Sitting down to write an article, a blog post, or a paper can seem like a daunting task. Where does one begin? What does one write about? How does one translate one's thoughts and feelings into words on a page that other people will want to read? Writing comes easier to some than others. Some people make their whole living writing: just look at James Patterson, who seems to come out with a new book every month. Others struggle to put 500 words on a page to complete an assigned essay.
The ability to write well is an invaluable skill to have—regardless of what you major in or where you work, you’ll need to know how to write, even if only to send grammatically correct emails to your colleagues.
What Are The Three Touchstones of Good Writing?
Usually discussed in oral interpretation or literature classes, the three touchstones of good writing are universality, individuality, and suggestion. These three touchstones are like the three essential ingredients in all successful writing. Examine any piece of well-regarded literature, or the writing of any respective columnist, blogger, or reporter, and you are sure to find at least two of these touchstones. Knowing what each of these touchstones means can help you develop stronger writing.
Is your writing relatable? That’s what the first touchstone asks you to consider. This doesn’t mean that if you want to produce good writing you have to write about the things that everyone else is writing about; it simply means that good writing typically has universal themes and threads. For example, a good poet doesn’t attempt to write a vague poem that everyone can insert their experience into, rather they incorporate prominent emotions that they know the vast majority of people can relate to, such as love, fear, or grief.
When writing, ask yourself if other people will be able to connect with your writing, even if they can’t relate to the specific situation you are referencing.
Once you’ve determined that other people will be able to connect with your writing, you need to make it uniquely you. Almost everything has been said before, so chances are that when you sit down to write you’re not going to be the first one to write that news story, or literary analysis, or plot. What can you offer to your audience that will make your writing different from the rest? Offering your unique perspective on a topic is essential to keeping readers engaged and coming back for more.
Imitation does not make for success when it comes to writing. It does not benefit you to write like someone else. The world needs your unique voice, so share it.
You’ve done all this before. You know that writing needs to be relatable and unique, but what about what you leave your audience with? Everybody likes a good moral-of-the-story-happy-ending, right? Maybe if you’re twelve, but giving your audience every single detail and lesson in your writing doesn’t give them a chance to interact. Audience interaction is about more than just keeping your audience engaged; it’s about giving them space to insert their own narratives and ask questions.
If, by the end of your article, your readers have all the answers and aren’t left with things to think about, you’ve done them a disservice. Don’t tie up all your loose ends. Leave things open to suggestion and encourage your readers to do more thinking about what you’ve written.
Touchstones aren't guarantees, but being aware of the benchmarks of good writing is a good first step on your way to becoming a better writer. Where will these touchstones take you?