Reading Time: 5 minutes
I have been writing ever since I can remember – from journals and class papers to school newspapers – and, after some years of experience and a lot of reading about how to write properly, I urge you to ignore all those articles that say you must simplify your writing. No, you don’t have to stupefy your writing and way of thinking to be read.
I started writing seriously when I was accepted into Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa (known simply as FLUL) where I quickly absorb the respect for writing my college had. Literature is the FLUL’s magnum opus and no student was allowed to disrespect this ancient craft. The professors treasured this art and taught with so much passion that the pupils swiftly adopted a similar tenderness towards it. As a result, I read the greatest: I devoured the Odyssey, Iliad and Aeneid, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy. I studied Oedipus Rex (my absolutely favorite play), The Oresteia, Prometheus Bound, Antigone, Medea. I pondered Maquiavel, More, Bacon, Petrarca, Rotterdam, Bruno, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Proust, Campbell, Williams and others. In six months I read three epic poems and twelve tragic plays for my Classical Culture class and it was difficult as hell, but I cherished every moment because I was learning and developing critical thinking with the help of passionate people.
The same respect for Literature continued to be developed as I moved along to my master’s degree and then to a college internship at one of the most prominent Portuguese magazines, where I ended up working for almost two years.
During my academic trajectory, I became acutely aware of how vital Literature was to me and comprehended why we should aim to write like Hemingway and do not settle for a grocery list with dazzle on it.
In spite of that, it was really confusing to be instructed to write a certain way and demand from yourself rigor, excellence and pristine grammar and vocabulary, and then read dozens of articles of so-called “experts” defending you should simplify your writing in order to be likable (just google “how to type well” and you will see what I’m referring). Write “the child screamed” instead of “the child cried loudly”, they say. Bullshit.
Write to express, but don’t settle for mediocracy
I frequently came across web articles that promise to teach how to write to sell. They all have the same in common: the secret for a successful story is to simplify your writing. From their point of view, you should devise the way you think and write the most straightforward way possible because people won’t understand what you are expressing if your writing is too complex, if you use to much passive voice or – god forbid – adverbs with more than three syllables.
The readers, they convey, are lazy and stupid and everybody in the near premises is devoid of a shred of intelligence, so you must use modest and short words, small sentences and only active voice. No biggie-biggie words because they never heard of an object (digital or physical) called dictionary. “Write at an 8th-grade level” for the general audience is the advice from a Medium’s author.
Are we so entitled and condescending to think that most people, who will take the time to read our piece, won’t be able to consult a dictionary when they come across some words they have never seen before? A significant part of them won’t, but a few will! And those few who make an effort and want to learn don’t deserve that you extend them the same courtesy? That you push yourself likewise?
Should we permit authors to endorse that you must write like most of us possess a basic level of education – 8th grade –, like we are incapable of trying to better ourselves and grasp new things? Are we going to allow these “experts” to stupefy us?
Thinking like this – the general idea of writing plain and simple – is promoting a culture of mediocracy and laziness and hinder the readers from improving themselves – we do not give them a chance.
“Write to express, not to impress” is an online cliché about this topic and it is simply obnoxious (…oh, I’m sorry. I meant nasty or off-putting). Your first concern about writing a text should be to express your ideas and more importantly, to show your readers how you went from point A to Z. But, in the end, we should have impressed someone – yourself. You should have impressed yourself with the diverse vocabulary you used, the complex grammar structures you developed and with your research, and aim to create something noteworthy. If you want to scribble something in the line of “me likes eggs because they are good” because it’s simple, why bother?
Writing clearly is different from writing simply
Most of these articles try to transmit several bits of advice on how to write simply in a way people will want to read your stories because they are accessible and easy to read. If this were valid, José Saramago never would have won the Nobel (try reading Blindness or Caim) or William Faulkner wouldn’t be read at all (some cruel people will suggest commencing – starting – with As I Lay Dying, one of the most complex novels from the author and not recommended at all to a Faulkner’s novice). Imagine if these writers had listened to people when they said they could write shorter sentences or present their characters differently? Imagine if we stopped wondering about how things work because someone said so?
If they don’t, should you? Writing well has everything to do with clarity (which is not necessarily accessible), the ability to present a point of view with conspicuous arguments, logic, the skill to construct a text with a beginning, middle and end and little with writing easy to read content.
Hence, if you know the word “facilitate” and have employed “help” twice in a text, should you utilize it? Apply verbs such as “extrapolate”, “exclaimed”, “interject” or “quizzed” alternated with “reply”, “ask”, “said” and “answer”. Use both passive and active voice, employ linking words if needed, write both long and short sentences, make use of different verb tenses.
The most critical things? Firstly, do not produce a repetitive text. Write “said” and “asked” if you want to but vary with “reply” and “queried” to not fatigue – or wear out – the reader. Secondly, choose your battles: adapt your writing style according to the type of text.
Censoring or letting others do that to your intellectual property because everyone (or almost everyone) may not know what fallacy is, and are either too stupid or lazy to discover what it means, is, in itself, a fallacy.