How to Write Clearly

The best way to write clearly is to write like you speak. This may sound too simple, but it really is the truth. We’ve all got decades of practice speaking, but only so many hundreds of hours actually writing. Besides, people talk more than they read. They’re familiar with all the forms and shortcuts that we use in speech but not generally in text. Write like you speak, if you want to be understood.

Not writing like we speak is why so many books are hard to read. They’re written more like lists of information than as something for a human to read. Additionally, many authors are focused on how a sentence looks instead of how it sounds. When people read, they narrate inside their heads. In other words, they speak to themselves, inside, when they read. So doesn’t it make sense to write in a way that sounds good as opposed to what looks good? So ignore all the writing courses that say otherwise and write like you speak. All the best authors do anyway, they just don’t tell anybody their secret.

The problem is that writing is dominated by people that look at their writing instead of hearing it. That’s why writing and reading are loaded with rules and maxims which nobody can understand. We’ve all gone to school – wasn’t it hard trying to learn adjectives and nouns and so forth? I found it nearly impossible. I had to learn how to write by reading what other people wrote, listening to how it sounded, and then repeating that sound. It’s the same way we learn to speak. We didn’t sit down and study the rules of speech from a book. We heard how other people spoke, and then copied that in our own speech.

If you have a hard time writing clearly, take an author you like that you can always understand easily and use him as a reference. This will make it a lot easier to pick up the style of clear writing. Many popular novels are written in a very clear style, so they can be a good place to pick up the style. It can be a little hard to convert the narrative style of novels to everyday writing, but you can still pick out how to be clear from them. If you want a good place to start, try the western novels of Zane Grey. He was great at writing clearly, and in the US many of his books are in the public domain.

Write like you speak, and ignore the critics. The most successful novelists write like they speak, and that’s the reason they can churn out bestsellers year after year. Writing like you speak is the fastest, most efficient way to write because we have so much more practice speaking than we do writing. Leveraging that practice is what leads to success. It also makes for clear writing, because people also have more practice listening than they do reading. When you write like you talk, you’re leveraging your reader’s practice speaking too.