Saturday, November 6, 2021

4 Tips to Help Writers Write More Clearly

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

Writers need to make sure their readers can get their message. It seems so easy. We have a picture or video in our head that is so vivid it makes us excited. But when we try to tell it to someone else, they seem to miss the point. And the more you say, “Wait, there’s more,” the more they edge toward the door.

Writing can be like invisible ink. To a child, invisible ink is the greatest thing in the world. You can write your deepest secrets to your friend, and your brat brother will never know. Or your parents.

But it doesn’t always work out as planned. Like the time the boy’s mom returned his envelope and told him she couldn’t mail it because there was no address.

“But Mom, it’s right there,” he said, pointing to the front of the envelope.

That’s when his mom explained that the postal carrier had to be able to read the address to deliver it.


Donald M. Murray, in his Craft of Revision, wrote,

“The skillful writer is first a skillful reader who can read what is on the page and what is not on the page rather than what the writer hopes is on the page.”

Disappearing ink isn’t the only way writers sometimes hide their messages. Many of our messages don’t get through because of the following.

Four Ways Writers Often Hide Their Messages

1. The messages in our heads don’t make it to the page.

In most of our writings, whether it’s a devotion, article, or book, we have a single, primary message we want to get across. But somehow, as we write, we can lose or confuse the message.

I recently read a review of a mystery that was pan because the writer let a subplot intrude on the plot. It was hard to tell what the reader should pull for.

Be careful to stick to the point. Often, it is good to write this down when you start, so you can constantly check to be sure you’re sticking to the point.

2. We take too many detours.

I have to be especially careful of this one. I’m a pantser, which means I write without first making an outline. I set pen to paper and watch for where it will take me. Occasionally it’s a straight shot, but too often I find myself meandering like a mountain road.

And that’s okay if I remember I’m working on a draft. Often, the meanderings take me to places I didn’t expect, and make connections I didn’t realize before I started.

But the reader doesn’t want to get carsick trying to keep up with our writing. The rewrite lets me go back and smooth out the road and turns so my reader can follow my argument or story.

3. We assume the reader has had the same experiences that we’ve had.

This often sneaks up on you when you have such a powerful image in your head, you don’t see how others can misconstrue it. Unfortunately, we see it in the church when we talk about our Heavenly Father. We use that image to show someone who is loving, caring, and powerful. But too many people didn’t have a father like that. Theirs’ may have been abusive or absent, or someone who made them think they never measured up.

So, using a familiar and positive—to us—image can become a hindrance to the reader.

We also need to be specific about our topics. Having a person’s dog jump on the bed shows two totally different experiences, whether the dog is a Yorkie or a Great Pyrenees. If you say only dog, you probably assume your reader knows what type you’re talking about. But they won’t until you tell them.

Earlier, I made a big assumption in this post. I’ve always lived near the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I’m familiar with how the roads weave as they climb the side of the mountains. But readers who aren’t familiar with driving through them may not appreciate how curvy and treacherous the roads can be. 

Will that keep my reader from understanding my point? I think they’ll get it because of the context, but it is something I need to consider.

4. We don’t consider our reader.

What does your reader know and like? What are they expecting to find?

This blog is targeted mainly for Christian writers and speakers. Others may read it, and that’s great, but that is our target audience. This isn’t the place for me to talk about different shapes of camellia booms, or how to replace a carburetor in a ’56 Impala. Some of you might find one of those interesting, but that isn’t why you opened this post. Unless I can tie them to writing, somehow.

Your reader shouldn’t dictate only your content, but also your vocabulary, length of writing and sentences, and genre. Are they expecting humor or poetry? You can occasionally surprise them and mix it up, but if they don’t get what they are expecting, a view of the mountains or fall leaves, they’ll quit coming.

That’s four ways where we often hide our desired messages in our writing. If you want your message to get through to the reader, remember, make sure they can see it.

How do you make sure you’re getting your point across?


Tim Suddeth is a stay-at-home dad and butler for his wonderful, adult son with autism. He has written numerous blogs posts, short stories, and three novels waiting for publication. He is a frequent attendee at writers’ conferences, including the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and a member of Word Weavers and ACFW. He lives near Greenville, SC where he shares a house with a bossy Shorky and three too-curious Persians. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at


  1. A great and timely reminder. It is so easy to write the meanderings of my thoughts, but not that easy to understand where they are leading.

  2. I usually have an outline. It helps me stay focused on the main point.But having a critique group is priceless!