Good writing v talented writing

Brain Pickings, in Good Writing vs. Talented Writing, on Samuel Delany’s book About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews:

One of his key observations is the crucial difference between “good writing” and “talented writing,” the former being largely the product of technique (and we know from H.P. Lovecraft that “no aspiring author should content himself with a mere acquisition of technical rules”), the other a matter of linguistic and aesthetic sensitivity.

I’ve often felt that the more I write and edit copy focused on making someone do something – what we call in the business a ‘call to action’ – the less I’m able to write beautifully.

There is a certain beauty, of course, to finely honed copy that has absolutely no fat on it and does exactly what it needs while still possessing the feel of the brand it’s representing it’s a kind of brutal beauty. Part of me looks back at my Londonist days, when I innocently wrote in a certain florid style with on the pigheaded basis that I didn’t want to patronise my readers by avoiding using multi-syllabic words (that’s words with more than one syllable), and cringes. Were I to write those articles again, I’d no doubt be more conscious of the need to optimise for search engines as well as stick to a more quotidian style, in order not to alienate readers or risk obscuring meaning.

So in the ‘good’ versus ‘talented’ dichotomy (have your own argument about whether it’s a false one or not), my day job is firmly on the side of good writing. Yet talented writing needn’t mean long-winded or over-wrought. As the Brain Pickings article points out, “In fact, the true potency of “talented writing,” Delany suggests, lies in its ability to compress subtle yet all-consuming sensation into an enormously efficient information packet.”

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