Making It Simpler

If you were receiving personal tutoring from me, I’d be asking questions like "Tell me what you are trying to say in this bit. Can you think of a different way to put that?" Or, "What is the main idea of this part? Do you think what you say here is related to that? What about the last few sentences on this page? How do they support your argument?" Positive questions, rather than criticism are useful in helping you to recognize your own errors and to gradually draw on the innate strength and knowledge that you possess. Eventually you wouldn’t need a tutor at all. You could BE a tutor.

Part of the magic of writing is that you can re-write until you get it right: it’s not a live medium.

Confidence is based on competence; competence is based on having some certainty about what you’re doing. It’s a positive approach.

If you need more confidence, personal tutoring can really help in a short space of time, but you need the right tutor for you.


You can still lose readers at this stage by being unclear.

If you’re worried you're not using the right words, use simpler words. If you’re anxious that your sentences aren't clear, make simpler sentences. If you’re nervous that people won't see your point, make your point simpler. Don’t worry about “not revealing your large vocabulary” -any reader would rather know what you were on about than be lost in multi-syllabic confusions.

Almost all writing problems can be solved by making things simpler.

What makes it complicated for you will make it complicated for the reader. But there’s a really good way of dealing with this. This method has been used for such worldwide classics as The Lord of the Rings and most of C.S. Lewis’s fiction.

Read it aloud.

Yes, talk out loud to yourself if you like, or (more probably) to some understanding friends.

When you reach a paragraph or sentence that just doesn’t sound right, where your communication is unclear, you’ll find a confusing word choice, a broken grammar rule, or your argument goes off the rails at that point. Write down different words, different syntax, change the structure a little. Generally, make it simpler. Reading aloud is a brilliant technique because of an underlying principle which most readers share.

When people read, they usually sound out the words in their heads.

Without appropriate punctuation, especially commas, a sentence will eventually run out of “breath”. Too little punctuation runs the writing ragged; too much makes it full of stops and interruptions mentally. It’s such a useful technique!

So learning punctuation basics and thereby improving clarity is like composing music or tracking with thought itself: periods mark the end of a thought; commas indicate when you want to take a “breath”; semi-colons are where a gesture or dramatic point needs to be made to divide your sentence into two or more thoughts; colons are used to point out an example or list or item; exclamation points are for when you're really excited about something; dashes divide sentences into sub-thoughts.