4 Oct 2015
It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.
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.