JUST STARTING TO WRITE? Keep it short and simple.

JUST STARTING TO WRITE? Keep it short and simple

If you’re just beginning to write for the public, do not attempt composing lengthy or complex pieces. If you’re interested in poetry, do some lines of free verse or simple rhymes if you have the flair for that. As for stories, do small pieces that focus on one or two people and a simple incident or part of an incident.

Work on something interesting or unusual, like an enlightening conversation you had with someone or one you overheard; a rare or largely overlooked incident you observed; a quarrel, an act of kindness …; something that can be easily reported or fabricated without the need for too much context.

When you master writing several paragraphs with few or no mistakes, then you can proceed to longer and more complicated pieces. But however much you grow ultimately, you will find that simplicity or readability and brevity are elements of good writing. Unnecessarily complicating or elongating your writing serves no useful purpose unless your priority is not to be read and effortlessly understood.

JUST STARTING TO WRITE? Keep it short and simple.

And before you conclude, read over to be sure your writing makes sense. If you appear to be rambling, ask yourself what exactly you want to say and see that it’s reflected in the piece. Here’s an example of a short fictional piece.

“WHERE ARE YOU?”

I was unable to sleep. I checked the time on the wall clock in the sitting room for the umpteenth time: it was 11:58 p.m. Soon, it would be the top of the hour and the 10-second chiming of the clock would begin.

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I loved that sound before but I’ve come to dread it every night when I would wait for Ted to come home and the hours would pass with no sign of him. I think I’ll find a way to stop the chiming and just sit in the uncomfortable silence than have my heart wrung every time the clock plays its sequence.

I went to the windows facing the street to peep as I’d done a dozen or so times before. The street was as quiet as it should be. No cars were driving past and the lights in the two houses I could see were off, save the security bulbs outside.

So, I was the only one awake yet again. Ten days in a row. Nine days of married life. Married to a player who swore I was all he needed. That he had settled down for good. That I would never regret taking a chance on him. Lies, lies, lies! If only I’d listened to my parents.

Now, I have to live with my choice, with every night a vigil. I sat down on the sofa, hugging one of the throw pillows as though it were Ted and whispered, “Where are you? Can’t you see how hurt I am waiting here for you? Where are you, Ted? This isn’t what you promised me. Come home to me, my love! Come home, Ted!”

By then, I was sobbing. “I promise I won’t nag. I won’t scold. I only want you here with me. Come home, Ted.”

And the tears flowed like they do every night. Rivulets coursing down my face, ruining the makeup I’d applied after 10 p.m. hoping that it would be a good day and he’d be home before midnight.

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As the clock struck twelve, I lost all control and began to wail, “Where are you? Ted, where are you? …”

-The end-

Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2021

Takeaway: If you’re new to writing, keep your pieces short and simple.

Further reading:

Simplicity is a virtue, even in language

The virtue of brevity in writing

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I am a university lecturer. I teach Mass Communication, mostly writing courses like Feature and Interpretative Writing, Magazine Article Writing and News Writing, and let’s just say I’ve been doing this for a long time. As you have probably guessed, I am a born-again Christian.

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71 comments

  • Ezeh chimezie Amos

    Yeah… This is will be helpful for beginners. I think what causes lengthy writing in beginners is because they just want to prove themselves. But I don’t think their is anything to prove just yet. Small works can turn out to be the best. In fact the best poem I have read was just a ten line poem.

  • Ugochi

    Keep it Short and Simple(KISS). Thanks ma

  • oforgu ifeanyi Augustine

    Simplicity the oil on the wheel of understanding.
    I must applaud the subsequent, it’s concise and of apex imaginative frame

  • Michael Abije

    Thank you very much ma. Once again happy Easter to you

  • Paschal Odigonma Victoria

    It’s the story example for me. I got engrossed reading. Had so much emotions in it.

    Sometimes it gets really hard to keep it short when you are trying to be very descriptive. To convey a particular emotion. But you did just that effortlessly, even while keeping it short and simple.

    • The thing about description is that one is often tempted to describe everything in a scene or on a person. That is not necessary. If you limit your description to what helps you tell the story you’re writing, you will be able to tell a concise story most of the time.

  • Oihoma Jesse Onyemocho

    Good and helpful write, thank you ma’am.
    But like you said ma, beginners should start by writing “small pieces that focus on one or two people and a simple incident”. What of situations where the beginners wants to analyze or give their views on big issues such as; religion, politics or cultural matters. How should they go about it?

    • You can say what you think about a matter without going into detailed analysis which you cannot handle.
      I do cursory commentary on issues of public interest on Aunty Edith, my Fb page, but you will need to scroll down to see them.

  • Well said ma!

    Simplicity is one hallmark of the elements of good writing skill that helps beautify a writing in a way that any person that comes across such write -up would be to read without getting confused or even get bored while reading.
    It also saves time.

  • Nkan David Ita

    Good Afternoon Ma, a lovely piece filled with suspense, and a little piece of comedy at the end…In as much as it’s concise, and straight to the point, I also appreciate your use of simple words and sentence, so that one can easily understand the story..

  • Ugwuama Daniel chinemerem

    Thanks ma, for that piece of writing “where are you” it was captivating.
    Glue to my phone until I was done with it. A lovely piece.

  • Sambo Deborah Friday

    Simplicity, brevity and accuracy are all important elements of writing, especially journalistic writing.
    And all these elements have to be used by a writer, so that the readers can easily understand it

  • Good evening ma, I enjoyed this lesson. I want to ask if it’s okay to use acronyms in writing

    • Only well-known acronyms so that you carry your readers along. But in formal writing, you spell it out at least once, putting the acronym in brackets after it. Subsequently in the piece, you can then use just the acronym. God bless you.

  • Adebanjo Adenike Rebecca

    I love what I just read, eye opening !!kudos ma

  • Chukwuemeka pepertua

    Thank you ma,but what do you mean by the virtue of brevity in writing?

    • Hi! Check the meaning of brevity and virtue. I will not be helping you if I tell you the meanings of simple words you can check up by yourself in your dictionary or via Google. Read the article too to understand the context in which the words were used. Cheers!

  • Good evening ma, i’m well pleased to be here to tap grace from you. In line to always keep our write up concise and and straight to the point, while writing a poem is there any stipulated numbers of line that should make up a stanza of a standard poem?

    • There are different types of poems. The ones with two lines per stanza are called couplets, four lines per stanza, quatrains, etc.

      Some poems even have some stanzas with a certain number of lines and others with another.

      Take a look at the works in my Poems Category on this blog for illustrations

  • Chibuife Isaac Chukwuebuka

    Such a wonderful piece! It’s not just for writers to prove their worth by writing lengthy piece but also to appeal to their readers so that they will want to read more of their work. Thanks ma’am for this. Very insightful.

  • Ibaro Harrison Chidalu

    No doubt, simplicity and clarity of thoughts and expressions are some of the major characteristics of good writing. Thanks so much for this, madam! This is really a good guide for beginners.

  • Aroh Anthonia Ifeoma

    Thank you very much, ma. Whenever I want to write, a lot of ideas just keep flooding my mind and I have difficulty choosing which word comes first and how to convey my message with just a few words

    • Pray before you write. Then, make an outline if you can. Whether you do that or not, write the words as they flow. Some may be for the Introduction or explaining one of your points. Just arrange them loosely under their respective subheadings with spaces for adding more material in between.
      When you finish your first draft, begin to revise it- adding and removing stuff, rephrasing, etc. When you’re satisfied, you can then post it. Hope that helps.

  • Sochi

    I felt disappointed when I saw “The End” because I was engrossed in the story and was hoping to read more.The story was short,easy to understand without consulting a dictionary and filled with suspense.It’s also a perfect example as it helped me to understand the importance of simplicity

  • Intriguing write up ma, the flow of the story had me scrolling down in anticipation. I mostly agree to the second tip on writing on something interesting or unusual, it certainly keeps readers glued to a write up, just as the short story was interesting.

  • Eze hyacienth

    In order to maintain clarity by keeping the story short and simple, how do we maintain the flow of ideas starting from the introduction to the end of the story and also keeping the readers on suspense and what can actually trigger one to write good stories with wild appeal. Thank you, ma.

    • You asked too many questions questions. Let’s take them one by one.

      Ideas for stories that appeal can come from inspiration, observation and conversation. They are all around us, we just need to take note of them.

      Building suspense is a bit tricky. It requires leaving some questions unanswered as you tell a story to make the reader want to go on reading. However, it should not be overdone. Some questions should be answered along the way to encourage the reader while leaving the major ones to the end. See my short story series, “Will You Marry Me?” and others like it to see how I built suspense in them.

      Clarity comes from making sure that there are no confusing holes or jerks in your story. Adding necessary details, like names, age, occupation of characters; location and time of events, etc. improve clarity.

      As for flow of ideas, you need to plan your article before writing. If you want to write about how to be happy, you can decide to write about things to do to ourselves to be happy and then what comes from outside- e.g. people in.our lives…. If you don’t plan, you will mix them up. There is something called logical sequence. How can I meet people comes before how can I form good friendships with people.

      Thank you!

  • So true ma because for your audience to enjoy your writing you must also be consistent in ur write ups which also helps the audience to easily understand. Thank you

  • Ezema Johnmartins Kelechi

    Ma, this is a nice write up.
    But I have a question to ask. For beginners, sometimes one would have the idea of what to write about but can’t get him or herself writing probably because s/he don’t know where and how to start. And again, when one successfully starts a story, as a beginner, at a time into the story, one would be lost along the line, (like, the story tends to lack direction and the motivation to continue). And then, do you think it is nice to have an outline first before starting a story as a beginner or you should just flow along with the development of plots?

    • Hi! Read my responses to other questions. I’ve answered what you asked about outline and flow already. In future posts, I’ll give examples of how to start different types of articles. You can summarise a related incident that takes you to the one you’re writing about or you can ask a question or questions that provoke engagement and personal involvement of readers with the story, for instance. Look around this blog at different types of articles and how I started them. That should help.

  • Ejiofor Emmanuel

    Starting small is important. Writing is a gradual learning process. So, as you said, starting with short stories is better for beginners.

    Simplicity in writing is best too. Readers don’t want your article stressing them. As a writer, your job is to make the write-up easy for them to understand.

    • I agree with you, ma. As beginners, our sentences should be short, simple and straight to the point.. making use of complicated words will confuse our readers. As writers, we should know the type of audience we are writing for because that also determines their level of understanding.

  • Eze Chinalurumogu Success

    This is a typical example of short and simple. Let me add “interesting” too. It didn’t cut corners or try to describe the lady’s outfit that day or how her marriage journey had started. I’m sure those details are important but I get the message you’re passing here and that is for the newbies in the writing world to keep it short and simple and progress to complex things when they’ve mastered the simpler ways.

    Ma’am, would keeping it short and simple require your not writing in dialogues. That is, the use of all ’em quotation marks. Some stories might need dialogue writings especially if it’s a story about two people or more. For a newbie, is it best to keep it in a story telling mode or dialogue mode?

    • If you’re able to write dialogue correctly and what the characters say is crucial to telling the story, why not? The problem is that many new writers mix up the dialogue with their narration and sometimes, what the characters say is inconsequential and bogs the story down.

  • Ossai Judith Mmesoma

    The story is interesting and simple and with this story I have learnt that simple and short stories are more comprehensible.
    Well done ma.

  • Irawaji Itongikunyiowaji Praise

    This is so helpful. Sometimes while trying to write a blog post on my blog, I’m always cracking my brain to think of the best suitable way to keep it short and simple. This post alone has gone a long way for me. Thank you ma.

  • This is very helpful Ma. The use of too many high sounding words isn’t necessary as one would want to reach out to a wide and heterogeneous audience. Thank you.

  • Makwe Covenant Nkiruka

    The key to effective writing-KISS( Keeping it short and simple). A very important point to take note of.

  • Keeping your sentences short and simple is necessary while writing. Kt is one of the basic rules to apply when writing.

  • Agbowo Emmanuel chiagozie

    I agree with you ma, as communicators we should not subscribe to amphiboly

    • Yeah. Hope you don’t use “amphiboly” in your news stories though. 😀😀😀 Ambiguity is a separate problem altogether and we hope to discuss it in this writing tips series.

  • Simplicity is one of the very first things I became conscious of as an upcoming journalist.
    Thank you for re emphasizing it’s importance.
    But then,how do you maintain simplicity without having to say too much but still pass your message across?

  • Abiayi Ifeonuchukwu

    This is very helpful. Keeping your story short and simple as a beginner helps to begin and end well without deviating from your theme. Thank you Ma.

  • Odumuko Oluchukwu Victoria

    Simplicity is key. Also, the need to read over the piece after writing cannot be overemphasized because it helps you sift out unnecessary words. Thank you ma

  • Thanks Ma,
    It’s necessary to keep your stories short and simple because it is one of the basic keys to writing and for clarity.

  • Ossai Judith Mmesoma

    The story is interesting and simple and I have learnt that simple stories are more comprehensible

  • Simplicity is the key to writing.
    A journalist does not write to impress his or her readers instead he or she tries as much as possible to keep the grammar short and simple for better and quick understanding

  • Aṅulika Iwoba

    Thank you very much for this post ma.
    It really helps.
    The tips are very practical and I’ve been using some of them for quite some time now.
    When I’m stuck on a line, and can’t find ways to set and express the context in lengthy and more complicated writings, I pause and ask myself the fundamental points I would like the readers to note and this helps in two ways: it makes for simplicity, and gives me a sense of direction.
    And the story is just a brilliant example.
    One would most assuredly come up with something just as good or even better after noting the suggestions and following them.

  • Keeping your writing simple and short makes it interesting and easy to comprehend

  • Thank Ma,am really enlighten by this.
    Simplicity is about keeping your writing short and simple,and not the long use of words or sentence, Especially the use of active voice for easy understanding.

  • Udo Faithful Uche

    Nice write up ma. It’s a very interesting piece. It actually amazed me how simple it was but still maintained it’s beauty. I have noticed that writers have this mindset that the bigger and ambiguous the words are, the more thrilling and interesting. I was almost thinking like that actually. Thank you for reminding me that Simplicity and brevity will always be the qualities of good writing. I don’t need to stress my life out trying to sound so big.

  • Anekwe Paschaline

    Thank you Ma for always exposing us to the most important things to help us improve.

  • Dick- Unegbu Jennifer

    This is a very helpful piece in writing , keeping the words simple and short will surely make writing more comprehendable to the audience. It is just like a summary of a Long piece of writing or an ambiguous story, broken into bits for easy understanding, Thank you Ma , this will surely improve our ways of writing.

  • Indeed it is of great importance to always keep our write-ups simple and concise, especially as the beginners in the field.

    More importantly, i picked a valid point from this your writing ma. Where you said we should always crosscheck our work (write-ups) before disseminating to the public to avoid errors thanks ma.

  • Nwatu Vera Chisom

    The story was a very good example of how a beginners’ write-ups should be, short and precise. The writer should also still be able to pass a meaningful message. My major problem in writing is my inability to keep my writings short and simple I always have the urge to put down even the smallest details in my writings so my targeted audience can have a clear picture of the point I am trying to make, but I have come to realize that most people don’t like reading long posts so the best way to capture a readers attention is by keeping it short, simple and interesting. With the guiedlines you listed out in this blog I hope I can do better. Thank you ma’am!

  • Nwugwu Jennifer Somtochukwu

    Nice work Ma,
    This short story protrays a good use of simplicity and brevity.

  • Williams Blessing Ngozi

    Wonderful write up ma.
    Simplicity is an inescapable element in journalistic writing because it adds more meaning to a person’s write up.

  • Ugwuanyi Charity Ugochukwu

    Indeed, it should be a feature of every writer/journalist to keep his or her work simple and straight to the point for better and easy understanding by his or her target audience

  • Chioma Peter

    As a beginner, I always felt long and complex write-ups would make a better impression, but halfway into the story,I lose direction and motivation. I just learnt that long stories don’t do the trick, simplicity does.

    And that story is really cool.

  • Chinweuba Blessing Oluchi

    The concept of Keeping it Short and Simple does not only improve the urge to read but also allows clear understanding of word.In times past,when I write and I don’t use complex words,i classify the writings as not suitable.
    But the samples u gave buttress the need for simplicity and brevity.

  • Obong Phebe

    Based on personal experience, I noticed that I couldn’t write much at first not because I know the rules of writing short and simple. So I think its quite natural and necessary to be short and simple as a beginner. Thank you ma, for the teaching.

  • Okwa Ihuoma Jessica

    Simplicity in short familiar topics and constant practice will go a long way in making us better writers.
    Thank you ma for this piece

  • Ezeobi Chisom Success

    Well written and understood..
    Simplicity is really a beauty of every write-up.

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