MemberSeptember 9, 2020 at 11:45 pm
My (9th grade) student asked me today: How can one decide if something is ‘good’ writing? Isn’t writing (like painting) an art which can only be rated based on opinion?
I tried to explain how there are specific ways to judge good writing (rubric) – word choice, sentence structure, flow, etc. She was still not satisfied, though, insisting that those things cannot either be judged and are matters of opinion.
I then said to the class “Did any of you ever read something and think ‘that was not well-written’?” All hands shot up. When I asked them what made it unappealing to them, some answered that the story wasn’t interesting enough; others said ‘it just wasn’t good’, but couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Many of them seemed to agree with the original questioner that writing that’s unappealing to them as readers doesn’t reflect anything on the writer his/herself and his/her writing skills.
How do I explain the concept of ‘good writing’ and how it differs from ‘good painting’? And how do I explain the difference between a ‘talent’ and a ‘skill’?
(and sorry that this isn’t really ‘Brainstorming’; didn’t know where to put it)
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 12:59 am
hmm… have to think… I’ll let you know when I come up with a good answer…
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 1:15 am
It’s funny to read this question as I had a similar discussion with my daughter today. The teacher had typed our excerpts of various students, and I went through them with her, showing her which elements I liked – literary techniques that were used well. But there was one piece that was outstanding – it wasn’t about the devices that were employed but about the mood it created. You were immediately drawn into the scene. The piece had rhythm, it had ambience – there was tension, release… And, the sentences flowed so that was it was hard to get ‘drawn out’. (Of course, it was my daughter’s ????)
As an aside, back in the days I taught, I was convinced that every girl could do well even if they didn’t have natural talent or flair. Writing-talent is very hard to cultivate, but literary techniques are easier to teach, and it is the latter that the government marked exams focused on – Boruch Hashem their marks proved this.
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 1:34 am
OMG it’s so funny you ask this because I was literally thinking about this today! Here is the answer that came to my mind:
Writing is a form of self-expression. An idea comes to our mind, maybe even a vision, and it begins to take shape in our heads. It’s often something beloved in our hearts, and an idea that makes us excited.
When it comes to ideas,visions and passions that we want to express, there is no right or wrong- it’s all a piece of ourselves.
But imagine a glassblower. He has a vision in his mind of what he wants to share with the world- but how? If he doesn’t learn the proper tools and techniques, there is no way to turn his vision into something tangible that can be used by real people.
The same with writing. It starts with a feeling. A passion. An idea. And we get excited…but then what? We must learn the tools and techniques to turn our writing into something we can share with the world, that can appeal to a wider audience than ourselves.
Otherwise, plenty of writers, myself included, can come out with a glass vase that’s dented and bent, unforgiving to the beauty of the original vision.
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 1:47 am
What a great question and studious student! Spot-on, Elisheva!
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 8:04 am
I’d like to add something: Isn’t there such a thing as a good painting too? What’s the difference between the painting of a 3-year old and one of a real artist?
So sure, there’s styles, there’s tastes, and you can think “wow this is a ‘good painting'” while someone else may think “looks like just squiggles to me”.
So basically, there are writing techniques and different ways of writing appeal to different people, but there is definitely such a thing as BAD writing.|
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 4:02 pm
Is there a difference between good writing and good painting?
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 11:45 am
[quote quote=21385]I’d like to add something: Isn’t there such a thing as a good painting too? What’s the difference between the painting of a 3-year old and one of a real artist? So sure, there’s styles, there’s tastes, and you can think “wow this is a ‘good painting’” while someone else may think “looks like just squiggles to me”. So basically, there are writing techniques and different ways of writing appeal to different people, but there is definitely such a thing as BAD writing.|[/quote]
I was thinking, take brownies. There is a baseline of what qualifies for tasty, after that, it’s a matter of taste, how well it’s executed, etc. Then I realized why this was faulty.
Sometimes, a piece of writing (or they say this about movies too) can be so bad it’s good. And it could be deliberately so too, not just accidentally ironically. You’ll never have that with a tray of brownies.
And of course, some people (I’m actually good friends with some, inexplicably) actually don’t like chocolate.
Sorry for the random thoughts. I’m off soon.
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 2:29 pm
Giving my two cents (franks would be more right by me but ok 😉 )
What do you mean with good writing? If you write for yourself without thinking of publishing, then it’s not so necessary to become a good writer. You can just write your heart out. But if your student would like to become a writer for a magazine, an author or whatever else there is to publish writings, then yes, you have to work on your writing techniques and if you don’t do that, then you could be considered as a bad writer. Unless you’ve got the talent on your fingertips. So yes, when it comes to publishing, in my opinion, there is such a thing as bad writing.
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 4:08 pm
My lesson was actually about how writing skills are beneficial and even crucial for everyone, whether or not we will publish for the world. Written communication – writing a formal request to an insurance company, business emails, in many fields (reports), apology letters, thank you letters, resumes/cover letters, etc. The list goes on and on.
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 10:19 pm
Anagrammer, sounds like you have a great class going there!
I think you gave a great answer there.
Let’s put it this way: imagine, one morning, you log on to masterpiece and… surprise! The site was redesigned. Instead of the pleasant purple color scheme, the entire background is black. The words are dark red and in a tiny illegible font, and all the text is the same size. It’s impossible to tell the difference between a heading and body text. The sections are gone too. Instead, everything is haphazardly scattered across the page. You want to create a new post but simply cannot find the button.
Everyone you show the website to agrees that this is the ugliest site they’ve ever seen, but since you are not a designer, you can’t pinpoint exactly what’s wrong.
Lemme tell you what’s wrong. Web design has rules. Web design has best practices. There are rules for typography, colors and layouts. Text should be a legible font, size and color. Headlines should stand out. Information should be organized. It should an easy for the user to find what they’re looking for… The list goes on.
Painting is the same thing. There are rules for perspective, proportion, light, shadows etc. If someone draws a person with one eye much larger than the other, it will be considered bad art.
Now, writing has rules and “best practices” too – tenses, point of view, pacing, sentence structure, word usage, grammar… we can keep going (As the writing teacher, you prob know better than me… 🙂 ) These are real, solid, tried and proven techniques for solid writing. (Writers can have differences of opinion in these matters.) If you analyze bad writing, you’ll find that they don’t follow these rules properly. If you read a piece of dialogue, for example, that’s on the nose, head hopping and it’s unclear who’s speaking, you will considered it bad writing. Someone who’s not an expert will simply say “it just wasn’t good”. On the other hand, there are many writing bloggers who accept readers’ WIP submissions. They then take them apart and explain what the writer did right and wrong.
(As an aside, rules can be broken, too, but you have to know the rules in order to break them skillfully. 🙂 )
This leads to the discussion about skill vs talent.
Skill is learnable. One gains skills through attending classes, reading, practicing and asking questions.
Talent is a natural ability. It’s a gift from Hashem that can’t be bought or learned. Those with talent have a greater edge when it comes to being successful in their fields.
Someone with mediocre musical abilities, for example, can learn scales, pitch, modulation, proper breathing. They may end up singing on tune, but they’ll never sing like Avraham Fried – no matter how many voice lessons they go to.
An innate artist will naturally follow the “rules”. A painter won’t draw disproportionately because that doesn’t make sense to them. Some extremely talented writers can write an award winning novel without much effort. Most people aren’t like that. Some, learn skills to enhance their inmate talent while others must learn the skills in order to access their talent.
Hope this is helpful.
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 10:49 pm
Wow, HappiWriter, that was exactly the kind of response that I was looking for. You verbalized what I couldn’t find the words for myself. This line says it all: Everyone you show the website to agrees that this is the ugliest site they’ve ever seen, but since you are not a designer, you can’t pinpoint exactly what’s wrong. I just have to figure out how to say this delicately 🙂
I loved this point, too: As an aside, rules can be broken, too, but you have to know the rules in order to break them skillfully.
Thanks for taking the time to respond so clearly; you really gave me food for thought!
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 10:51 pm
I like you answer, HappiWriter.
MemberSeptember 10, 2020 at 10:52 pm
Thank you, everyone! I appreciate all your input and am thinking about the best way to say it all 🙂 If anyone has anything else to add, please!! (Always good to have a lot of material in my back pocket for surprising questions)
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