Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Shorten Your Sentences

The easiest, most reliable route to clear and forceful writing is to reduce the length and complexity of your sentences.

In order to show you what not to do, here's a terrible sentence from Wayne Dyer's book Your Sacred Self. It's the final line to story Dyer tells about a laborer who wastes his time dreaming of all the things he intends to buy with his wages. The problem, however, is that his dreaming distracts him from his work, so he ends up losing both his job and his wages.

Here's the last sentence--the proverbial "moral of the story"--from Dyer's parable:

Don't lose what you don't have simply because you have not learned how to discipline your mind and banish those incessant doubts that you create in your fantasies.

If there's a moral there, I certainly can't find it.

If you want your readers to wrap their minds around your point, the moral of your story must be concise and clear. See, for example, Aesop's Fables, which offer simple and tightly-written morals like Don't count your chickens before they hatch and Slow and steady wins the race.

As circular as it may sound, we remember these sayings because they're memorable. By this same logic, Mr. Dyer's sentence is utterly forgettable. So, let's see if we can rewrite it in a tighter, more forceful style:

Don't fantasize about what you don't have.

Strip down your sentences. The best writing is simple and clear.