But it's more helpful to think of writing as a discipline, made up of seven separate skills. Most people who choose to become writers are pretty sure they have a natural talent for at least one of these skills. But once they begin, they belatedly realize that they still have to learn all the other skills that they don’t know.
This happens to everybody: we all have to learn how to write. At first we focus on learning whichever skill we totally lack: Maybe you’re great at structure but terrible at dialogue. Maybe you come up with exciting concepts but you have trouble attaching a meaning theme to those stories. So you teach yourself (or get taught by someone else) the skills you lack, one by one.
And then, once you’ve mastered all those unfamiliar skills, guess what happens? That one skill that you had a natural talent for is now your weakest area, because you’ve been doing it instinctively, rather than intentionally. Instinct isn’t reliable, but well-learned tools are. By the time you’re done, you jettison your “talents” altogether, and you learn every skill, even re-learning the stuff you already knew.
For this reason, it’s way too vague to say that any given manuscript is “well written” or “poorly written”. There’s nothing more painful for a beginning writer than to lovingly craft your first story, masterfully showing off your natural talent for dialogue, then be told “it sucks” because the person reading it thinks it’s a lousy concept. You mutter to yourself, “That jerk didn’t even say anything about the dialogue!”
The problem is that, all too often, writers and their early readers are totally mis-communicating, because they’re each referring to a different skill when they talk about “good writing”. In order to figure out how good or bad your work is, you have to move beyond “It’s great!” or “It sucks!” You have to separately examine the seven skills of writing, evaluate how good you are at each one, and develop them one by one.
I’ve found this breakdown to be very useful, both when improving my own work and when evaluating the work of others. Here are the seven separate skills: