Friday, December 19, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell on Writing

"My writing model is my mother, who is a writer as well. She always valued clarity and simplicity above all else. If someone doesn't understand what you're writing, then everything else you do is superfluous. Irrelevant. If any thoughtful, curious reader finds what I do impenetrable, I've failed. My highest compliment is when someone comes up to me to say, "My 14-year-old daughter, or my 12-year-old son read your book and loved it." I cannot conceive of a greater compliment than that — to write something that as an adult I find satisfying, but also that manages to reach a curious 13- or 14-year-old. That's my model, and if that's your model, then you have to write in a way that's accessible. Clear writing is universal. People talk about writing down to an audience or writing up to an audience; I think that's nonsense. If you write in a way that is clear, transparent, and elegant, it will reach everyone. There's no idea that can't be explained to a thoughtful 14-year-old. If the thoughtful 14-year-old doesn't get it, it is your fault, not the 14-year-old's. I think that's a very important fact."
~ Malcolm Gladwell

Intrigued by some of the ideas in his newest book, Outliers: The Story of Success, I Googled this bestselling author and found this tidbit about writing in a recent interview with Malcolm Gladwell. These words from the author of Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, express the importance this writer gives to clarity. I have always believed that good writing is clear writing. The point of writing is to be understood--not to confuse. (But what about poetry? Poetry is a different art, to be taken much less literally. I've never been good at writing poetry, or even deciphering it, although perhaps poetry is to be felt, above all else, as is music.) Of course, a fourteen-year-old doesn't have the same experience as a forty-two-year-old, so the understanding may not be as great, but the point is that writing should be clear and concise, and convey a story and ideas. What do you think?


  1. I agree totally. I have read a lot of writing in all of its stages, and some people are just good at saying what they mean from the get go and some people just grab the first thing that pops out of their head. While there is nothing wrong with that(after all, it is their thought processes at work) the editing effort will be much greater to get to the nuggets of good clear writing.

  2. I find that I continually rewrite or edit my words to make sure I'm using exactly the right ones to make things as clear as possible to readers. (In fact, I've even altered this post slightly since I first published it to accomplish this very task.)

    Thanks for your comments, Kim.
    I wish you continued success with your book!


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