The voice. It’s all in the voice.
The way we write, it says so much about what we’re trying to do. Who we’re trying to speak to.
The more I get sucked into the ugly, yucky, gross world of political writing, the more I write like a staid old fart. My words seem like they’re coming out of mud, like they can’t stand under the weight of their own pretentiousness.
“I would argue that…”
Just argue it! Why do you need to preface it?
And yet I do, and yet I do! In my mind, I think that I’m concerned, I’m worried that maybe (I almost wrote “perhaps” instead of “maybe” there. Do you see how easy it is to sound like a dried out cracker?) people will think it’s not my argument. Or maybe I’m worried I’ll come off as too mean, too strong, if I just say the words.
I had a rabbi in yeshiva who used to yell (yes, yell) at us to, “Read the words!” when we studied the Talmud. We kept trying to throw around a bunch of fluff, throw in our own interpretations of the rabbis before we even understood what we were saying. I wonder if that’s what we do when we throw in all the boring words that we don’t need in our writing. I’m worried you’ll think this, so I write something to jump ahead of it. I’m worried you’ll think that, so I’ll write unnaturally, slowly, boringly.
Just write the words! The words you actually want to say, not any of the other ones. Does anyone actually say the word “perhaps”? I don’t think so! Say the word maybe! Why do you need to say, “in fact” in the middle of your stating facts that clarify what you said earlier? The point is the facts! And clarity!
Do you see what I’m saying? Good, because I’m only talking to myself. So, Elad, do you hear me?
I see what you did there, Elad, nice. Keep rockin’ that “maybe” instead of “perhaps”, okay?
“Sure. But I think the readers may start to really think that I’m only writing for myself. Let’s get back to business.”
I just looked back at a piece of writing I was working on. About writing, of all things. And how did I start a paragraph: “There are a few advantages to this.”
“To this”? Really? “This” has to be one of the worst words in the English language, first of all. So vague! It could be referring to a million things at once. Specificity is the beauty of writing, of all art, otherwise we’re just a big glob of emotions and we’re living out some dystopian fever dream where we assume that just throwing a bunch of “this’s” will be enough for people to go into our unique, beautiful, utterly different points of view. Specificity matters because of how uniquely special we are, and how uniquely special our observers are. They need that specificity to understand why to empathize.
And while we’re talking about “There are a few advantages to this” can I ask why you need the sentence in the first place? You’re just saying what you’re about to say. You blubberer.
“You’re talking only to me again.”
That’s okay! I’m done with this game! You know just as well as I do every time you write you’re really writing to yourself. Enough with the illusion! Get to know thyself by talking to thyself, that’s what I say.
“Are you sure? I’m almost positive this piece won’t get any shares. And look, no one is going to take us seriously with this kind of writing. And, I mean, isn’t the point of writing communication?”
Oh listen to you! With all your fears. Don’t you see how all these thoughts are your enemy? They’re how you start throwing this’s around, and why you think you need to say words like “thus” and preface sentences with stuff like “It’s my opinion that…”
“But that stuff is logical. There’s truth to it!”
I know! There’s truth to it but you don’t realize that you’re using the truth backwards! You have fear and then that fear picks truths in order to justify its inaction and its million-billion words that you throw in so people won’t really be able to hear what you’re saying. Bold! That’s what a writer is, and that’s the only way to be a writer. You see that truth, you acknowledge it, but in the moment of writing, it can’t hold you. To be an artist is to throw off the truth of the world if only for a bit. And by doing that we actually create a space where those truths actually don’t matter.
What, do you think that Tolkien was worried that his hobbits weren’t real? You think he stayed up late one night after creating Gandalf and worried about the fact that magic isn’t real? Do you think he thought to himself, “But what if people don’t understand this utterly magical, fully imagined, beautiful world I made?”
No! And if he did, he obviously didn’t listen to the voices that told him to slow down or to try and make everybody happy.
You know what’s funniest of all? That your fears are what stop people from truly getting what you’re saying. When you throw in words people never use, when you try and sound smart to avoid sounding vulnerable, when you add entire sentences that describe what you’re going to do, all of that creates a screen between you and the reader. When you say, “Here is what I think, without any embellishment, with as much specifity as I can fit into words you can understand,” then my gosh, suddenly you’re speaking in a languege that causes people to enter your heart, to get where you’re coming from, to not care if you’re an authority or smart or deserving of their praise.
Because in this world, truth has no power. In this world, what matters is the communion of hearts, the meeting of minds. And have you ever heard of a deep, soulful connection that happened with the word “perhaps” and a bunch of vague talk? No, it comes from deep within, from that vulnerable place. No one falls in love by telling their lover, “Well it is my opinion that I love you.” NO!
Do you see now? Do you see how vulnerable specificity is your road to beautiful writing? Because it isn’t about the writing! It’s about the openness, about how you put up a piece of glass for people to see how you are instead of some crappy Instagram filter to get them to see some version of you that you wish you were? You can’t control what people think of you, and so you may as well give them the clearest idea of what you really mean, who you really are, by letting go of your fears, even if they still beat in your chest. Don’t you see how free you’d be then, how beautiful, and what a difference you’d make?!
“But – ”