December 16, 2013
Lately I’ve been making an effort to evaluate and improve my writing wherever it happens. I found the book On Writing Well to be an informative, inspiring page-turner, which can be unfairly distilled to one idea: “clear writing is the result of clear thinking.”
You should read it, especially if you don’t think you should read it.
I’m mumbly and occasionally rambling in person, and it normally takes me a few approach runs before I taxi into the airport of understanding. But I love bringing order and clarity to things even if just for myself. Since enjoyment does not equal proficiency, I keep a journal and try to write in it every day. William Zinsser, author of the aforementioned book, is conveniently on board with this:
You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.
I enjoyed Zinsser’s definition of clutter as “the official language used by corporations to hide their mistakes,” which extends to people like me.
One of my favorite highlights is one that I should be reading every time I bother to write more than a paragraph:
Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful? Simplify, simplify.
Like anyone, my written persona gets to sound much more focused and eloquent when I make the effort to scrutinize my words. Hopefully when you’ve read my email, Basecamp message, or sporadic blog post you’ll see evidence of careful consideration. If not, please call me on it, because my unclear writing certainly deserves clearer thinking.