IWSG 38: Clarity in Writing

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our encouragement or insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month, to join the group or find out more click here.



Tamara Narayan | Pat Hatt
Patricia Lynne | Juneta Key | Doreen McGettigan|


OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned  since you started writing?

My nightmare could be summed up with these simple words: “I know what you wrote, but what do you mean?”

Clarity seems simple:

But when I was younger, and I heard this phrase, I would become incensed. How could someone—anyone—not understand what I mean? I wrote poetry and to me it was the simplest of art forms. I couldn’t paint, act, play a musical instrument, or sing. But I could put a few words down and the person would feel something.

We’d connect.

So when I wrote longer works, how did I lose my clarity?

Struggling for Eloquence:

I knew what I thought and what I wanted to say, but there were many times when I didn’t use the right word.

Over time and with the help of a few kind and patient soles, I learned how to select the right words. It wasn’t easy, and it took a fair amount of stubbornness on my part.

It turns out I’m a minimalist too:

It goes against my instincts to write so much down. What I’ve learned is first sentence is a topic sentence and there is no harm in expanding a thought with more detail.

Another thing is to let my work rest long enough for the internal movie to disappear. Then when I re-read my work I see the glaring gaps and choppy sections for myself.

I know my flaws and what to look for when doing my read through. My readers get what I mean now. Some think my writing isn’t too bad, but I still ask for help.

Beta Readers:

Sometimes I still don’t see my mistakes and my beta readers are such a blessing. It isn’t their job to guess at what I mean.

What lengths do you go to for clarify your work?

Any shortcuts you’d like to share?



103 responses to “IWSG 38: Clarity in Writing

  1. Beta readers are a wonderful help in spotting things that don’t make sense. I’m so close to my work that I usually can’t see when things aren’t clear.

  2. I know what you mean. I am a minimalist too. My hubby, Mr Wonderful, can take a 30 second story and expand it to 5 minutes. I take a 5 minute story and condense it to 30 seconds. 🙂
    sherry @ fundinmental

  3. I found my recent experience with beta readers extremely valuable. My story definitely improved, thanks to them. But I also found that sometimes I’m not as clear in my writing as I should be (or as I thought I was). It is like your nightmare coming true. Readers don’t ask what I meant, but they see stuff in my stories I didn’t even dream of putting there. Obviously, clarity is something I should work on.

  4. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

    Putting my work into different formats, like Kindle or paper, helps me look at it more clearly.

  5. Yes, even writing reviews I can see when I failed to get my point across.

  6. Oh yes, beta readers and critique partners definitely help me find places where I’m lacking clarity, especially when it comes to character motivations. Nice post!

  7. Beta readers definitely help with clarity and choppy scenes 🙂 Good post.

  8. I agree with you. Our external writing partners are better at showing us what matters most sometimes in our writing, and helping us stay on track. 🙂

  9. My husband is my first reader, and I always ask him what he thinks the story is about, just to make sure that what I wanted to get across actually did. 🙂

  10. My wording is sometimes awkward, so I get it.
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  11. Crit partners are worth their weight in gold for letting us know what works and what doesn’t. There have been plenty of times where my CPs have been confused by what I thought was obvious. Sometimes we’re too close to the words.

  12. Taking a step back can sure work, then you come back and see more of what needs to be cut or fixed indeed.

  13. Yes, clarity is the key to an awesome story. It’s hard to see what’s on the page when you can see what’s in your head. Outside perspective is invaluable. I frequently turn to one of my kids and ask them to read a quick scene, then tell me what happened. If it’s muddled, then clearly I haven’t done my job right. My issue used to be being too vague. LOL. Water under the bridge, eh?

  14. My first editor was a gem. Her advice has never failed me. And it was simple. Just tell your story. Don’t try to dazzle the reader with your cleverness.

  15. I’ve always been a simple person. Poetry lessons in school were always hard for me because I had a hard time grasping those deeper meanings. I sometimes wish I could be eloquent in my writing and find the words that flow and sound poetic for my characters, but I can’t. 😦 It’s something I strive to improve on for sure.

  16. Loni Townsend

    Me, I have to find new people to test out my stories on. I’ve got a world with special abilities, and if someone already knows about it, it might not seem clear to someone who isn’t familiar with it. So, I search out new people to make sure what I’m putting down actually makes sense. Sometimes, it’s rough to figure it out, but the story is better for it.

  17. I think writing minimal and rewriting generously is a good way to do things. You can always take things away, but you can add them too. That’s the beauty of writing!

  18. I usually have the problem of finding the write words in real life…like with emails, messages, and texts.

  19. I really do need beta readers Some great advice here! 🙂

    Shah X

  20. Great post. Clarity is key. I’m lucky to have fantastic CPs and betas to catch me on all those spots where it is needed in my stories.

  21. Yes indeed, both time away from the manuscript and critique partners/beta readers are indispensable tools for writers.

  22. I had a crit partner who rocked … and then I’ve had some awesome beta readers. They can definitely find things that I can’t see.

  23. I don’t have any shortcuts but saying what you mean in poetry is extremely important. You have to hit the right words and they have to resonate. Good article.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G at Everything Must Change

  24. It is so enriching to know your own flaws, to know where you stand and where you could use some help Then, finding that help is rewarding, I’m sure. As a beginning book writer, I have no experience with beta readers and I feel there is such a long way to get to “perfection”. 🙂 I easily write “too much” (I have never been able to make choices easily in life, whether it is with words, activities or food!), but I enjoy the editing process as well. That being said, choosing which parts to totally delete remains hard.

  25. Beta readers are so necessary. I think I’m mainly a straightforward writer, so I could use more poetic flair in my writing from time to time, but I also think I get sort of rigid or stuck in my own head about things I’m writing and that’s when I know I need a beta reader to see if it makes sense.

  26. spunkonastick

    That’s probably a big struggle for most writers even if they never admit it. How do I make my intentions clear? We can to a point. After that, everyone’s life experiences see a different picture.

  27. Finding the perfect words is like going on a treasure hunt isn’t it?

  28. I write the bare minimum as well. But we do have that option to go back and add more.

  29. Wouldn’t be anywhere without my beta reader.

  30. I’ve never thought about that before! I am a minimalist writer, I think. I know plenty of writers who are the opposite.

  31. Beta readers are great for pointing out when something isn’t clear. I know what’s going on and things that aren’t in the story, but the reader won’t so having someone point it out during editing is vital.

  32. That is something I never had trouble with….thankfully my passion always read clearly…. with me it was GRAMMAR. LOL Once I had that pounded into my head, and the punctuation was clear, it helped even more.

    Betas are certainly a blessing. They find so much that we may miss in our endless edits.

    And always remember a Thesaurus your BEST FRIEND…..

  33. Finding the right words to enable the reader to see what you see in your head is a difficult task, indeed. The words have to be clear enough for them to get it, but still allow for them to add their own unique perspective in the envisioning. Everyone has their own way of interpreting what you write and that’s part of the magic. That’s why beta readers are so important. Their insights are invaluable. Sorry I don’t have any shortcuts. It’s a never-ending learning process, for me anyway.

  34. Finding the right word is so important, not just in poetry. But clarity comes from intention as well, so the words must clearly convey the intent. Writing is not easy, that’s for sure. Thanks for sharing your process.

  35. I’ve often been criticized for using 100 words where 10 will do, but I find that makes the joke funnier if you have to work for it a little bit. I do need to work on making things funnier with as few words as possible, though.

  36. I’m fortunate that my husband is willing to be my first reader and he is always willing to share his valuable insight. It really helps me !

  37. I hear you, Anna! As a writer of fantasy fiction, that’s a phrase I’ve heard too many times to mention. Only now am I really beginning to cut down and clarify enough that I don’t hear the comment nearly as often! 🙂

  38. That time between writing and editing is crucial. I like the way you put it–waiting for the internal movie to disappear.

  39. Outside readers are so important! I have a couple of critique groups I work with for that. @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  40. LOL, some readers just don’t get it, and some readers never will. But beta readers ask the right questions and help you get those things important to your story and only in your head – into the story where they belong! Worth their weight in gold!

  41. I so get this. Clarity can be tricky. Betas do help a lot.

  42. I really get this. Sometimes I struggle with clarity. Thankfully I have one critique partner who will point out when she doesn’t get something. It lets me know I need to add more or tweak what I wrote so it’s clearer what I mean.

  43. “rest long enough for the internal movie to disappear” – that is such a great way to think about it! Because when that movie’s playing in our heads we’ll never be able to see the words the way readers will.

  44. mlouisebarbourfundyblue

    Hi, Emaginette! I’m a little late making the IWSG rounds. Having an outside reader to assess what you’ve written is invaluable. As writers we know what we mean, and we don’t always recognize or understand why others don’t get it. I learned this through math, of all things. have a good one!

  45. I’m also lacking in the ‘clarity department.’ What I think is obvious and easy to understand, is not always the case. All we can do is refine our words. Constantly.

  46. Clarity is so important. I agree that it is good to get the words down and allow some distance between you and the MS so you can read it without the presuppositions clouding your thoughts.

    Sometimes, what I like to do, is get the picture in my head into words on the screen then step away for just a few minutes, do something else that has nothing to do with the story. When I come back, I’ll read what I wrote and get in a few laughs at myself. Then I’ll reorg and cut away some of the purple prose.

  47. A good editor has made all the difference for me. Editors are worth their weight in gold. Well, the good ones are.

  48. Angela Wooldridge

    “Leave it long enough for the internal movie to disappear” – I’ve not heard that expression before, it’s good advice 🙂

  49. To be honest, I’ve never thought about being clear in my work. I think my writing is unnecessary blunt, so I’m always re-examining. But I can most definitely relate to being a minimalist because I feel like I can write an entire story in a few words. The prospect of writing a 90k tome is daunting.

  50. jennifer@badbirdreads

    Hmm, I never will thought about my work in that way.

  51. Sorry for not dropping by sooner, especially since you always have such encouraging words of wisdom to share. I love that phrase “the internal movie.” It reminds me of a song I wrote when I was young(er) that was something like what would it be like if a song could sing itself. Sometimes I wish those ideas could just manifest like in my mind. I’ve often thought how cool it would be to be like the Beta Zoids from Star Trek, but no! Thanks for sharing this.

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