I have a blog but I certainly don’t consider myself a “writer” in any remotely classical or professional sense. Many of the people who read my blog and comment are very good writers, in my opinion – some of them professional, many accomplished or aspiring. I’m flattered that some of these folks deem my blog worthy of reading.
As I say, a majority of those blogs I do follow I consider to be very well written; though clearly I am no expert on the craft of writing. As with art, all I know is what I like.
Some might argue that Charles Dickens remains to this day, one of the best writers of all time. Those same people might also argue that Edward Bulwer-Lytton is an example of one of the worst writers ever. To the extent that Bulwer-Lytton has been established as the standard of a poorly skilled writer, a reputation promoted in the past comic strip character, Snoopy, an actual contest has been set up in his name where people compete to submit examples of intentionally poor writing.
Recently the publishers of Skeptic Magazine were approached about publishing a scientific paper; A Scientific Evaluation of Charles Dickens. The underlying hypothesis being: is it possible for people to tell the difference between a good writer and a bad writer by reading excerpts of their work?
Mikhail Simkin, Ph.D. in physics devised a test whereby he invited people to read passages from the writings of Dickens and Bulwer-Lytton then select which selections they thought could correctly be attributed to either author. In other words, could people discern good writing from bad merely by reading excerpts of an authors writing.
I won’t keep you in suspense; the answer tabulated to be a resounding NO – roughly 50% were able to correctly attribute the writing samples to their correct author. That is: the ability to determine good writing from bad was no greater than random chance.
The overriding controversy from this experiment actually turned out not to be about determining good writing, but about the limits of what science can objectively study. How can subjective determinations about what is good versus bad art, music and literature be delineated scientifically? Still to this day, there are those who hesitate to consider Psychology and Sociology as true sciences. Yet these two academic pursuits frequently employ data gathering and statistical analysis in constructing theories. Still many see a fine distinction between art and science; areas where they intersect and overlap.
Writing skill may be indeed quite subjective; or more to the point, like in the words of a federal judge who was asked to define what he considered pornography, he said: “I know it when I see it”.
You can take the actual Scientific Evaluation of Charles Dickens test yourself here.
I am enjoying indulging a whim and responding to your comments as would the esteemed Edward Bullwer-Lytton. Enjoy.