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Expert Editorial Tips for Writers

Ask a Book Editor: In Defense of "Simple" Writing

Photo by  James Pond  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Writing simply often gets a bad rap.

It's viewed as "dumbed down" or creatively limiting. Why should someone feel sad when they can be in a state of melancholy

Making writing look effortless is in fact the hardest thing to do. It's writing that doesn't draw attention to itself but rather pulls readers into a story or, in nonfiction, grants you a receptive audience. How often do you lose yourself in a movie and think, What a great script!

I'd wager, never.

"Simple" doesn't inherently mean clichés, stock characters, and the sophistication of a particularly gifted nine-year-old. It doesn't even mean commercial versus literary. Instead, it means writing--and then editing--for flow. There's a sure path to the tale or arrangement of ideas. It's so "clean" that your readers feel that it is spontaneously unfolding in front of them--when in fact you've meticulously honed it, carving out the fluff, floridity, and first (even second or third) draft tangents.

It's easier to show off. But then you're truly writing for an audience of one: yourself. Readers don't care if you're super smart or excelled in SAT vocabulary tests; they care if you can keep them turning pages uninterrupted by trips to the dictionary. 

Simple writing is smart writing. It's talent paired with hard work and tough choices. Even if there's less fanfare, it exhibits a quiet strength and the best invitation toward growing an appreciative audience. 

Unless you're Meryl Streep, we roll our eyes when actors call themselves thespians. Writers are wordsmiths but the true wizardry is when our craft looks simple.