Sorry if that sounds immodest. (Actually, there’s no “if” about it, so…yeah, sorry!) But one thing I have always been good at, since my middle school days, was the mechanics of writing. And a New York Times opinion piece from last month reminded me why: A Picture of Language.
Note this sentence: This latest vintage from our Niagara Escarpment winery tastes wonderful.
Now have a look at a diagram of the same sentence:
You may not have heard of sentence diagramming (do they still teach it in grammar classes in school?), but I loved it. What it did was help you find the different components of a sentence so you knew what the subject was, what the verb was, what the object of the verb was, and what all their modifiers were. That would help you with things like proper subject-verb agreement (e.g., plural subjects took plural verbs), and it would also help you figure out where you went wrong if the sentence was a mess.
That’s just one of the writing mechanics that I excelled at in school, and have been good at ever since. To write well, of course you have to have inspiration too; it’s not all mechanics. The best writers straddle the two; they get good ideas and have an attractive way with words, but they can also write properly, so people will understand. The mechanics of writing are like the frame of your house. Once that’s solid and secure, that’s when you get creative and decorate the building in whatever fun, interesting, or elegant way that inspires you.