What is good writing? It depends on what you’re writing, at least that’s what I’ve taken from Aristotle’s literary theory. He breaks writing down into genres and from there explains that the critic and reader must judge the piece’s worth according to the standards of the genre. In that case, asking what good writing constitutes is broad. A better question to ask is, “What makes a good academic paper? What makes a good science fiction novel? What makes a good short story?”
The standards of each genre come to mind. Experienced readers bring what they know of the genre to the text. For example, an academic essay must have a strong thesis with supporting topic sentences followed by evidence to solidify the writer’s point. The writing mostly comes from a logical standpoint rather than an emotional appeal, although the latter can be effective in some cases. In a nutshell, that’s what an academic essay does. If the writing doesn’t meet the expectations of the genre–weak evidence, faulty reasoning, or poor thesis–the paper fails the traditions of the genre.
But as I think more about the question “What is good writing?”, regardless of the genre chosen there are still some basic principles of writing that must be followed: grammar, mechanics, usage, clarity, simplicity, humanity, and sentence variety. Even playing around with figurative language. If that’s what we mean by good writing then so be it. When considering constant advice to use nouns and verbs instead of adverbs and adjectives, calls to be specific and concrete, omit needless words,and the like, writing seems like an objective endeavor. We have the tools–the rubric, so to speak–to make fair judgements about a work.
At the same time, we don’t.
Because readers still disagree on what makes good writing. Twilight has received international success, but I think the writing is terrible. Stephen King applauds J.K Rawlings’ Harry Potter series, except he hates her constant use of adverbs. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is banned from public school libraries across the country, yet it’s also one of the greatest American novels ever written.
G.K. Chesterton writes, “There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” I love this quote because that means you can write about anything and as long as you’re clear and concise with your work, it can be great. If the reader isn’t interested in skateboarding or The Strokes, so be it. What matters is you wrote your work according to basic principles of writing and that’s something to be proud of.