Clarity From Blindness

14 October 2010



 Image by Daquellal manera


Word count: 480

Estimated reading time: 3-4 minutes


Writing coach Daphne Grey-Grant recently interviewed Canadian writer and professor Ryan Knighton, the author of several books and movie screenplays.


Ryan was diagnosed with a progressive eye disease at the age of 18, and by his mid-30s he became completely blind. Some of the things he said in this interview about his writing career reminded me of things about clear writing that we’ve talked about previously in this blog.


Write the way you speak

Ryan’s physical handicap brought to mind another person I wrote about last year, Jon Morrow, who is handicapped by paralysis, and is unable to type. Jon uses specialized software to convert his speech into written text. This ‘spoken writing’ method results in documents that are very conversational, interesting and easy-to-follow.


Read your documents aloud

Unlike Jon, Ryan is able to type (and he’s very happy that he took a touch-typing course when he was at school). But has his blindness affected his writing style?


When Daphne asked him this question, Knighton responded, ‘I listen to my writing. That's a huge difference from "reading" it. It changes everything when your ear is running the show, not your eyes. Ironically, my agent says I deliver cleaner copy than her sighted authors.’ [my italics]


Clean copy. That’s writer’s jargon for ‘clear and concise documents’. If listening to your writing helps to produce clear and concise texts, then reading your documents aloud is probably something worth trying.


Use strong verbs

Daphne also asked Knighton what he would change about his students’ writing. The main thing he’d change was their use of weak verbs – what he described as ‘generic, dull and imprecise’.


Ryan said that students saw nouns as ‘gods’. He continued, ‘God isn’t very interesting if she doesn’t animate the universe.’


In other words, verbs animate (ie, breathe life into) a text.


We’ve talked about using strong verbs as well as the value of using active voice rather than passive voice.


Quick tip: If you see a lot of nouns in your documents, especially words that end in –tion or –ness, try to ‘animate’ them by using their verb forms. For example, instead of  ‘We did an evaluation of the survey results’, write this: ‘We evaluated the survey results’.


My own handicaps

Jon Morrow and Ryan Knighton’s stories make me wonder if having full use of my senses may be a handicap for me as a writer! (Maybe ‘full use’ isn’t accurate – I do need eyeglasses, and my hearing gets worse every year.)


I’ll have to remember to read documents out loud before I send them to my readers – and maybe start underlining verbs to ensure that they’re lively and precise.


Now that I think of it, lively and precise verbs may be a good target for developing your vocabulary. I’ll think about that and write some more posts on it.


(To see more of Daphne Grey-Grant’s free articles, go here.)

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