When in doubt, simplify. That’s a lesson I learned the hard way one Thanksgiving, but it applies to writing every day of the year.
It was the first Thanksgiving I wasn’t going to spend with family—don’t remember why, now—so my partner and I decided to cook. A turkey would have been too much for the two of us, so we planned to roast a chicken instead.
Now, we’d both roasted chickens plenty of times before, and they came out moist and tender with lovely crisp skin. We knew how to roast a fine chicken.
But this wasn’t just any chicken: This was the Thanksgiving Chicken. So my partner based it and fussed over it like it was a miniature turkey. And it was the worst damn bird we’d ever eaten. Not moist. Not tender. Even the cat turned her nose up.
Simplify and trust
I think a lot of new writers have the same problem. They write fine when it “doesn’t matter,” when it’s just an email or a presentation to the team. But elevate the occasion even slightly—a report or a presentation at the executive level—and they forget everything they know about writing. They trot out all their big, fancy words, thinking that will make them sound smarter.
You know what makes you sound smart? Conveying an idea in a way that’s easy for your readers or listeners to grasp.
That’s it. You don’t need jargon or $5 words. Simplify.
Just write like yourself. Be yourself. Because you know your stuff. So trust that.
Of course, no one leaps out of the womb knowing how to write a presentation. We learn writing the same way we learn how to roast a chicken: by watching, by learning. By doing it again and again, each time a little better than the time before.
But if you get nervous when you’re asked to step up a level with your writing, you’re not alone. Everybody needs a little courage from time to time.