It was written in big red letters on my paper: “USE SIMPLE SENTENCES.”  

The first thing you need to know about me is that I have been a journalist in training for the past four years.  The second thing you need to know is that I still have absolutely no idea whether or not I can write.

In my past five years in university, I have received many writing assignments. Everything from essays to news report to movie reviews. One professor even asked me to write myself a eulogy.  The results were underwhelming. Some professors have praised me for my careful observations. Most of them however, have noted many mistakes in my punctuation, and my apparent lackluster descriptions.

My mentors all leave me pieces of advice on how to improve my writing, but of all of the comments I have received, I have remembered only one.   “Use simple sentences”, one of my professors wrote in my article about the history of United States of America.

My professor was an ancient lady. She has been teaching in the university for many years and she looked like she has been there from time immemorial. At first, I rejected her advice. I have written my piece simply enough, simplifying it further would make it lose its soul.   But I wanted to understand why she wrote her advice on big red letters as large as my thumb.  In my culture, we also value wisdom that came with age. I thought: surely, being so old and being a professor for so long, she must have known what she was talking about. I reflected upon her advice by reading my past assignments carefully.

As it turned out, she was right. It really was a problem in my writing.

I think it was the part of me which wanted to write about everything I feel. I wrote long sentences without pause. I used commas instead of periods. I did not stop to organize my thoughts. I dumped my feelings like an avalanche, and I didn’t care who gets caught in the way.

USE SIMPLE SENTENCES.  Heeding my professor’s advice, I tried to rewrite my past pieces using simple sentences.  I tried to separate my compound sentences into two—three sentences. I tried to put periods where they belong. It did turn out better, easier to understand. My writing voice sounded more sincere, and I worried less about my punctuations.

One of the things they teach us in Journalism is the importance brevity. If it can be written in one sentence, do not use two. Try to use shorter words. Be precise, and do not beat around the bush. We don’t all have the luxury of time.

My professor made me realize this: In writing, there has to be a compromise. Of course, you have to be yourself, but at the same time, you write to communicate with others. You write so you can be understood. You cannot just hastily put a string of words together and expect others to understand. You need to write in the language of others, not get lost in your own.

I still have no idea whether or not I can write, but with my professor’s advice, I think I got better at communicating with others. I think I have also become better at rationalizing my emotions as I now try to organize them before I write.

In the future I wish I can write as passionately as Ernest Hemingway, or as productively as Stephen King, but for now, I only wish I can write simply, like my professor advised me to do.

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