It’s the shortest sentence in the Bible. What can a short sentence teach us about simple writing? Look at the power in those words. Just two of them, yet you can almost feel the emotion.
Contrast that to this passage from Samuel Beckett’s book, Watt:
Thus it was not rare to find, on the Sunday, the tallboy on its feet by the fire, and the dressing table on its head by the bed, and the night-stool on its face by the door, and the washand-stand on its back by the window; and, on the Monday, the tallboy on its back by the bed, and the dressing table on its face by the door, and the night-stool on its back by the window and the washand-stand on its feet by the fire; and on the Tuesday…
While there is certainly power in short and long sentences, I believe that succinctness and simplicity in reading is something the majority of readers enjoy.
This is especially true with online reading. Copyblogger’s post Ernest Hemmingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well is a perfect example.
But simple writing goes beyond a smaller number of words. It’s about something more. Expressing oneself and ideas in a way that provide the most meaning with the least number of distractions. If you’re a fan of Zen Habits you know that its originator, Leo Babauta, has mastered simple writing and passes the experience on to readers of his extremely popular website. In fact, the entire site is like a breath of fresh air: no advertisements, no side bars. Just lots of white space and restful reading.
How Simplicity Changed My Writing
While my writing is far (far, far) from the simplicity of either Mr. Hemmingway or Mr. Babauta, I am noticing that with each new novel, my writing is changing: tightening, becoming more simple and less passive.
This is exciting and telling. Working on my fifth novel and I’m just learning this now? Still, it wasn’t as though I finished novel #4 and then—wham!—discovered that I was suddenly writing more simply. It’s been an ongoing progression, like most habits.
Like a duck, we often can’t see all the work going on under the surface. Ducks look serene floating in the water. Take a look underneath the surface, though, and their little webbed feet pedaling like mad. That’s how it is with writing more simply, heck, with living more simply. You don’t really realize how much things have changed until, one day, you do.
Here’s a fun quiz for you: what is the shortest sentence in the English language? Find out via Riddle Brain Teasers.
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