Writing is difficult because it is at the mercy of the largest number of amateurs. Most people wouldn’t argue with a painter about colour and composition, or with a musician about sound and form. But with writing, everyone has an opinion, everyone is a genius, everyone is a writer.
The job of a writer is therefore twofold. First, you must disarm a horde of amateurs, armed to the teeth with ill-informed convictions about what’s right or wrong, correct or incorrect, and acceptable or unacceptable. Only once the weapons are down and the armour if off can you get your story through. Your second job is then to tell your story in a non-threatening way, in a way that doesn’t make the reader want to pick up their weapons and put on their armour.
The only way to achieve the complete surrender of the reader is to make your language ‘invisible’. Because the reader’s battle is with language, not your story, you must tell your story in a way that hides the language such that the reader only interacts with the story.
The true mark of a good writer is the ability to hide language – to paint vivid pictures, evoke emotions, and seduce the senses without it being about words and how they are chosen and organised. A master writer convinces even the most exacting amateur that what they are reading is not about language but simply about the story and the message.
Ultimately, anyone can argue about language, grammar, form, and construction – they belong to the commons. But your story and your message are uniquely yours.
I am not going to pretend that I am a master of concealing language in my writing, far from it. I’m still learning the craft and am still a few years away from ‘good’. But in the short time I have taken writing seriously and studied it at an advanced level, I have come to the realisation that there are very few hard and fast rules in usage and grammar. Of course, most successful writers already know this. And they manipulate the flexibility of the English language to achieve their goals. Often, they do it well. And often, the reader rarely questions their use, or misuse, of language. However, if you are, like me, a beginner, you usually don’t get a pass. And your worst nightmare is the ill-informed critic – who usually come in the form of your friend(s) and family.
My advice is to not rely on the opinions of your friends and family, not at the beginning. They know you the person, not the writer. And until you have proven yourself (may take up to five published books to get the approval) they can never get straight to the story without dragging you, the writer and the friend/brother/sister/husband/wife along. First, they can never objectively separate their judgement of your work as a writer from their view of you as a person. Secondly, they will read and criticise your writing through their often limited and rigid ‘understanding’ of language usage and grammar. As you may already know by now, the ordinary person only knows of the black and white rules of grammar and usage. They don’t operate in the guidelines-heavy grey area in which serious writers thrive.
You know you have arrived as a writer if or when you can write prose that is ‘invisible’ to your close friends and family.