Writing With Purpose
Writing With Purpose
Knowing 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.
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.”