For the longest time, every professional bio of mine has included something along the lines of, “My superpower is taking complex concepts and making them simple.” A Creative Director once wrote that on an annual review, and I’ve loved it ever since.
Lately, I’ve been working on a project that’s shown me just how valuable that superpower is. I’m part of a two-woman content/copy team responsible for writing a wellness & weight loss curriculum.
My co-writer is super-smart — works-in-a-research-lab smart. But, she writes at graduate student level, and our curriculum needs to be at a 5th-6th grade level. So for the past few weeks, I’ve been “translating” her writing.
When we first started, I thought I’d be able to tear through her lessons. I was surprised to find out just how time-consuming this kind of “writing” can be. Because it’s not just about finding two-syllable substitutes for four-syllable words, or sticking to a simple sentence structure. Those are the easy parts.
The part I love is reading the dense, complicated explanations of biological processes — like aerobic metabolism — and figuring out how to describe them in simple language. I like taking a 100-word paragraph and distilling it down to its core meaning.
This is painstaking work. But it’s as satisfying as untangling a ball of yarn or a chain you find at the bottom of your jewelry box. Sometimes I’ll hit a paragraph that can take half an hour to work through. Reading the “before” and “after” gives me a thoroughly geeky thrill.
This kind of writing is like hiking down a steep trail after a rainstorm. You’ve got to step carefully, picking your way around newly exposed rocks. You’re forced to slow down. To stick to the trail.
And afterwards, when I sit down to write for another client, another project, there’s such a sense of freedom. All the clauses! All the words! All the loping, wandering, saying-words-for-the-sake-of-saying-them joy of expression.
It’s so easy to write when there are no “rules.” When you can use any word. Make up your own sentence structure. Hear a rhythm in your head and follow it, without caring whether anyone else hears it, too.
But great poets are bound by meter and they make magic. So do musicians. I want to be like them. I want even the simplest 5th grade-level copy I write to be well written. I want it to flow. And when it finally does, that’s when my job is done.