Rewrite Until Your Work Has Clarity

Keys on a keyboardI’ve written previously how as a novelist I strive to write until my work no longer looks like ‘writing’, that is to say “writing in such a way that nothing gets in the way of understanding what I’m trying to communicate”. But as some have written and told me, that’s really easier said than done. And they’re absolutely right. Writing often sophisticated ideas and concepts in a way that’s simple and clear for even a cursory glance, is, as one emailer from Newfoundland so perfectly put it, wicked difficult.

And in a way it’s unfair to a writer. You spend all your time writing and rewriting your masterpiece, getting it just right, only to the reader to pick it up and devour it in a simple and straightforward way. Without effort.

I liken the process to being a video editor. If there’s even one frame of video in an edit that shouldn’t be there, if you cut one frame too soon (or one frame to late), it sticks out like a sore thumb. Everyone will notice it, and it’ll be distracting. You will have done a bad job as a video editor. But if you really work at it, and craft the edit to perfection, no one notices the edit itself. You essentially disguise the craft. It’ll be a film so perfectly edited, that no one even thinks of the work as “being edited”. That’s a good thing, but it’s a real shame for the editor who spent so much time and effort in the cutting room floor in the first place. There’s every chance they won’t be recognised for their work.

Of course there’s lots of different ways to approach the style of a book. But writing in a straightforward and clear way is generally the sweet-spot for contemporary popular fiction.

And despite it being difficult, simplification is the key to success if you’re writing this way. Keep going back until your points can be understood with a simple cursory glance. If readers really have to study your words, they simply won’t read it properly. They might miss your point and get lost later on. They might even get bored and turn to something else. Disaster.

You need to have a style, sure. But next time you’re starting a new writing project, why not try to let that style come up subtly, through the ideas and stories you’re communicating. Try to avoid, as Elmore Leonard once put it, “the author sticking his nose in”. This might help give you a simplicity, and reduces the barrier between writer and reader.

I’m blown away by the positive responses I’m getting on my latest book, Succession of Power. My goal was for it to be read quickly (the story moves at a fast pace), and it took a lot of work for the narration to move with clarity and simplicity. A few of the reviews and personal emails I’ve had have pointed out how much they enjoy the pace.

I’m touched by that of course, but even more pleased with what that compliment really means. They felt it was pacy, because it was so easy to read. That’s the magic.

I only hope my next big project – whatever that may be – will live up to that standard.

The best of luck to you and your writing, however you’re getting stuck in with it.