My Definition of “Good” Writing
Published 20 Oct 2017
My first attempt to complete this assignment began with a cavalier attitude. I didn’t think I needed to grapple with the question because initially, I believed the answer was simple: ‘good’ writing is any writing that I’m not forced to read or create. Smirking to myself for having so quickly come up with a response, I sat down to fill three pages with words that all added up to my initial idea. Thirty minutes and a paragraph later, I saw that there was no way I was going to squeeze three pages out of the answer that had initially seemed so obvious, so I did what I always do when I have something I want to ignore: I opened up iTunes, and began surfing for songs as a means to put off working.
Navigating through the various titles available for purchase and those already in my play list, I got caught up in singing along with Mary J. Blige’s ‘Family Affair,’ and it struck me that the lyrics were actually written words-words I consider ‘good’ writing. Finally, a potential connection to my task! I went to LyricsFreaks.com to look at the words, and it dawned on me that the lyrics to the song reminded me of a page out of one of Shakespeare’s plays: they rhyme; the sentences don’t always end where the lines do; and they seem to contain words that some people don’t understand. Except the words to “Family Affair” reach me, and Shakespeare’s words really don’t. I had to admit that to someone who doesn’t like Hip-Hop music, the lyrics I am so fond of might seem as pointless and confusing as a page from a piece of Shakespeare’s writing often seems to me. I decided that my answer to what ‘good’ writing was had to begin with writing that reached its audience.
I have a friend who really likes Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Personally, I can’t stand their music any more than my friend can tolerate Mary J. Blige, but I have to admit that Elvis and the Beatles had to have reached their respective audiences to become so famous and remain popular for so long. This friend of mine is also a pretty big Shakespeare fan and has tried to get me to appreciate the poetry and humor that she swears is in the plays he wrote. I just don’t get it, and that led me to something else: the ways a writer can reach an audience must be as varied as the potential audience itself. I guess that led me to a bit of a dead end.
I decided to focus on the books I have read and enjoyed, and it dawned on me that there was one instance that the words to part of one of Shakespeare’s plays made sense, but it wasn’t because of Shakespeare, it was because of Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I had to read an excerpt from it called “Graduation.” There’s a part in the excerpt when the class valedictorian, Henry Reed, gets up and makes his graduation speech: it’s titled “To Be or Not to Be” after Hamlet&’s soliloquy (Angelou 39). I enjoyed “Graduation” so much, I read the whole book on my own, but while my class was reading “Graduation,” the teacher made us read Hamle&’s speech, and for the first time, I really felt connected to the words that Shakespeare had written, but only after relating them to Angelou’s story. So had I discovered an instance during which I had become a member of Shakespeare’s reachable audience? I suppose the answer is yes; however, after connecting with Hamlet’s soliloquy, I wasn’t driven to read the remainder of the play as I had been driven to read the rest of Angelou’s book.
Turning away from books and the reading of writing, I began to wonder why I don’t really like to write, and I realized that the writing I don’t really like is assigned writing—the kind of writing that I am often told (in letter-grade terms) I’m not ‘good’ at. I write in my journal all the time, and I like doing that, and I think some of it is actually pretty good. I’ve even played around and written a few stories, but I basically hate writing papers for school. So I guess I’d have to add to my definition of “good” writing by saying that ‘good’ writing is enjoyable and free from time limits and judgment. Except, this assignment feels “good” to me in terms of my expressing myself and in terms of my completing the task. I guess this is another dead.
If I had to define “good” writing now, after thinking and writing about it, I’d have to say that writing to be read is “good” when it makes me want more and makes me feel connected, and that ‘good’ writing that I create is writing that makes me feel confident—as if I expressed an idea or group of ideas in a manner that left me feeling satisfied.
- Angelou, Maya. ‘Graduation.’ Fields of Reading: Motives for Writing. 7th ed. Ed. Nancy R. Comley, et al. Boston: Bedford, 2004. 31-40.