Wise Words for Writers:

Easy reading is damn hard writing.

That is the quote.  It sounds like Hemingway or Fitzgerald on a bad day, or maybe Vonnegut on a good day.  It sounds like someone current who has made a name for himself or herself and is now giving back – like words from some writer’s conference.  But setting that aside for a minute, let’s look at what was said.

Selecting the right word for the right place is a monstrous task, but we need to be careful.  I know a preacher who had a doctorate in theology and never spoke a word less than three syllables.  The church loved him because he never challenged them or made them feel uncomfortable in their faith whatsoever.  The truth was they did not understand him.  He felt he was being precise in his terminology, but the result was no communication at all and a sad commentary that the people in the pews liked it that way.

I’ve read several books lately which I can only describe as being written by thesaurus.  True, selecting the right word for the right place is monstrously important, but pointless if you sacrifice readability.  We have all picked up books that we have raced through, cover to cover.  To that, much has been written about how to build and maintain tension, how to write a page turner, and so on.  What is generally missing from these wise treatments is the subject of readability.  If you go back and look at that last book you raced through you will find it filled mostly with simple words in simple sentences.  It may not be what some literary critics or college professors would call great writing.  It may be rather pedestrian writing, but boy, does it grab and it doesn’t let go.

Tight writing helps.  Small paragraphs, too.  Keep to the point, especially in dialogue.  Make everything move the story forward.  All this helps, but readability is imperative.  Unfortunately, to keep it easy reading, that is damn hard to do, especially if you are a reader, or an educator, or have a doctorate in theology.

So, who said the above?  Here is another thing he said: 

The only sensible ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one’s family and friends; and lastly, the solid cash.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

2 thoughts on “Wise Words for Writers:

  1. I agree completely with your observation on tight writing. A lot of folks get lost in their own language and don’t give the reader a chance to breathe.

    I also agree, perhaps more so, on making sure everything moves a story forward. For some reason, writer think drawing out a scene for no reason will go unnoticed. Believe me, readers always feel bogged down for good reason.

    A wonderful post and terrific insight. Glad I stumbled onto your blog.

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