C. S. Lewis’s example is humorous, and it is also true.  We have talked about vague and unclear words. What about words that express your meaning but are just big words? Is there anything wrong with using big words? No, of course not—in their proper places. Your reader will grow tired of sifting through big words, and frequently the little ones work just as well. Sometimes those little words just flow better. Words exist because they have meaning; they were created to efficiently convey specific ideas—whether they have three letters or fifteen!

As a writer, you must be able to write thoughts that people can connect with. It is the writer’s responsibility to make sure that everything he writes could be affirmed by any number of people. In other words, his writing needs to be relational. There should be a bridge between what flows from the end of a writer’s pen and what flows through the reader’s head. Thus, you need to use clear and simple phrases, without making it overly flowery or poetic. 

Use standard, written English, but don’t get bogged down with petty grammatical rules. Write, and try not to worry about whether or not your participle is dangling. You can always go look that up later, but for now, just write as your message or story idea comes to you. Don’t let your writing turn into what Lewis called “a perpetual witch hunt for Americanisms, Gallicisms, split infinitives, and sentences that end with a preposition . . . . [Those who write like this] do not inquire whether the Americanism or Gallicisms in question increases or impoverishes the expressiveness of our language. It is nothing to them that the best English speakers and writers have been ending sentences with prepositions for over a thousand years.”2

Don’t miss the point of expressive writing by making it more complicated than it is. As a teacher or parent, remind your students about this often. As a writer, learn it for yourself. When you are able to grasp this axiom, your writing will become clear, smooth, expressive, and most of all, meaningful to the reader.

My fictional friend was dissuaded from using a title to influence the direction of her book. She was in the right, though—not only because she was inspired by her own methodology, but also because she realized that the influence of mere words is, after all, so important in writing—even if those words in the title function only as a guide for the author himself! Fellow writers, pay careful attention to that guideline. As you embark on the journey of learning, remember that your goal is to communicate with your readers—but you get to choose how you do it. You are the author!

Endnotes:

1. Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead, ed., C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children (Scribner, 1996).

2.  C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Copyright 2011, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com  or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your Kindle Fire or Apple or Android devices.

Emily Nowak is a homeschool graduate and junior literature major at Patrick Henry College. She is an avid reader of C. S. Lewis and plans to be a high school English teacher. Emily is from Churchton, Maryland, where she enjoys reading, writing, and teaching.

Publication date: November 30, 2012