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The Best Writers Are Technicians, Not Artists

April 6, 2022

It’s not often that an article about writing will improve your writing. This one’s the exception, and here’s the nut: Don’t worry about being an artist. Be a technician.

A fellow in greasy coveralls may look like a mechanic, but unless he knows how to fix a car, all you’ve got is a guy with the outfit. Substance without style is still useful, but style without substance is a waste of everyone’s time. 

Writers who worry about style more than substance think they’re going to make a career out of cool. It never works. Distinctive stylists such as Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe wouldn’t matter if their styles had not been in service to providing value to the reader. Imagine Thompson without the road trips or Wolfe with nothing but the suits. Ick. 

Writers who worry about style more than substance think they’re going to make a career out of cool. It never works.

Mike Long

Great writers with unique style are great technicians, meaning they have mastered many ways to express their ideas. The choices they make among those options is the source of their style, and it is the product of their unique knowledge and personality.

A great stylist is first a great technician. It’s the choices they make from the palette of their talents that gives them that style you love.

You wanna be like them? Start with the substance. To be an artist, first make yourself a technician.

Author

  • Mike Long is a speechwriter and author who teaches writing at Georgetown University. He is the co-author of "The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race." You can find him at mikelongonline.com.

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