developer has no choice but to “swing the shovel” as you put it for again the same reason as people who work in groups. You want money? Make a product or service that is compelling enough for people to buy. You have to be obsessive (which some employers described they want in an employee) to uncover the hidden reward of moving your project or any endeavor a peg closer to your ever moving goal.

    What makes a writer great is really no different than determining what makes a engineer great at what he does. The expression of those traits are different but not the core driver of these individuals which you’ve aptly described.

    Good post!

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