What Makes Great Writing and Writers?

What Makes a Great Writer?

Put 1,000 self-proclaimed writers in a room. 750 are merely typists. Another 249 are only able to commentate on simple phenomena in their copy, or may as well be soulless, stenographic AI bots. 

Only 1 is a writer.

Answering this question first requires two key distinctions: 1) There’s a difference between great stories and great writing. Great stories have beautiful bones – the right skeletons – strong enough to carry any kind of delivery. In contrast, a great writer can make any story interesting, regardless of its contents. 2) There are many important writers throughout history and in modern times, but important writers are not automatically great writers. E.g., Upton Sinclair and Betty Friedan are both important writers. However, neither is a great writer. The opposite (great and unimportant writers) also exist, and so do great and important writers. 

In describing what makes a great writer, we acknowledge the monumental toll that great writing takes on its most profound practitioners. As integral components of a world-class writer’s process, creative immersion, self-sabotage, and the numerous sacrifices of isolation have rendered many great writers into states of madness. If life’s objective is to find what we love and let it kill us as Charles Bukowski (a great but unimportant writer) posited, great writers have fulfilled their lives’ objectives as fully as anybody. Great writers embody so many skills and facets of original thinking that the most apt way to begin defining their work is by explaining not what they do, but what they don’t do. 

Writers’ Toolkits as Vehicles for Your Message

Before I begin, I’d like to state that I’m not a car guy. In fact, I don’t care much for cars at all. In our culture, cars symbolize things I don’t care much for, such as gaudy materialism and social status. Cars do, however, serve as a great, kaleidoscopic analogy through which to analyze various kinds of writers and the writing they produce.

Additionally, transportation into narrative worlds is a recurring theme in building brands, entertaining audiences, and finding the right words to deliver an audience to its destination. Thus, a writer’s message is meant to bring a reader’s mind to a certain destination, much like a car brings a driver to its destination. For the sake of this section, think of a writer’s ability much like the following components of a car: transmissions, gears, fuel, and engines.

The Transmission

A writer’s ability to transmit the right message hinges in part on whether their transmission is manual or automatic: If you hire a writer with a manual transmission, you’ll save money on up-front costs like fuel, but the quality of the driving experience (and the extent to which you have to intervene to make the writer’s transmission operate) will be a major expense in opportunity cost for you as a client. 

In contrast, a writer with an automatic transmission doesn’t need to be micromanaged, or even told what to do – he or she simply does what’s needed, without you having to manually intervene in their process of chauffeuring your audience to the desired set of perceptions, actions, and outcomes. All cars need periodic maintenance and tune-ups, but investing effort in the engine’s process every time one turns the ignition makes for low-value experiences. So, for the purpose of this analogy, we’ll proceed in favoring the writer with an automatic transmission to one with a manual transmission. 

The Gears

The gears of a car determine a) how many speeds at which the vehicle operates between 0 miles per hour and its top-end speed, and, therefore b) the number of different terrains it can smoothly handle while driving. Similarly, the more gears a writer has, the more equipped they are to smoothly deliver your audience to their intended destination, and in accordance with the surrounding terrain.

Even if there is no roadmap or template for a project, a true writer with more gears carves one out for you and your audience, and in careful consideration of data and evidence. The number of gears a writer has also enables varying degrees of ability to write in different tones and for different platforms, purposes, and audiences.

The Fuel

While compensation is a necessary component of labor, and motivates true writers and imposters alike,  compensation is never the primary fuel source of elite, world-class writers, or even any writer worth hiring. Upon what sort of fuel does your writer subsist? Passion, or merely earning a paycheck? Obviously, the prior is preferable.

An enduring, high-performing fuel source (passion) makes the writer’s destination (a paycheck) subordinate to the driver’s (reader’s) experience in reaching his or her destination, which also factors into the engine’s performance.

The more passionate a writer is about the process of writing, and without preference as to which mode or platform for which they’re writing, the more versatile and cost-effective that writer is. While there’s something to be said for specialization, understanding different mediums and platforms is not as important as sheer brainpower in finding the right words, which brings us to the vehicle’s engine (the equivalent of the writer’s brain). 

The Engine

A writer’s mind is the equivalent of a car’s engine. The size of the engine in a writer is his or her capacity to deliver the intended experience, independent of all other variables. While a larger engine with more horsepower is more expensive, it delivers the best driving experience. When coupled with an enduring, high-performing fuel source (passion), the engine makes the destination (a paycheck) subordinate to the driver’s experience. The result? The driver doesn’t care where the vehicle takes them. They just want a seat for the ride, regardless of where the vehicle is headed. 

The Writer and the 2 Imposters 

In this section, we’ll explain why organizations and individuals alike should be careful in hiring “writers,” because  99.9% of all writing job applicants are merely typists or commentators posing as the true writer you actually need. Why does this matter? Simply put, typists document others’ observations. Commentators make observations. Writers’ observations make their audiences more observant. 

Imposter 1: Typists (75% of “Writers” and “Writing Agencies”)

When a typist tries to write, the results are cringeworthy. While well-intentioned and usually embodying a range of skill sets fit for other occupations, the typist represents the lowest level of “writer” available in today’s marketplace. There is writing, and there is typing. Typing isn’t writing, and writing isn’t typing. However, most people can’t distinguish one from another. In fact, part of the typist’s credo is to hide their shortcomings in busy traffic jams, hoping the freeway won’t open up and expose their inadequacies in helping brands, people, and organizations reach their messaging and storytelling destinations. 

The Typist’s Transmission

The typist places a significant burden on the driver (client) with a manual transmission, literally making the completion of a writing project a “hand-holding” process given the fact that the driver must shift them into the proper gear to see any improvements. 

The Typist’s Gears

A typist has two clumsy gears between which they can shift, and the first is nearly indistinguishable from the second. They’re responsive to requests to drive a writing project to faster completion, but only because that’s the only thing for which they’ve been built. In either of these gears, a typist can spend one hour or five hours on typing an article, and the quality of that article will not improve with additional labor. This makes typists a bad investment for organizations in true need of an actual writer. The low up-front cost of a typist may seem appealing, but they’ll leave you wishing you hadn’t hired them to do a writer’s job upon the project’s completion. 

The Typist’s Fuel

Whereas the commentator posing as a writer subsists both on a paycheck and his or her level of acceptable competence as sufficient fuel sources to complete writing projects, the typist is driven only by the paycheck, because they have no writing competencies in which they can take pride. The result? Again, that low-grade  85-octane fuel (the typist’s reason to get up and go), is as uninspired as the fuel’s ability to help its vehicle perform. 

The Typist’s Engine

Think 1.2-liter three-cylinder, bottom-of-the barrel engines and frequent trips to the repair shop for edits that the manufacturer should’ve engineered correctly at the beginning of the journey. If you hire a typist to do a writer’s job, you can expect everyone to honk at you when the typist tries to take your story to the highway, driving the engine temperature gauge into the red zone while trying to do 60 miles per hour. the typist begins making egregious mistakes, as the engine begins to sputter out.

When Should You Hire a Typist for a Writing Project?

The typist is a byproduct of lowly content farms, content spinning, and black hat content marketing practices. Thankfully, very few of these writers become published authors or established writers. How do we describe the typist posing as a writer in terms of our car analogy? A trip to the junkyard would suffice as a visual depiction. These typists should not be hired for anything more than the most basic typing tasks. I.e., stenography, typing meeting notes, or other basic administrative tasks. Simply put, you may as well hire a free, brainless AI writing tool or content spinner for the work of a typist. 

Imposter 2: Commentators (24.9% of “Writers” and “Writing Agencies”)

When commentators try to write, they may be able to fool the masses about their status as non-writers. However, in doing so, they fail to persuade their audiences with their words, and therein rests a key distinction between the writer and the commentator. The commentator is the lesser evil between the two primary types of writing imposters. We describe the commentator not to besmirch the reputation of actual commentators in industries like politics or sports broadcasting, but to emphasize a key distinction between commentating and writing. 

When a sports broadcaster or news anchor provides commentary, their labor is fit to the desired outcome of the work for which they were hired: In commentating, ideas are delivered on-the-fly, in real time, and with an appropriate degree of analysis fit for the platform and audience. However, in writing, a reader expects a performance on par with the luxuries of a content creator’s medium fully leveraged. 

When reading, they want to see a line of words delivered on-screen or in-print, which reflect behind-the-scenes legwork in careful reasoning, accurate word choice, fully developed narratives, and various revisions, all of which are imperative to great writing. As writing imposters, commentators are above the typist in many of the same ways an actual writer is, with several exceptions. 

The Commentator’s Transmission

The commentator’s transmission can range drastically, but usually has at least 3 gears helping them navigate limited nuances in a small number of different driving terrains. Low-grade commentators have manual transmissions with 3-4 gears. High-grade commentators have automatic transmissions with 4-6 gears. 

The Commentator’s Gears

Commentators offer very little independent reasoning or unique idea productivity. They can shift into an additional gear or two in both quality and speed with which the work can be completed and may be better at hitting deadlines without sacrificing quality, but their quality is limited and may dwindle or abate entirely at the point of having completed 2-3 hours of work for the same project we described in the above typist section. 

The content may be written at a higher level than the content of the typist, but the commentator producing it may not know how to further edit, optimize, or scale the quality of the project. These kinds of writers should not be hired for greater than medium length or medium importance projects. 

The Commentator’s Fuel

The commentator posing as a writer subsists on two primary fuel sources: a paycheck and his or her level of putative competence in scraping by as writers. This means they’ll hit their deadlines, but upon  lightly tapping the body of a commentator’s written work at the edges of the gas tank valve with a hammer, a hollow noise emerges, casting a shadow on the fact these commentators are always running on fumes. The body of the vehicle may look acceptable, but the interior, from the engine to the transmission, are lacking in various mission-critical elements. 

The Commentator’s Engine

While difficult to identify, the commentator’s engine is driven by conniving and insidious factors that fail to do justice to the written word, and these frailties are more prevalent than ever. Even if a commentator never expresses it, he or she is driven by the idea that cheap, unoriginal tricks have a place in great writing, and this mentality couldn’t be further from the truth. In short-form, their words are replete with misleading, clickbait-driven titles. Their articles stuff keywords into a piece at the expense of the user experience and readability. Above all, commentators are conniving about their finished work: they turn a blind eye to the undeniable gaps in their commentary, hoping nobody will notice its shortcomings. However, they are well-versed enough in writing methods to be manipulative, which is arguably a lower tier of persuasive tact than the ones of which only true writers are capable.

When Should You Hire a Commentator for Writing Projects?

While there are true writers who craft press releases, news reports, and other strictly observational pieces of content, a commentator is at their maximum capacity in completing those kinds of writing projects. While hiring these writers for these kinds of projects won’t cause harm, it certainly won’t add value. Commentators posing as writers are common fodder, and are unfortunately the vast majority of content producers and writers on freelancing platforms like Upwork.

If commentators wish to become actual writers, they must learn to distinguish between the world according to them and the world according to their audience. To attain the status of an actual writer, commentators must also strive to capture the world in their words as the world actually is, not how they desire it to be. While many commentators are convincing in claiming they’re true writers, they are not  passionate enough to put in the work necessary to make their written content memorable, influential, and capable of fulfilling its intended purpose. 

Those Who’ve Attained True Writer Status (0.1% of Actual Writers)

Put 1,000 self-proclaimed writers in a room. 750 of them are typists. 249 of them are commentators. 1 is a writer. Those who’ve attained true writer status are true luminaries of language, harnessing an unbelievably broad and deep command of the written word. The writer is capable of doing everything the typist and commentator can, but elects not to because completing work with these imposters’ standards of performance usually doesn’t do justice to the written word’s importance as the seminal framework for the organization of ideas and language. Writers endow commonplace things with startling, extraordinary power.

Writing is more than a job to a true freelance writer or writing agency: it’s how truth is discovered, verified, and shared. These writers are willing to descend into madness so their readers can experience states of awe, belief, and possibility. In staying consistent with our car analogy, think lightweight frames, A true writer can spend 1 hour or 5 hours on a project, and write at a higher quality level in their first gear than the commentator does in his or her mid-gear level. A writer can also complete projects of exhaustive and grueling lengths with style, sophistication, and maintaining fidelity to the purpose of the written work. 

The Writer’s Transmission

Much like the other elements of content produced by those who’ve reached true writer status, a writer’s transmission is not just automatic–it embodies the silence and subtlety of a Rolls Royce Phantom, making it easy for the reader to forget the writer even has an engine, making the magnificent engineering of the vehicle look easy and making the reader feel as if the medium of expression isn’t language–somehow enabling them to feel as if they’re standing inside the wording itself. What’s more, a true writer can navigate as many terrains as there are surfaces, much like a Jeep. Regardless of the mode or platform, a true writer’s ability to transmit their message is made apparent by their ability to write anything well, from lengthy technical documentation to short creative works. 

The Writer’s Gears

Much like a 7-gear vehicle establishes a range of different tones in driving experience, the number of tones upon which a writer can draw to convey the right message for an audience is one distinguishing variable between true writers and the wannabe imposters. If someone becomes acquainted with a writer solely through his or her body of written work, they may feel that the writer is either schizophrenic, or 7 different people given the range of tones in which they can express their ideas in writing. 

The Writer’s Fuel

True writers subsist on their passion for writing, and things like a paycheck are just mundane necessities to them. Writers are not only capable of writing without pressing their ego into the ideas and desires of the assignment; they also empathize with the target audience, which enables them to convey the words that will move an audience to take the desired course of action. Actual writers, much like the best brands, do not write simply to earn a paycheck. Earning an income is merely the byproduct of a true writer’s labor, and these are the only kinds of writers who work with and are worthy of the WordWoven Mission

The Writer’s Engine

Operating in concert with the fuel, gears, and transmission of a noteworthy message, the very ideals and causes by which a writer is driven are as pure as they come. This makes for a ride so beautiful it doesn’t matter what scenery accompanies the trip: The v12 engine in a writer’s brain impels them to forego expressing the quiet corners of their mind for the sake of shedding light on the larger corners of the human imagination, upon which shadows have been cast by the various typists and commentators of the time.

The result? You as the driver (as one of WordWoven’s clients) are so emboldened by the power of the experience, you can’t help but share the insights of the writer’s words with your audience. Once the audience has received the message, all it wants to do is hop in the passenger seat alongside you, without a care in the world about where you take them, because they wouldn’t miss out on this ride for the world, and there are a limited number of seats. 

When Should You Hire a Writer for a Writing Project? Right Now

Sometimes it’s difficult to know when you should hire a writer. For starters, you can fill out the form below to book a free consultation, in which we can help you establish whether a writer is needed for your company or cause. WordWoven only hires true writers for our 6 writing services.

Our baseline standard of performance for being called a writer is to fit into this one-in-one-thousand category. Given WordWoven’s ability as a 0.1-percenter, we price our services accordingly, but can work with organizations on sliding fees depending on their tax status and classification.