When writing anything—essays, articles, blogs, short stories, novels—clarity is key. Word counts are important. Explanations should be concise, but what can one do to keep the writing tight when presenting complicated information?
Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
When I’m writing something historical or technical, I do hours of research. I look at lots of pictures. Most importantly, I talk about it. I like to repeat what I’ve read and seen to others—friends or family who know nothing about my subject. If they understand it right away, I know I’m ready to write. If they look at me like I’m speaking Klingon, I know that I have more research to do.
Some of the best, and simplest, rules for writing can be found in George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language.” He presents a set of guidelines for tight writing that every author can use.
My favorites include, “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” and “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”
I struggle with word-whittling every time I write. Sometimes it’s for lack of understanding, and sometimes it’s because I just adore a particular word. I love the sound or the look or the feel. But like the darling of any good story, the word must be cut to keep the action going. As soon as a reader puts down your book to find a definition or explanation, you run the risk they will never return.
Long, flowery words look pretty on the page, but if they trip your reader, let them go. Find a thesaurus if necessary. Find a short word. Keep it precise and readable. In today’s busy world, audiences prefer quick reads that deliver value. When it comes to wordsmithing, less really is more.