Dear reader, dear writer,
Very recently, the wildly successful Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie, was asked to give advice about writing to young writers. Part of her reply was: ‘try for more clarity please’, be more accessible.
Similarly, the philosopher John Searle once said: ‘if you can’t say it clearly, you don’t understand it yourself’. It’s a piece of wisdom I use to guide my own writing. Be clear. Be rapidly understandable. Don’t be obscure. Don’t be unnecessarily complex.
The idea is that: before you can communicate clearly, you have to think clearly. To write clearly, and to think clearly, there are a couple of basic methods.
First, if you can make the same point with fewer words, use fewer words. Second, ask the question: what is the core point I want to communicate? And have the answer very clear in your mind. Be able to say: The core point I want to make is… Third, ponder the question: which words will be easiest for my reader to understand? Fourth, in general, longer sentences are harder to write, and harder to read. Therefore, in general, write shorter sentences – for your sake and for your reader’s sake.
Writing simply includes an element of thoughtfulness about the reader’s experience. It involves thinking about the reader. It’s about thinking – what might it feel like to read this? In part, writing simply is a way of reducing the burden of interpretation for the reader. I don’t want to write a complex sentence that you have to read three times before you can understand it. Therefore, I often rewrite a sentence three times, so that the sentence is short and clear and understandable. I try to make my sentences more concise. More precise. More vividly understandable.