How Artists Can Write More Clearly
by Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
The first post in our series helped artists and new writers understand how we confuse our readers with long, convoluted sentences.
Now let’s explore two reasons why we write those kinds of sentences in the first place.
The first reason I want to talk about is one we can’t change.
The second reason is one that can be addressed, with great results over time.
Reason 1. We Write Weird Because We Think Weird
Creatives like you do amazing work for the well-being of the world.
You translate soul into material form.
And you do so in a way others can recognize on sight.
Think about it. That’s huge.
But in order for you to have this superpower, your brain is probably “wired” differently than an accountant or professional copywriter. I know mine is.
Is your brain’s “first language” numbers?
You’re probably okay with that.
Then why can’t it also be fine if your first language isn’t words either?
Many of us creatives think in images.
Visual artists often do.
But we’re all unique.
Choreographers can form mental sentences made up of body movements.
Musicians can think in sound.
While assemblage artists like me think in objects.
My point is many creatives may not be champion writers because… we don’t need to be.
Not in order to excel creatively and make the most out of our one of a kind creative mind.
The problem is we need to write well if we want others to hear about or buy what’s cascading out of that beautiful mind.
We can’t change how we’re wired. Nor would most of us want to.
If you have zero desire to work on your writing, don’t.
I officially absolve you.
Or hire a writer.
Or forget writing altogether, life’s too short.
Make your art on the side.
Volunteer with kids.
But if you want to explore making writing easier, read on.
So What The Heck Can Artists Do To Write More Clearly?
We tackle reason number two.
Reason 2. We Write Weird, On Purpose
I believe the writing of many creatives (and other nice people) lacks clarity.
It’s not because we’re not smart.
Quite the opposite.
I think many of us intelligently design our sentences so people won’t understand them.
We unconsciously obscure our point on purpose.
What-what, Thea? Why on earth would we want not to be understood?
Well, if you were born with less than a “Trumpian” sense of self-worth, you may fear being criticized, laughed at or judged if you come right out and say what you think about things.
It takes moxie and a bit of madness to write clearly.
If we verbally circle round and round to cover our tracks, we prevent the public from rifling through our underwear drawer and possibly laughing uproariously at what they find there.
Unclear On Purpose
I came up with my “unclear on purpose” theory after the first 20 deranged drafts of my thesis in grad school.
Apparently, I reasoned (unconsciously) that if a professor didn’t understand my argument they couldn’t say it was wrong, or just plain garbage.
Solution? I had to take a chance on being understood. I learned to assert and defend my ideas. The world didn’t end. And the process helped me evolve as a writer and as a person.
My “unclear on purpose” theory has since been confirmed by several grad students and artists I have coached or edited with their own writing, since then.
Unclear writing can come down to a fear of being judged.
“I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.” – Erica Jong
Fear Factor For Artists
It’s terrifying to be ridiculed. It isn’t fun to worry about what people in authority will write in the margins of your world. Many of us get nauseous even imagining what a skulking internet troll might say.
Are you an artist who feels more vulnerable on the page than on the canvas? I get that.
I still struggle every day with the fear of writing clearly as well.
But you know 3 things I fear more?
1. I fear people nodding off and drooling on top of my writing because I was too terrified to take a clear stand for anything.
2. I fear how I will feel about myself if I never take a chance on releasing just one glowing paper lantern of an original thought into the world.
3. I fear never having gotten to help other folks who might benefit from my weird-ass take on things.
What do you fear not communicating while you’re running around here on Earth?
And how can someone begin the journey of writing with greater clarity?
Writing Help For Artists Struggling With Fear
Muster up enough self-love and self-confidence to look at your sentences and paragraphs and ask yourself:
‘Now what the hell am I really trying to say here?’
“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”– Barbara Kingsolver
Think to yourself, ‘How would I explain what I’m trying to say here on the phone to my close girlfriend who believes in me?’
One Solution: Call For Help
Better idea. Call that girl or guy friend.
Scribble down what you manage to communicate to them that makes some sense. Do it while you’re on the phone, or you’ll lose it.
Tip: Pay even more attention to what your friend says back to you.
Certain friends know you better than you know yourself. They can often quickly and clearly summarize our “long road to nowhere” arguments in a single sentence.
Don’t be surprised to hear your friend answer: “Oh, so you’re just trying to say (x+ y= z.)
Your jaw may drop open because the very idea you have been in a three-day-oiled-pig- wrestling- match with — has just tripped off their tongue in 2 seconds.
My friends are used to me interrupting them on the phone, with: “Stop talking….. I’m writing that down………..I hate you…you’re a genius!”
Don’t forget to buy your friend a coffee.
But first, type up that phone gold.
Put it in your bio, blog post, grant proposal or artist’s statement.
Leave in your personality. Leave out the long sentences.
Keep working on the idea that what you truly want to say, has value.
When you begin to believe what you say has value, and you begin to write with that belief in your mind — your ideal audience will throw open their hearts and embrace your words with open arms, perhaps for the first time.
Read the third post in The Charmed Studio’s Writing For Artists series on:
If you want some backup getting your authentic inner self to match up with your writerly outer self, look at the lovely, late Carolyn See’s joyfully irreverent: Making A Literary Life: Advice For Writers and Other Dreamers.
Get this book if only to read a great example of a writer who has overcome the fear of being herself on the page.
Extra Writing Help from The Charmed Studio for Artists and Aspiring Writers: 5 Crazy-Good Writing Books I Wish Someone Told Me About Earlier.
Great article on Writing for Artists & Visual Thinkers by Austin Kleon.
Want one-on-one coaching for an important piece of writing? Check out my coaching services.
Or forget books and pass on classes.
Just write. Write a lot.
You’ll get better.