The idea that "Good guys write best" is not a pitch for a higher morality in the content of one's writing. It's a call for more effective writing by applying some practical "good guy" principles.
Simply put, good guys and gals produce quality writing or editing with liberal doses of the good guy ingredients: humility, generosity, conscientious energy, persistence, reliability, courtesy, sympathy, empathy, honesty . . . . Whether it’s some kind of universal reality or not, being a good guy, or gal, seems a good policy to follow. And here's the good part— drawing on one's better self most anyone can become a better writer or editor.
Aside from the curious and wondrous talents of certain creative neurotics, womanizers, alcoholics, druggies, blue meanies, despicables and the like—an extremely large percentage of whom burn out early or, as likely, never get started—the clear application of good guy principles no doubt significantly improves the quality of one’s writing and editing.
Thus the best writing or expression typically comes not from the egocentric, the racist, the over-powering bully, the manipulator, the trickster, the arrogant, the hot-shot or
the show off . . . . Nor does the best writing—despite age old claims for neurosis, misery and alienation as essential artistic ingredients—typically spring from the lone outsider or the self-destructive misfit. Far more likely, the best writing comes from those good guy writers and editors who simply are genuine, reasonable, fair-minded, courteous and attentive, down-to-earth and straight-forward, caring and honestly felt . . . . In short, from those who are both easier to understand and far more credible—those who, in the widest sense of human bondage, communicate on the same wavelength where the other mortals hang out.
Good guys, including experienced professionals, may have genuine confidence yet don't readily perceive themselves as world class talents in a league of their own. Hardly stuck on themselves they are able to grow, learn from others, and ultimately have much to say for themselves. Good guys, including the gals, are more likely to give the manuscript another read; or the book another draft. The good guy doesn’t merely waste time rereading his or her copy and immensely enjoying one's own words of wisdom. Instead, the good guy courteously gives full attention and seriously ponders, edits, polishes, rewrites. And if the work isn't up to par, the good guy doesn't feel right about inflicting it upon a paying or busy reader. Nor does a good guy editor feel right about inflicting less than substantial and polished work upon the reader.
Most fine writers and editors are great readers. Hardly a “know it all,” the good guy pays full attention. The Good guy better identifies with, better understands, and better connects with the reader, too—not least because he or she genuinely feels things. Just as an actor draws on inner resources, the good guy draws on deeper, more genuine sources to convey thoughts and emotions with solid, credible impact.
Significantly, all through the writing process the good guy retains a more persistent sense of the actual reader even though—as distinct from conversation—the reader isn't immediately present to respond and signal likes and dislikes, confusions, doubts or disconnections.
If the writing isn't honest odds are it isn't credible, no matter how long-winded. A less- than-solid bargain, it somehow rings hollow. Feels light. With good guys, one’s word is, well, good. The copy isn’t overblown hype. It doesn’t seek a bigger response than the story warrants, and the reader need not put up his or her guard.
Good guys, not without a touch of humility, rarely think they know it all. If the writer focuses only on one's own writing, fails to pay attention to the reader—especially while writing—then there are no guidelines on how to proceed. No warnings of pot holes, no signs of obstructions, distractions, accidents or dead ends.
In writing, it's not conversing! Conversing, you notice when someone grows sleepy, becomes impatient, turns defensive, reveals more interest, laughs, cries, nods up or down or turns from side to side. All this is less obvious when writing. Yet one need not forsake such clues. The good guy, intuitively aware of others even when writing, acts accordingly; changes his or her tune and responds as a good host would to the reader’s needs and signals.
Good guys are interested in other people, in the world around them, in describing and passing on accurate, meaningful information. Good guys don’t think the process of communication merely a matter of one’s own creativity. Good guys can be “creative” but they’re also interested in discovering what’s really “out there.” Humble good guys don't think the process of communication merely a matter of one's own creativity. Living in a wider world—not simply one of his or her own making—the good guy, unlike the egotist, the miserly, the selfish, draws from history, from life, from the reader, from the world around us.
Good guys don't worry much about fame and fortune, and don't so much worry about people stealing their ideas as they worry (as some have suggested) about having ideas worth stealing. Good Guys worry about producing something of real value.
Admittedly an Adolph Hitler, too, can and has appealed to millions. Yet Hitler's arrogant Third Reich lasted not a thousand years as planned but was brought low in a dozen. To produce admirable, lasting literature more likely requires the behavioral qualities of the less arrogant good guy.
Does your writing or editing meet the good guy test? It's not enough even if you recognize these qualities in yourself. Be the best guy you can be, the best writer or editor you can be, and put these principles into practice. There’s a good guy’s chance you’ll come up with some fine writing or editing.
By Ron Kenner — Good Guys Write (& Edit) Best