When I was in high school trying to write reports and term papers, I had a difficult time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get anything to sound right. Asking dad for advice, he looked at my futile attempts and said, "You're trying to sound smart."
"You're trying to impress your teachers. Quit it, and make it sound like yourself. Do the research, know what you're writing about, but make it sound like yourself." He then taught me a lesson I never forgot.
The most widely read magazine at the time, Reader's Digest, was written on the eighth-grade level. Although enjoyed by professionals and academics, it was read and understood by 10-year-old kids. "You do need to increase your vocabulary. That's a fact. But don't try to impress anyone. Just convey information in a meaningful way."
That made life much easier for me. And as I write this today, I am reminded of a humorous conversation between my brother-in-law, Paul Anderson, and a scientist in Los Alamos, N.M. Paul is an expert auto mechanic and understands everyday life quite well.
The scientist drove up to Paul's shop one day and said, "Mr. Anderson, there seems to be a protrusion in one of my tires that allowed the air to escape."
Paul responded, "Oh, you mean you got a flat?"
Upon which the man replied, "Yes, I guess you could say that."
Whether we are writing or speaking, we should use concepts, syllables, and phrases that convey our thoughts in a meaningful manner to the listener and reader.
The rule of thumb is to say things simply. If people have to ask you what you meant, you miscommunicated. When I teach, tell stories, preach or write, I communicate in such a way that children as well as scientists can understand me.
New writers, as I was back in high school, tend to use long words and complicated writing styles. That works if the writer needs an extra 150 words to fulfill the writing assignment. But if the writer understands what he/she is writing about, fewer words give space for more content. Here's a case in point.
Back in 2004, as I began writing Bible Question & Answer articles for a New Mexico newspaper, Ralph (the editor) told me I had a limit of 250 words per article; and 250 words included the question. I asked, "How can I fully answer a Bible question with approximately 225 words?"
Ralph responded, "Anyone who understands what he believes can respond in 225-250 words."
That was possibly some of the best writing mentoring I ever received! And I worked at it.
After six months, Ralph said, "You're doing very well, and I'm upping your limit to 350 words. Keep avoiding excessive words while filling the added space with content."
Ralph then suggested that I select up to 65 of those articles and format them into a book. Following that advice resulted in my first book titled "Insights on Faith & History." It has recently been updated and published in a second edition called "Reflections on Faith & History."
Quoting from a Princeton University Report: "Write as simply and plainly as possible and it's more likely you'll be thought of as intelligent."
Combining the advice from Dad, Ralph and Princeton changed my life.
Keep in mind that writing doesn't necessarily mean writing books. People write and mail letters to friends. We also write emails, texts, tweets and a lot more. But depressingly, a lot of that is very poorly written.
So, if any of you want to increase your writing skills, come visit the Siloam Springs Writers Guild and we'll help. We meet on the second Monday of each month at the First Baptist Church in Siloam Springs. Enter through the west (lower) entrance and we meet in the first room on the right. We meet from 5:30-7 p.m.
You do not have to be a guild member to attend. However, if any of you authors out there would like to be part of our next book signing event, please join the guild, and we will include you and your books next time.
Remember: Simple Writing is Smart Writing. Have a great day, and Happy Writing.
-- S. Eugene Linzey is the author of "Charter of the Christian Faith." Send comments and questions to [email protected] Visit his website at www.genelinzey.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.