As a writer, one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received is to keep it simple. As a reader, one of the most common reason I leave a book is because I can’t focus on it enough to understand it.
I used to try and make my writing sound mature, older than I was. I would literally write out a paragraph or sentence and go back (using the synonyms in Word) and switch words out. This would cause a weird flow of young writing with elaborate words.
I took an independent creative writing class my senior year of high school and this was the main theme that took over the course. Lucky for me, it stuck and I think about it every time I sit down to write, never letting myself fall back into the old switch-a-roo writing.
Now, writing simple in a stylistic sense is completely up to the writer. If you want to write every minuscule detail and can do it consistently throughout a whole story, do it. If you want to be general and simple, leaving details to the imagination, do it. It truly is a style choice. There is a risk that comes with either end because everyone and their mother has an opinion, which is why most stay in the middle.
Writing simple also relates to how it reads. Are you jamming too much in one sentence to make it hard to understand? If a reader has to think too much, they likely won’t stay.
Like most writers, I always feel my writing is great and with no editor, I have few people telling me it isn’t. I need people to tell me it isn’t (or just that it could be better).
I’ve found a website that helps me see how I can adjust my writing to a simpler read.
(It’s also a desktop app, but I haven’t actually put it on my desktop yet.)
Based off of Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, the Hemingway Editor shows you when sentences are hard to read, when passive voice is being used, and when there are simpler alternatives. It also tells you what grade level you are writing at, among other things.
Here is how it looks:
This is the first few paragraphs of a story I have started and put on hold, a.k.a one of those stories—the kind that sits unfinished for much too long, if not forever too long. Anyway, it is completely unedited and if I were to continue working on it, this would be the next step.
As you can see, the app goes sentence by sentence and points out what to edit. I have three sentences that are difficult to read, as well as a few words I could do without. Apparently, the average grade level of reading is grade 9, so I’m a tidbit high.
I see this app as a guideline because, like I’ve said before, style is style and you can write how you want. Sometimes I don’t change things because I like how it reads, but a lot of the time, I do rework some stuff.
Here’s how it looks after I’ve reworked it:
Again, I’ve kept a couple things, but it aligns with their “goals”.
Editing directly in the editor is a nice option because the color doesn’t go away until you “fix” the problem. The first sentence of the last paragraph took a handful of tries. Sometimes it can get frustrating, but I view it as a writing exercise. It forces you to think of different ways to write the same sentence.
It also saves time, allowing you to avoid going back and forth (copying and pasting) between the editor and the document.
Well, this is basically how I keep my writing simple! Practice does make perfect, so I don’t use this tool with every piece because I feel like I have a good grasp on simple writing, but it always helps to double check. I learn more every time I use it!
Now, go! Give it a shot and see where it takes your writing!