How to Write with the Elegance of Simplicity

July 26, 2010

SimplicityZenSandWave&StoneThere are 7 Core Principles underlying the success of every conscious and creative writer. These principles are all about accessing the right state of consciousness and applying the right mindset to your writing, and to all activities relating to your authorship, for the best results at every level.

The fifth core principle is Simplicity. The “less is more” principle often presents a challenge for writers who tend to have an abundance of ideas and an enthusiasm for sharing them with others. Yet in an age of information overload and decreasing attention spans, sharpening the focus by concentrating on the essentials dramatically improves the chances of reaching, and being heard by, a wide international audience.

Simplicity is a fundamental part of many of the world’s wisdom traditions and is a perennial truth. The “less is more” principle is also associated with many forms of creative expression such as the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe who was an advocate of simplicity of style.

Yet simplicity and clarity don’t just lead to a direct perception of truth and good design. They also give rise to powerful and effective communication.

So why do writers often fall into the trap of writing more than is required?

Motivated to Communicate

Most writers feel deeply motivated to communicate and have their voices heard in the world. As a consequence, there is an impulse to share as much as possible in order to make the greatest contribution.

However, the “less is more” principle shows that the opposite is often true. Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince) expressed it beautifully: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing more to take away.”

This echoes Michelangelo’s experience of carving the statue of David when he saw an angel in a block of marble and set him free by taking away the extraneous marble surrounding the core.

So how do you write with the elegance of simplicity?

1. Quite simply, keep it simple! We are often taught to value complexity over simplicity and most people seem to have an in-built mechanism to strive for “more”.

The elusive “more” is in fact never actually satisfied because as soon as we reach one target, another one appears on the horizon. So the sooner we recognise and release this as an unhelpful mindset, the better.

With writing there is an elegance which comes from keeping both style and content simple, which simply means having nothing superfluous on the page.

Explore this by setting a clear intention, holding your awareness on it as you write your first draft, and enjoying a liberal application of the proverbial red pen when you do your editing!

2. Remember that you don’t have to write everything you know about a subject or a storyline.

This sometimes comes as a revelation to new writers and for many people represents crossing a threshold into a more mature phase of writing.

Obvious though it may at first appear to be, we are working with strong creative impulses when it comes to writing and these sometimes overrule our better judgement.

So make it part of your creative process to stash away (in a file or folder) ideas which may well suit a future project better and sharpen the focus of your current one in the process.

3. Decide on three outcomes for your reader and weave everything around those.

In addition to developing your ideas of what you want to share with your readers, it is important to reflect on what experience you want your readers to have from reading your work.

For non-fiction writers this will be related to what you want them to learn, know and understand from the knowledge, wisdom and expertise you share.

For fiction writers, there may well be an underlying message or core theme you want your novel to convey as well as a consideration of how you want your readers to feel at the end of your book.

Once you have identified these outcomes, use them as criteria for deciding what you edit out of your work and what you retain.

I’d love to know what books you have read lately that have succeeded with simplicity and how you will apply this principle to your next piece of writing? So do feel free to contribute to the conversation below.

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© Julia McCutchen 2010. All Rights Reserved.

If you want to use this article in your ezine or on your website I’d be happy for you to do so as long as you use the complete article, including the copyright line, and include the following paragraph in its entirety:

Julia McCutchen is the founder & creative director of the International Association of Conscious & Creative Writers (IACCW) where writers discover their authentic voice – on the page and in the world. A former managing director & publisher (Element, Random House), Julia is a successful and intuitive writer’s coach, mentor and professional publishing consultant. She has over 20 years’ experience of publishing and a track record that includes UK no 1 and international bestsellers. Julia is the author of The Writer’s Journey: From Inspiration to Publication and the creator of the How to Write the Ultimate Book Proposal Online Masterclass Course. For a FREE Special Report, Discover Your Authentic Voice – on the page and in the world, visit www.iaccw.com, and for a range of FREE articles, audios and videos for writers visit www.juliamccutchen.com.

2 Comments »

  1. I think Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ is the perfect example of simplicity. His style of writing both echoes the story and strengthens it. It is stark, shocking and brilliant. The language conveys this effortlessly. In contrast I think Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ would have benefited immensely from your article. Her overuse of words, repetition and long involved description of unnecessary elements left me feeling tired by minutiae. As for how I will apply the elegance of simplicity of which you speak, I think it is certain I will not underestimate the knowledge and understanding of my readers but instead give them only what they need and not, as Meyer is guilty of, everything that I think they will want.

    Comment by Mia — July 26, 2010

  2. Lovely comment Mia, thank you. Well-written and well-said! Sounds like your readers are in for a treat 😉

    Comment by julia — July 27, 2010

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