What is Good Writing?

As a fiction writer the question often comes to mind what is good writing? There are so many different styles and rules, if you will, it is difficult to answer, nevertheless I’ll try.

Several years ago a workmate approached me with a story he wanted me to write. Over the next few days he told me in exquisite detail the entire story. It was very good. It was something he had thought about for a long time and lacked the confidence to sit down and take the time to write it.

After giving some thought, I told him simply, “I can’t write another man’s story.”

But I can’t write,” he said.

Write it just the way you told me,” I said. “No one can write it better than the way you told it. And after you’re done show it to me and I’ll edit it.”

To this day that story lays locked away in his mind.

This reminded me of a writer friend who interviewed men who hunted and fished in the hills of West Virginia. He was looking for stories. He came across a man who couldn’t read or write. My friend merely had him speak into a tape recorder. The stories he told appeared in several magazines and journals—just the way he told them.

There have been times I’ve punished myself to get to the end of a great writer’s novel; only to think, “well, I’m glad that’s over.” At other times, I’ve listened to a simple man’s simple story and after he’s done, hoped he had another.

Good writing is just a good story well told—not necessarily well written.


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