What makes a good writer?

Whether it's business writing, journalism, criticism, children's books, blogging, advertising copy, fiction or non-fiction, good writing seems effortless. It's easy to read and understand. It presents complex ideas in clear, straightforward tones.

In my three decades of writing and editing work, I've done all of the above--and more. I've written millions of published words. Each word I've written has taught me something. In all of them, I've aspired to create good writing.

The chief goal of good writing is to communicate. If it succeeds, it informs and enriches the reader's mind. It can enlighten, inspire, amuse, provoke and move the reader. Good writing brings the unknown into sharp focus, and embellishes the well-known with authority and clarity. It takes thought, instinct, wisdom, training and the ability to absorb, digest and express information.

We've all struggled with bad writing. We encounter it daily--in assembly instructions, in technical manuals, and in magazines, newspapers, blogs and documents. . .

The Fine Art of Procrastination (And How To Live With It)

Writing is like starting the engine of a car. Sometimes, without trying, it just fires up, and you find yourself putting words together easily. Just as often, it can be like a cold car on a snowy morning. You sit down, try to get your thoughts in order, try to get into focus...

and nothing happens.

You stare at your fingers, as they sit on the keyboard. You might look out the window, take a sip of coffee, check your e-mail.

Radio silence.

You force out a couple of paragraphs. As you write, you notice how hard it is, and how slow it's going. Even as you type, you're not happy with the results.

Unless you HAVE to write to meet a deadline, don't torment yourself. Save the file and step away from the computer. You aren't ready to put down words.

Five Tips To Instantly Improve Your Writing

I read a great deal every day--both for business and pleasure. It's often hard for me to suppress the Internal Copy-Editor as I read. I encounter sentences and phrases that could be better. Sometimes it's one small thing that makes the difference between great writing and "meh" writing.

Here are my Top Five Tips for keeping the "meh" out of your prose.

What Editing Is--And What It Isn't

The silent partner of every remarkable writer is an editor. Though writers--myself among them-- complain about, curse, and butt heads with editors, the truth is that we need them.

As a writer and editor, I've walked both sides of this street. I've had my writing substantially improved--and horribly butchered--by editors. As an editor, I've occasionally offended or annoyed the writers whose work I sought to clarify and improve. I've also had writers thank me for the subtle reinforcements and revisions I've given their work.

Editing can be a thankless job. It's almost always anonymous. The best editing never calls attention to itself, and is thus invisible to the reader. It can be so subtle that the writer himself doesn't notice the changes. With a non-professional writer, editing can feel more like root canal surgery. The editor pulls awkward phrases, compound sentences and wrongly-used words out of the original text. He tries to bridge the gaping holes with clearer, more readable text.

The endgame is to make the writer's work shine--and to make the reader's work a breeze. Well-edited text is a joy to read. Our eyes skate across its words and sentences with minimal effort. Better yet, we retain what's said. It affects us, informs us and brings us knowledge, thought, laughter, empathy or righteous anger.

The road of writing--and where it's taken me

Words and language compel me. They've had this effect on me as long as I can remember. I literally teethed on the alphabet. My grandmother, an elementary school teacher with a 40-year career, saw to that. She gave me a set of plastic sign letters when I was a year old. I carried them around, tasted them, looked at them, felt their contours.

By my third year of life, I had learned to read. Every word I read, each new word I learned, opened a door for me. It seems inevitable that I became a writer.