I’ve written here before about David Whyte, who’s an amazing poet and genius at articulating simple truths of life in ways that you allow you to hear and understand things you already know in a deeper and more full way. What he’s able to do is take the small details of our everyday lives and remove them from their contexts, apply them to bigger contexts, and thus simplify them and universalize them.
Though he’s wonderful to listen to and is certainly a brilliant man, this ability is not a talent. It’s a learned and practiced skill that all writers should learn to pay attention to. The recurring theme of my coaching over the past two or three weeks has been the need to simplify. Certainly this applies to me, too, but I feel like all I’m seeing lately is the ways in which my writers and clients are complicating their writing, making their own creative journeys more difficult and more convoluted, and in that creating all kinds of obstacles to their goals that didn’t exist when they set the goal in the first place.
The solution to this? Radical simplicity. David Whyte wrote: “… we understand that though the world will never be simple, a life that honors the soul seems to have a kind of radical simplicity at the center of it.” What is radical simplicity and how do you bring that to your writing (or your whole life if you’re aiming high)? Certainly it takes practice and slowing down, but there’s a real discipline to radical simplicity. It’s trusting yourself. Trusting that you know the words that belong on the page and that you know the story that needs to be told. If you feel like you’re trying too hard, chances are you are. If you feel like your writing lacks focus, your reader is probably going to feel that way too. If you can’t see the forest through the trees, consider taking a giant step away from your current perspective and approaching your work from a fresh one. What ten adjectives would you use to describe the project you’re working on right now? If someone asked you what it is, would you be able to describe it in three sentences? Writing—whether it’s a short story, a novel, a nonfiction project, a screenplay, or even a speech, must come from what you know. It must be delivered from a humble place, and from a knowing place. As writers you must learn to trust yourselves, and you must learn to honor your writing by allowing it to have a kind of radical simplicity at its core.
Do yourself a favor in February and take a long walk when you feel frustrated with your writing. Explore what it would mean to you to approach your work from a place of radical simplicity. Consider what your attachment is to the complexities that are weighing you down. And then see if you can start shedding unecessary layers, and try to write those three sentences again and see if what you have looks any different. It’s not unlike a business plan. The more simply you’re able to articulate what you’re writing the easier it will be to sit down at your computer with a sense of ownership over your work. You own the work. The work does not own you.