Billionaire Ted Turner once told Vince McMahon that he was starting his own pro-wrestling circuit, World Championship Wrestling (or WCW). Vince McMahon, president of the then-WWF, famously responded “Have fun with your wrasslin’ company, Ted; I’m in the entertainment business”.
I’ve taught a few writing classes and writing workshops, at conventions, libraries, and other places. I’ve also consulted with writers off and on since I was first published in 2001. A common trend I’ve noticed is a little bit of confusion as to what it takes to be a good writer.
Discussions of how you define being good at something aside, many people seem to think its originality. Most writers – specifically aspiring writers – seem to think that they need to have some new concept, some new story, like something no one has ever seen. And originality is great, don’t get me wrong. If you’ve got originality, you’ve got a leg up on your competition. But what defines a truly successful writer, what makes them good, is being entertaining.
Writing as a profession is being an entertainer. We exist to engage, enthrall, and generally entertain our readers. Originality is wonderful, a following is a plus, and skill at writing never hurt anybody. But at the end of the day, what will determine whether or not you are any good is if you entertain your readers.
The old adage that ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’ may be accurate (I don’t believe so), but it doesn’t mean there aren’t new and engaging ways to tell the same stories. ‘Boy meets girl’ is about as trite as it comes and yet everybody has their personal favorite versions of that story that came along long long LONG after that story had been worked to death. Somewhere between the true essence of the story and the window-dressing, you find the writer’s skill at entertaining. And that’s what matters.
Don’t neglect skill. Don’t underestimate novelty and originality. But at the end of the day, what you need to ask yourself is if the reader will be entertained. Because if they will, then you’ve done your job as a good writer.