Physician, heal thyself!
In other words, how dare you, Gary, instruct us on clear writing when you failed to follow your own coaching?
I recently proofread a long message before sending it to my contact list, but failed to read it aloud. If I had, as I always advise writers to do, I would have discovered this error:
“Precision and simplicity are the keys to clarity, and I will you hand you those keys with gusto!”
Excuse me! “I will you hand you those keys …”?
Vigilant readers nailed me on that. It hurt, and I deserved it.
I might try to reduce the pain by recalling an old word game. Show people this phrase and have them read it aloud:
Paris in the
Almost without exception, people say: “Paris in the spring.”
In fact, the phrase says: “Paris in the the spring.”
“I guess we see what we expect,” reader Carol Downie of Tonka Bay observed.
I guess that I expected to see what I thought I had written, and I got lazy. No excuse. I plead guilty. I failed to make what I wrote say what I meant.
There once was a newspaper columnist who deliberately inserted errors into his writing to provoke his readers. Not the case here.
All of which makes me think of two filmmakers, the great communicators Frederick Wiseman, a documentarian, and Woody Allen.
Wiseman won an Emmy Award for writing, though not a single written word appeared in his film. He wrote with his camera, recording real life. The judges were smart enough to recognize and honor the thought, organization and execution that shaped his storytelling.
Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris” opens with 62 scenes of a day and a night in the life of Paris, with music and no words. Just perfect communication. He got out of the way and let the pictures enchant the audience.
In the same way, we writers can use simple, precise language to engage readers.
Emphasis on “precise.”
And, yes, it still hurts.
Twin Cities writing coach Gary Gilson, who teaches journalism at Colorado College, can be reached through writebetterwithgary.com.