I am a high school student, and am concerned with my recent compositional tendencies. This past year, I took AP English Language and Composition. It was a rather difficult class, as writing is not my strong suite yet I was still expected to get all A's. Timed writing is especially emphasized, and after a while I found that writing with "sophisticated syntax and diction", as my teacher called it, earned me high grades on essays (Whether this discovery was conscious or not I can't say). Now whenever I write something it comes out excessively ornamented and often times convoluted. Although it always earns me a high grade, as a quite meek and unassuming person I feel a kind of repulsion at how artificial it sounds. How can I attain a more concise and unaffected writing style?
You will probably come to find that different writing styles suit different purposes. This is taught in most writing classes, usually with discussion of "audience" or "target" or "purpose".
So you've already found one style (formal academic writing) that works for one audience and purpose. That doesn't mean it's the only way you can write.
Your post here seems slightly formal, but that's not completely inappropriate for the audience, so it seems you've found another way to match your words to your purpose.
In terms of exploring different styles? Most writing needs rewriting. When you produce something you think is repulsive, edit it. Figure out which words you dislike, and change them. I know this seems obvious, but I really think it's the answer. It may seem like a strange situation, as if you're artificially changing your natural voice to make it seem natural, but it sounds like your natural voice has already been overly influenced in a direction you don't like, so you're just trying to work it back.
You can explore other styles of writing as well in order to make yourself truly versatile. Try some poetry, something in dialect, song lyrics, news reports, scientific lab reports, sales copy for a product you love, texts to friends, emails to prospective employers. And for all of them, don't forget the editing stage, because that's where you'll refine your style and develop the techniques that are best for that particular audience and purpose.
What a great question! Your instincts are good. "Excessively ornamented and often times convoluted" writing may earn you high marks in a class, or even in academia. But in the real world setting, simple and direct gets the job done. I have 3 pieces of advice that I've learned from others (or learned the hard way) over the years:
- Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary. Never use jargon or a 50 cent word when a simpler word does just as well. BUT, it is good to use jargon or a 50 cent word in place of a longer, more elaborate phrase.
For example, as a medical student, I would use the phrase "Painful to palpation" in many of my notes: "The Patient's abdomen was painful to palpation." Finally, the resident told me one day, "Look: the word is tender." So my notes became more concise, easier to read, and more expressive when I just wrote "The patient's abdomen is tender."
Having a good vocabulary is crucial. But don't use a fancy word just for the sake of using a fancy word. Make your statements as simple as possible. Use fancy words when they make sentences more concise. Don't use fancy words when they make sentences longer than the plain English version.
- "Get the lard out." This is a phrase one of my teachers used to use. It means "be direct." When writing for an academic audience, we can't help but add a bunch of useless (often introductory) phrases that add nothing but bulk to the paper. We all include them out of habit, because we hear or read them so much.
For example, I'm editing a document now that starts with:
"This document provides descriptions of the requirements necessary to implement changes in the program."
I'm recommending it be changed to:
"This document describes required changes to the program."
It's hard to come up with good examples on the spot. And it's hard to be succinct about what to watch out for. But once you get in the habit of watching for "lard," you'll see it everywhere. In this example, the red flags are redundancy such as "requirements necessary" (if the "requirements" aren't necessary, they're not requirements, are they?) or "implementing changes" ("implementing" already implies a change of some kind). Using non-specific verbs ("provides") also requires you to tack on extra verbiage to make the meaning less ambiguous ("provide descriptions"). Why not just start with a more precise verb to begin with ("Describes...")
- Revisions and editing. If you're being asked to do a lot of on-the-spot timed writing, you won't be able to revise much. So this tip won't help much with that. But "getting the lard out" really does require numerous drafts, sleeping on something overnight so you can look at it with a fresh eye the next day, and a dedicated effort to, say, "shorten a section by 50%." This is where practice comes in, too.
If you're a high-school student, take heart. If you take writing classes in college, you'll get plenty of additional practice. And the instruction gets more sophisticated, too.
Excessive concission always seems affected. Feel free to increase the words to idea ratio. Ignore the unimportant ideas as a way to cut verbosity. If you want your words to have a greater impact, say less and only say what matters. My greatest asset in limiting my vocabulary choice is to remember which words my little sister uses. If you are an only child eat lunch with the stoners (but don't use their ten most favorite words or share their habits). Choose words they would understand. A large vocabulary is a joy but if you want to be read by a wider audience, writing with a smaller vocabulary aids in understanding. Good luck and have fun.
For class, write whatever gives you a good grade.
Otherwise, write for yourself. You already know what gives you that feeling of repulsion. Trust that feeling. Write for yourself.
Honestly, you must enjoy these high grades, even if you don't like that much.
- High grades in school? Awesome;
- Not always you will like your writing, specially in school when you are forced to write certain themes.
What to do to attain a more concise and unaffected writing style?
If you really like to write, do it in your free time and write freely, with no concerns about the ornamented writing;
But If you are really repulsed about that, stop with the hard words and expressions when you write. You know, those words that we need a dictionary to know what they mean.
Try to write more coloquial and add expressions that you and your friends speak. (but not barbarian expressions ;) )
Do you thought that it is your style, your writer's voice? Don't close the voice inside you :)