Writing With Purpose

Writing With Purpose

writing with purposeKnowing your purpose before you ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) will ensure that whatever words fall in front of your reader’s eyes are all part of an overall structure that is carefully crafted to illicit an appropriate reader response.

Words combine to synthesize thought into new understanding, relaying a single idea or sequence of vision into a message the reader can unravel. This might seem obvious, but many writers often meander about the page, unsure of where they are going or where they even started from. It doesn’t matter if you are able to weave your words from a flawless loom of language, if you are unable to take the reader and guide them to where they need to go, the effect of your writing will be dulled.

The purpose of your writing must be clear.

The Web is swollen with writing of all varieties. We see short, concise paragraphs, punctuated with regular sub headings tabbed in our browsers next to long winded prose expounding upon everything from the author’s agenda to his leftover lunch.

Writing with a clear purpose doesn’t mean you are destined to follow any particular writing formula. Starting the page with a plan simply means you know where you are headed and are willing to take the appropriate actions needed to get there. As writers, it is easy to get lost inside our heads and forget our mission. As readers, the horizon must be both clear and compelling.

Stripped of excess, any good piece of writing has three essential ingredients.

1) Beginning
2) Middle
3) End

Yes, these are the same three elementary rules we learned in first grade. What works in our first decade works for the rest. The need for clear direction in our writing doesn’t change along with the seasons. Complicated doesn’t mean great. This is where many writers lose their way, choosing long winded prose over crisp sentences in an effort to sound more elegant or intelligent. Word count however, doesn’t dictate your verbal decor. In fact the opposite is often true.

William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway famously quarreled about their differences in style. Faulkner penned long and winding sentences compared to Hemingway’s terse and pointed prose. Faulkner used copious words in complex patterns to spin intricate visions inside his reader’s mind. Hemingway used monosyllabic words to craft his deceptively simplistic stories. These writers may have wielded clashing styles, but their purpose was always clear and present. Both men wrote about their own universal truths. For Faulkner this meant an abundance of words. Hemingway, on the other hand, preferred to write in a seemingly simple manner.

Their distaste for one another rose to infamy during a public feud during the height of their respective careers. Faulkner threw the first stone when he said, “Hemingway has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Hemingway wasted little time in his retort. “Poor Faulkner,“ he said, ”does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

This writer believes that both men were absolutely right.  Great writing isn’t about the words you use, it is the purpose in your prose. Ultimately, it is not the decision to employ long winded words or short simple sentences that will have the greatest impact on a writer’s work. It is the message in the middle.

As much as I like long and winding wordplay, in the end, I have to bow to Hemingway’s style.  Nowhere is writing with a clear purpose better articulated than in the following story by Hemingway. It is, I believe, the finest micro-tale every tapped out on a typewriter.

“For Sale:  Baby shoes, never worn.”

The Collective Inkwell Community Question: Do you prefer long winded prose or short simple sentences? Do you know your purpose before you put pen to paper?


13 responses to Writing With Purpose

  1. Bud Hennekes

    I may be wrong but is the purpose of this post:

    “The purpose of your writing must be clear.” ?


    1) Beginning
    2) Middle
    3) End

    “Yes, these are the same three elementary rules we learned in first grade.”

    I didn’t learn that until the 3rd grade! Shame on you for assuming!

    I also agree that simplicity is the key.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Cath Lawson

    Hi Sean – I love that quote and the purpose of this post.

    I find it so hard to read writing that is stuffed with impressive words. It’s tiresome to read and it always fails to make an impact.

  3. David Wright

    I like a combination of long and short, depending on the writer and my mood. I think any language can be effective so long as the writer knows how to wield it properly.

    As for the purpose, it is almost always the same, to share the world as I see it through my eyes and connect with many who I will never know.

  4. Marc

    Heh I thought it was Sean’s writing but I was thrown off by the author at the top of the post, plus the two of you are definitely influencing each other’s writing – in a good way.

    I’m a Hemingway-style fan myself. Power in simplicity.

    Marc’s last blog post..SEO 101.1 Keyword Research

  5. Sean

    Bud: Yes, exactly. : > )

    3rd grade?!?! See, that right there, that’s why you and I are laughing at the school system.

    Cath: Me too. Ideas need clear communication, not excess syllables.

    Dave: I agree entirely, with both statements.

    Marc: My bad. I’ve no idea why it posted as Dave, but it probably has something to do with my mild, occasional idiocy.

    Lisa: They really do, I’ve had a post that’s been on the back burner forever for Writer Dad about that very topic. Maybe I’ll get to it today. It would be fitting.

  6. janice

    I like when writers mix it up. We don’t breathe the same length of breaths all the time, and our speech rythms vary. Good writing is choreography, music, painting, song and sculpture all expressed through words. I like my soul, my heart and my inner ear to be engaged; I get fed up if my head’s expected to do all the work. Pretentious, ostentatious prose bugs the life out of me but The Old Man and the Sea made me want to pull my hair out.

    I agree with Dave but would go further; my purpose is to communicate experience, to connect, to resonate, to ignite or recreate a response in the reader. If that experience has a beginning, middle and end, fair enough. If it doesn’t, I’d settle for a moment of co-created sensation.

    janice’s last blog post..Connected and Encouraged

  7. Carla

    Writing with a clear, outlined purpose is the only way I can get anything down! I’m not a writer by trade so its something that I struggle with at times on my blogs. Keeping it simple is definitely something I have to keep in mind when I’m writing.

    Carla’s last blog post..Father’s Day: A moment of reflection

  8. Tumblemoose


    For me, it’s about voice. If the voice works for me, I can hang with long or short prose. I find some kind of mix to be the most attractive to me.

    I don’t know that I always write with purpose. Sometimes a stray thought makes it into my thick skull and I think, “Ohhh, THAT would make a great post.” From there, a title often forms and then I sit down to write. Sometimes as I’m writing I’ll realize that the post has morphed into something other than what I originally intended. In those instances, I’m very careful to go back and re-read several times to make certain the thought flow is coherent.

    I think I’m going to have to think on this one for a bit. Thanks for the introspection inspiration, my friend.


    Tumblemoose’s last blog post..What It Takes to Make It Writing Children’s Books

  9. Sean

    Janice: A moment of co-created sensation. I like that, Janice. A lot.

    George: I do the EXACT same thing. I don’t think you have to have purpose before you sit down as long as there’s purpose when you finish. You just want to make sure you’re being fair to the reader.

    Sean’s last blog post..Yo Recuerdo Mi Papí – I Remember My Papi

  10. Charles

    If there was a Writer Idol, I’d vote for Hemingway 🙂

    While I might be wrong, I think most people prefer clear concise writing. At least that’s what I’ve been taught by copywriters.

  11. Bonnie Gray | JustPeachyBabyBlog

    “Word count however, doesn’t dictate your verbal decor.”

    I have a bit of an identity crisis, maybe a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation? I prefer the long winded wrapping of words, but a short-and-terse traffic cop is often giving out tickets along my inner highway of thoughts (right now, in fact!)

    The funny thing is, if a writer is too long winded, I totally get turned off. So, I’d say a mix is perfect, depending on mood. I agree with Tumblemoose. The voice is what’s important. And thus, writing with purpose, as you say, is pinnacle to making a reader’s worthy climb.

    Thank you for this post — it is convicting.. esp. with Hemingway’s quote.

    Bonnie Gray | JustPeachyBabyBlog’s last blog post..Does Balance in Life Exist?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: