It took me a good eight years before I shuffled off the chains of academic writing.
Make no mistake: the way they teach you to write in school will hamper you in the real world.
In academia, you get rewarded for obscurity, density, paragraphs and sentences that stretch on in endless blocks of mind-numbing text.
You quote lots of other people to make your own work sound authoritative, and you try to use as many words as possible so that you can get in the full 6 pages without running out of things to say.
In the real world, things are different. The fewer words, the better. Complex sentences are out. Short paragraphs are in.
In the real world, you get points for sounding punchy. YOU get to be the one coining quotable phrases. And you don’t have to cite every damn authority you used to research your article (although you should ideally keep a record of it).
I remember reading one essay I was particularly proud of aloud to my mother as we drove home from college. I was a senior at the time, and I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I was taking an essay-writing class where we were rewarded for pushing boundaries, and this essay had earned a high grade.
But I remember nothing of it other than that one still moment in the car. I was trying to read the essay but kept stumbling over words, wondering why things didn’t sound as good spoken as they had in my head. When I finished, my mother said, “Uh huh.” She hated it.
And so I learned. What teachers love isn’t the same as what the layman will read.
Rather than “dumbing down” writing to the average reader’s 8th grade reading level, you’re actually called to greater heights by expressing what you want to say in simpler terms.
It’s like poetry. Although you’d think that strict rhythmic or rhyming structures would limit you, they actually spur you to greater creative genius.
Perhaps the most important thing I ever did for my development as a writer was to leave school while the getting was good.
University gave me an ego, an unintelligible vocabulary, and high-falutin’ ideas that would hamper me when it came to communicating with normal, everyday people.
I only matured as a writer when I spent time in the working world of laborers who spoke with an intuitive sense of story, pacing and rhythm. Their way of speaking would inform my writing for the next two decades.