Writing Simply

Writing simply is something I’ve been focusing on lately. And while I don’t claim to have mastered the art of writing simply I have gained some ability to recognize writing that is not simple. If you have the unfortunate opportunity to read old legal opinions you will find no shortage of writing that is not simple. Here is an example of a judge detailing a train accident:

On January 21, 1903, John Reed walked along and upon said tracks, and in so doing his foot became caught and held in said opening, negligently, as aforesaid, left open between said rails. That he never could or was able to extricate himself or his foot from said opening. That while he was so held and caught, the appellant learned and became aware of all the facts aforesaid, and, knowing the same, did negligently, at an unlawful high rate of speed, and without any warning or ringing any bell or sounding any whistle, ran a locomotive engine and a number of railroad cars and train along and on and over said tracks against, upon, and over said John Reed, then and there and thereby injuring him in such manner and extent that his death was thereby caused.

Pittsburg, C., C. & St. L. Ry. Co. v. Reed, 44 Ind. App. 635 (1909). You could not obscured and dehumanized an event more if you tried. Let’s simplify:

John Reed was walking along the train track when his foot became stuck in a gap between the rails. The train engineer should have seen John and stopped the train but he was driving the train faster than the law allowed and was therefore unable to stop. The train ran over John, killing him.

Nathaniel Hawthorn said “easy reading is damn hard writing,” I think he’s right. However, every once in a while you get the chance to write something simply that’s actually not that “damn hard” to write. Take those opportunities.


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