Thursday, March 29, 2007

Keep it Simple

"Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon."
~ On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Nothing in this world is quite as difficult as trying to read something that is not readable! Perhaps we don’t know there is junk in our writing. Or maybe we have a feeling, but for some reason are attached and cannot let go. We think we need it—our article cannot do without it. Maybe you think, “I can’t get rid of that comment. It’s a reflection of who I am.” The truth is, if it’s loaded with too much, your style and intent is lost on your reader anyway—likely because he quits reading.

If you aren’t sure whether your writing is filled with unnecessary junk, there is hope for you yet! Think of writing as a bit like baking. Baking is very precise. If you add too much or too little of an ingredient your cookies turn out a flop. Writing is much the same. If you add words that are too complicated or repetitive you create a piece that is hardly readable. If you don't add enough then your article has no substance.

According to William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, “…the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest component.” When you read what you've written ask yourself whether that word is necessary to get your point across.

Avoid overusing words or phrases. If they are not essential to your point, eliminate them. If you feel they are necessary, but you've already used them too much then come up with a unique and interesting way to say what you want. A couple words I struggle with are “just” and “very.” Most of the time they are not needed, but they somehow manage to slip their way into my writing.

Another thing to remember is to keep your text simple by paying attention to word meaning. I've discussed this a little bit in a past blog, but using the wrong word is confusing to your reader and adds unnecessary complications to your writing. If you are even slightly confused about meaning, look it up.

Finally, it is important to consider the actual length of what you are writing. In this fast world we live in, people often don't have the time to spend more than a few minutes reading. So give them what they want in smaller doses. This is ideal in a blog situation where someone may enjoy what you write, but might not be able to read more than a few minutes at a time.

Writing is a skill--a craft. It is learned with time and experience and really education. Reading on writing is great. A couple books I recommend are William Zinsser's On Writing Well, and Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Those books and practice will help you develop a discerning eye--and take you to the next level of your writing career.

See ya next time!


sylvia c. said...

I love "The Artist's Way." It will forever be a reference book for me.

Writing simply is something I strive for, too.

Thanks for the advice!

Have a great weekend!

Sylvia C.

Lisa Vella said...


It is a great book--and learning tool. I got a lot out of it myself.

Have a great weekend!


Matthew C. Keegan said...

Well said. I do like some classical writings where the sentence structure is rich and flowing, but with a tendency of being a bit too verbose.

Today, we're used to "sound bites" so getting to the point certainly does make sense.

Robin said...

I fear my writing is made up entirely of unnecessary junk.