“See a thing clearly and describe it simply.”
How easy that sounds and how hard it is to do! That’s what’s mastery is, isn’t it? To see clearly and to capture what you see simply and forcefully? Think about a poem you love or a piece of prose that stays in your mind long after you’ve read it. Chances are, there’s a kind of inevitability about the way it was written — as if there could be no better, simpler way to say it.
Then think about something you’ve read that seems clumsy and overly complex or over written. To get at the meaning, you may have been forced to read it several times. Instead of achieving clarity, the writer created confusion. As you work on your current project, here are a few ways to sharpen your prose and make it clearer and crisper:
Read your draft aloud: There’s nothing that will help you see awkward wording or confusing constructions more quickly than reading your words out into the world. Make it a point to really listen to your copy as you read it in draft form and you’ll make it easier for your reader later.
Tighten your sentence structure: Writers known for their clear and compelling prose tend to write sentences that average 23 words or fewer, according to The Writing Coach by Jack Hart. While I’m not sure where this concept came from, it’s worth pondering. Trying reading a piece of prose by Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald or a master stylist like Gustave Flaubert and see if this “rule of thumb” holds true. If it seems to be a fruitful one, then you might consider apply it to your own work.
Keep each sentence one-pointed: Make sure that you aren’t trying to express too many ideas in one sentence. Otherwise you’ll just muddy your prose while confusing or agitating your reader. Let each sentence work hard — and smart. Write on!