Here’s something I’ve learned: the best writers, the great writers don’t pepper their work with a lot of obscure or six syllable words. Instead, they employ a plain, simple language but in an unexpected and creative manner. The constant sprinkling of big or arcane words only gums up the works, gets in the way of what you’re trying to express.
Having written a novel and book of short stories has deepened my appreciation for the great wordsmiths. I get a kick out of the way Joyce or Fitzgerald or Wolfe (to name a few) can turn simple language into the beautiful expression of a thought or emotion without sentimentality.
And here’s something else for all you fledgling writers out there: quit trying to be so damn clever. In any art form, clever is never good and, like the use of obscure language, just mucks thing up. I sometimes look at these on-line literary journals and let’s be honest here; many are just glorified blogs run by recent grads with an English or creative writing degree who now work at Starbucks and need to justify spending thousands of their parents dollars on a worthless degree. “But Mom and Dad, I am using my degree; I’m editing my own on-line literary journal! Now, would you like extra sugar in that coffee?” Anyway, with most of the short stories I read on these sites, I can’t get beyond the first few lines.They’re trying so hard to be clever that they lose me before I can get started. A quote by T. Wolfe: “And it all boiled down to this: honesty, sincerity, no compromise with the truth–those were the essentials of any art–and a writer, no matter what else he had, was just a hack without them.” You tell ’em, Tom. It’s true in art because it’s true in life.
So to all you English and creative writing majors working behind the counter at Starbucks–quit trying so hard to be clever and start being honest and sincere. And quit trying to impress everyone with style or your vocabulary. Anyone can buy a dictionary. And style needs to evolve naturally, otherwise it becomes contrived and mannered. Try forgetting most of what you were taught in those classes. Then the next time some soccer mom orders that cafe grande latte mocha with extra mocha, it’ll be someone else serving it up. And if not, at least you’ll know you’re fighting the good fight. Till next time, muchachos y muchachas.