Hello and welcome to another article written by yours truly, writer and tutor – E. Lexi Abbott! Today’s article is about unlocking your words and saying what it is that you mean to say.
First thing’s first, what do I mean by this? In my experience as both a writer and a tutor, 98% of the time we tend to get in our own way. We know what we want to say and we know what we mean by the way we word things. This knowledge results in us forgetting a very important and critical thing – we are not our audience. Our audience is another person or a group of other people besides ourselves with different backgrounds, upbringings, and ways of expressing themselves. This often leads us to getting in our readers’ way which is the #1 NO-NO of writing.
NEVER get in your readers’ way.
So how do we fix this? How do we make sure that our readers can understand us? How can we say what we want to in a way that others can understand?
Welcome to the article!
Step 1: What Are You Saying?
I know what you’re thinking – “E. Lexi, I know what I am saying, it is written down in black and white right here in front of me,” – but the words you have chosen to write is not what I am talking about.
What I mean is…what is the whole scope of what you are trying to say? What are the details?
Here’s an example: I was tutoring a student of mine once (1/28/2021) and he was trying to write a paper comparing movies to books, arguing that movies are better. One of his examples was that movies are better because more goes into them than books. I asked him to explain and he said: “You have to pay more money to more people to make a movie,” and while this is not wrong, it’s not the right thing to say either. The reason it is not the right thing to say is because it does not get to the core of what he was trying to say.
What he was saying did not match what he MEANT
What he MEANT was: You have to not only write the movie script, but you have to print it out, hire actors to act it out, hire people to create the props, hire people to create the choreography, hire people to do the lighting, hire people to film, hire people to shoot the movie, hire people to edit the movie, hire people to animate the movie (if there is any animation)…so on and so forth.
I kept asking him to explain more, explaining that he was only saying surface information, but he couldn’t get past that he had already said what he said and thought that it was what he meant. He could not come to terms with the fact that he had not yet explained the depth of what he was trying to say. Eventually, I asked him if he would like a metaphor to help explain it and he said, “Yes, please!” (it is important to note that I have been working with this student for a few weeks now so we have finally gained a recognition of one another and how we work).
What I told him was this: “Remember the Titanic? Remember how they ran into the iceberg because they could see the top but not the bottom because of how big it is under the water? Think of your words in that way. What you are telling me is, “You pay more money to produce a movie!” but what you MEAN is, “A movie takes actors, filming, props, lighting, editing, and more!” So, say what you mean! Everyone in the world can see the top of the iceberg, but they can’t see under the water.” After this explanation he said, “Ohhhhhhhh!” and hallelujah! The lightbulb moment was there!
So…what are you ACTUALLY trying to say? What do you mean when you say what you have written down on that paper of yours in front of you?
When a teacher/tutor tells you to explain further, but you feel that you have already explained all that you can, take a step back and think about what conclusion you are trying to lead your reader to and then just write that down instead. Direct and to the point in writing is ALWAYS better than fancy flourish!
Until next time!