For the Sake of Clarity

Clarity should be one of every writer’s, indeed, every person’s, most cherished values. Before you can find your voice or adopt a meaningful philosophy, you must be clear.

But some writers write like they’re in a fog.

“The woman’s face almost seemed to express a negative sort of emotion.” No, that isn’t an actual quote from an actual book, but I’ve seen real prose not too far from this.

Pretentious people despise clarity. They prefer fogginess, which seems to hide all sorts of mysteries (but actually holds none).

Clarity does not have to be lengthy or acrobatic. “Lightning struck the tree.” “A moat surrounded the castle.” “Mary felt enraged.”

Clarity is superior to fogginess not only from the perspective of writing craft, but also from a philosophical standpoint.

Have you met people who purposely stumble at the finish line? Or maybe you are someone who does this. A success seems too certain, too straightforward, too mainstream, too predictable, too uplifting, so passé. It’s much more fun to watch someone fall than to see someone soar, isn’t it? Failure is more alluring than achievement, illogicality more intriguing than rational thought. Success won’t bring happiness, anyway. It will only frustrate you.

I hope you don’t feel that way. If you do, I hope you are willing to change.

Change your prose at the very least, since what you write is a manifestation of your thoughts. I see four causes of fogginess in prose.

One, you aren’t sure precisely what you’re trying to say. Expected in a first draft, unacceptable in a final one.

Two, fear. You fear that, by taking a clear stance, you will either alienate people or receive criticism.

Three, lack of knowledge. You know you’re supposed to be writing about the importance of the Ottoman Empire, but you know nothing about it. “The Ottoman Empire was influential in many different ways and for various reasons. It was similar to but also different from other empires we have studied thus far . . .”

Four, a philosophical belief that one can be certain of nothing, which results in a relativistic, wishy-washy set of convictions, if they can be called convictions, that prevents a writer from telling the truth.

Clarity arises from four positive qualities.

One, knowing exactly what you intend to say.

Two, not minding or not knowing that you might alienate people or receive criticism.

Three, knowing you have your facts straight.

Four, holding the belief that knowledge and truth are real and attainable.

Clarity is for those who want to be happy. Fogginess is for people who wish to abandon the search for fulfillment. That’s why today I’m making a firm resolution (or dare I say a clear one?) to embrace clarity and reject the fog.

19 thoughts on “For the Sake of Clarity

  1. Good advice – reminds me of something I was told years ago: “When you think you’ve finished, go through and reduce the word count by 10-15%.”

  2. “Failure is more alluring than achievement” So ugly and true. I don’t think people wish to be happy, generally speaking. I’m glad you have chosen that instead of misery. One down (wait, two, I’m with you on that), 7.299.999.998 to go.

    • Good! My fear would have been someone saying, “I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Spit it out … are you for or against clarity?”

  3. This is so true and so needed in the world today. No one wants to speak truth, for fear of failure, rejection or isolation, or all of the above. Thank you for being clear; this is my hope and aspiration. 😉

  4. YES! Everything you said I was nodding along. I’ve found a kindred spirit in writing theory and procedure. Just ask my students. It might as well have been you grading their essays; our commentaries on this issue are so similar.

  5. Great piece – clearly written 😉

    Personally, I agree and disagree with it for different reasons… I am a highly opinionated person and have no problem declaring my thoughts and letting people’s judgments (of me) fall where they may. Yet I also think that sometimes we (well, me anyway) write in order to expand/explore our own thinking and part of this is EMBRACING the ‘not knowing’. There is no shame in ‘not knowing’ – in fact it’s an exciting space to exist in when we realise there is so much more to learn and that in itself can be exciting! Sharing the ‘not knowing’ (and the possibilities of exploration beyond that) is what I love as an avid reader – as long as it’s well written of course.

    • I see where you’re coming from! Definitely no shame in not knowing, but I don’t think it’s something to be celebrated, either. 😉 Thanks for your comment, Art!

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