My train of thought is constantly a jumble of words, half-evolved ideas, and incomplete sentences. I bounce from one subject to the next, often without alerting the person that I’m talking to or working with. I get distracted by things I see around me; the people walking by, the noises coming from around the corner, the change in light because a huge cloud just rolled in. My thoughts are all over the place.
Chapter 2 of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, is all about the simplification of not only your train of thought but of your writing as well. I know that when I sit down to write a paper or one of these blog posts I feel the need to get everything that I’m thinking on the screen. Each of my posts would be one endless sentence that jumps from topic to topic and is filled with insane amounts of punctuation. While this might make sense to me, getting it all down into a written form, who ever happened to read my posts would go insane from the lack of background information, detail, and clarification provided.
Because I have such a scrambled thought process, I end up using long, unnecessary explanations for things that could be cleared up in a few words. For example, I would normally say something along the lines of, “the infrequent use of Furman’s additional dining facilities such as the PalaDen and the Paddock have lead to a decrease in hours of operation in hopes of limiting the further loss of profitable income,” when all I need to say is “The PalaDen and Paddock have shorter hours than the Dining Hall because people go there less.” So much simpler, right? So why is it then that so many of us clutter our work with auxiliary words?
I thought for a very long lime that my long explanations and use of big fancy words ways my “style.” In high school I had a difficult time cutting down papers and essays because I couldn’t bear to part with my “style.” Zinsser explains style as the window through the writing into the writer’s life. Style is a combination of who the writer is and how the writer wants the reader to receive the writing. I don’t know what my style is yet. I know that I like to be straightforward and clean, despite what my “high school style.” In life I try to avoid “beating around the bush” because, frankly, it just makes me angry so I try to do the same in my writing. You can read more about my attempt to define my style here.
While Zinsser focuses on the deconstruction of writing in chapters 2, 3, and 4, he begins to moves toward the construction of “good writing” in chapter 6 where he talks about how to pick words. Words are, after all, the most important part of writing. Using “rummaging” instead of “searching” or “tranquil” instead of “quiet” can make a sentence go from something ordinary and everyday to something that takes your breath away. One thing that I find to be difficult about this process of find more exciting synonyms for mundane words is that you have to be careful that you don’t revert to clutter. Finding a word that looks and sounds better as part of your writing is different than cluttering your writing with long, fancy words that no one understands.
Zinsser lays out a fairly simple way of deconstructing and then reconstructing your writing so that you have the least amount of cutter possible while keeping it as interesting for the reader as the subject can be. Certain subjects are obviously more attractive to certain people, but when a writer is doing their best work, I think that they can make just about any topic interesting to a reader.