Writing is communication via the written word. Sometimes, I forget that. And sometimes, you, dear reader, might forget that. You might be writing parts of your novel, poem, essay, or non-fiction, one day, caught up in what you want to do with your poem or the moment, that when you open your eyes, you find this gaping pile of purple prose staring at you.
Or worse, your reader finds it before you do, and it’s too late to change it.
Well… today, I’m here to offer a solution you’ve probably heard before, but explained in a different way.
Note the following sentences:
- Objects which lack a great deal of complication are often the most widely understood.
- Things are simple when they are clear.
- Simple things are clear things.
- Clarity is simplicity.
Which sentence do you find the most apt, succinct, and clear?
The fourth one, right?
Yes, it’s quite the clear sentence. Three words say exactly what the other three, longer sentences are saying. In this context, I, the writer, am trying to make sure you understand how clarity and simplicity go hand in hand. I am literally putting clarity and simplicity hand in hand by putting them next to each other and adding “is” to equivocate them with each other. Therefore, the fourth sentence rings the clearest to you.
I can’t get any clearer. I am at the limit of the English language.
And that’s how you should be when writing your first drafts of any sort of writing piece.
Stop Worrying, Start Writing
Stop worrying about trying to sound good and beautiful and stylistically genius the first time around. When you get in a block about your next sentence, or you find that your writing doesn’t make sense, find the bare bones of what you are currently trying to say. Write the simplest sentences you can manage.
Literally. Talk it out. Tell yourself what you want to say. Be honest. Be frank. Don’t try to impress yourself. Be clear first. Think, then communicate.
Get the groundwork done before you paint your house. Regroup your army, come up with a plan, then get back into the fray.
Looking Before Leaping
There’s this piece of advice floating around that says if, while writing, you discover something, chances are your reader will also discover it as they are reading.
Viewed one way, this is great advice for writers. It teaches writers that writing with emotion and as much heart as possible will connect writers to readers easily. On the other hand, it’s no-so-good advice. It discourages planning before writing, and says that if you take out all the surprises for yourself, and plan out your writing, you won’t surprise your reader.
I don’t believe in that latter part.
I find that planning what to write, from essays to novels, is fine, so long as you allow for some flexibility and the chance to be surprised. If you put your character through hoops, but don’t explain the reasons for these hoops in the form of character development and logical procession of events—in other words, like an essay, if you don’t bring your proof to the pudding, your novel will fall flat. (Believe me. I know.) I might not have a thesis for my essay when I start it, but I have paragraphs that I want to talk about. And as I analyze them, I know I’ll come up with something. And I know that what I write at first might not be polished, but it’s okay. I’m still figuring things out.
I’m still discovering things.
Nothing has to be perfect on the first run.
Fear and Clarity
I’ve discovered that most of my writing problems are based on fear, clarity being one of them.
In my desire to write well, I forget how to write well. I create sentences that make sense to me, because I know what I want to say in my head, but the meaning is getting lost in unnecessary, and sometimes, inappropriate words that I don’t catch.
If you’re experiencing that, too, it’s okay. You’re not alone. You’re not a bad writer. In fact, you’re really, really, close to being an amazing writer. All you have to do is make a few tweaks:
During the rough writing process, be clear and brutal. Then, in the editing process, worry about things like style and sounding good. As the late Terry Pratchett said:
The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
So tell it. Don’t be afraid to tell it simply.
Don’t be afraid to tell it clearly.