“The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is.”
Asked one day if he enjoyed a talented pianist’s technique, Thornton Wilder answered that his command of the piano was impressive, “But,” he added, “I don’t enjoy his playing, it irritates me. The way he sits at the piano, the way he attacks the keyboard says to me, ‘See how truly remarkable I am!’ The sense of self-importance he communicates, that very quality of the performer makes it impossible for me to hear the music.“
You could say the same thing about writing. There is a kind of simple, eloquent writing that doesn’t call attention to itself, but reveals meaning. And there is another kind of writing that practically screams out, ‘See how clever, how artful, I am!’ Here, the emphasis is on performing instead of communicating.
Nouns and verbs that pack the most punch are simple and specific: they evoke vivid, specific images that stay with readers long after they’ve left a page. Eloquent writing is transparent, like a clear pool in which you can see the world reflected.
Whenever I try to be too artful in my writing, to say something mainly for effect, it seems to strike a false note. Sometimes I find what I’ve written so appealing that I can‘t let it go. But sometimes, I just strike it out and move on. Usually, doing this makes what I’ve said stronger and more direct because the reader isn’t getting caught up in my words, but in the meaning or action I want to convey.
How about you? Do you sometimes find yourself falling into performance mode? What do you do when this happens?