February 18, 2016
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Writing carries a message by telling something to someone who isn’t handy for conversation. That seems simple enough, but the simplicity is deceptive. Start putting the message on paper, and trouble is looking over your shoulder with every word. You know what you want to say; you could say it in conversation with little difficulty. But sit down to write and a shade seems to descend over the brain. Nothing comes out. Or, if something does come out, it’s in a peculiar form which bears little resemblance to what you would say if you were speaking to someone.
Most of us, when we write, want to be stiff and formal, to use bigger words than are necessary, or even desirable. Somewhere in our education and upbringing we got the idea that writing must be formal. Given that unnatural starting point, we take it a step further and don’t settle for mere formality. We become unclear and ambiguous. All sorts of strange things come out of the typewriter, almost as though some other personality had taken over.
There’s no magic rule that will solve the problem. Rules and formulas aren’t the answer. That isn’t to say there are no rules. The ones that tell us what’s good grammar and what isn’t are still around. But if your approach to writing is to look for rules that will save you the trouble of thinking your way out of a corner, you won’t get far. There is, however, one “rule”that you should always keep in mind. Say what you mean. And say it in the most direct, natural way you can.
– Bill Cameron, A Way With Words, © 1979 by Bill Cameron, published by Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, Sask.