In thinking about what makes writing good, I realized that many of the same qualities exist in good people.
1. Clarity. Good writing is clear. It makes its point without confusing you or weighing you down. Clear writing comes from people who’ve put time and energy into learning to write just enough. Good people are also clear — clear about their vision, their goals, their beliefs, and clear about what is right and wrong. Clarity in people means a strong moral compass.
2. Honesty. Good writing is honest. In nonfiction, this means it is true — or as true as the biases of the reporter will allow. In fiction, this means emotionally true — a story that makes you feel something real. Good people are honest, with themselves, with you, with the world. You cannot have a good story without emotional truth, and you cannot have a good life without honest companions.
3. Empathy/Compassion. In order to connect with readers, good writing has empathy and compassion, both for its characters and also for the reader herself. Good writing takes into account the feelings of its subjects as well as the needs of its readers. Good people are empathic and compassionate, too. They feel for others and they care. This is why sociopaths, while superficially charming, can never be good writers…or good people.
4. Unselfconscious. Good writing doesn’t get in its own way; it paints a picture, describes a scene or feeling, and then steps back and lets the reader experience grace. Self-conscious writing tries too hard to impress everyone with how smart and snarky it is, and makes sure the writer, the egotist, gets in the way. So too for people. Those who are self-conscious are too focused upon themselves and “impressing” you to actually be present in the moment or even to hear what you’ve said; interaction with them is painful and awkward.
5. Relaxed. Good writing is able to relax. I’m reading a great book right now, by an accomplished academic. He writes casually about complex subjects, because his compassion and empathy drive him write for a broad audience, in a fun and engaging way. Good people can also be quite busy, and famously accomplished, but they don’t let this stress them out. Good people know how to relax.
What do you think? Are there any other similarities you can see between good writing and good people? I’d love to hear your thoughts!