Writing Style and Reading Ease

The only piece of writing I’ve published anywhere besides a classroom or a blog was in a newsletter for a club we had in high school. The club was called “Students for the Recognition of Diversity”, and the article was a short piece about why interracial relationships are good. I was a bit biased as I was enjoying my own interracial relationship when I wrote the article. The school yearbook decided that they liked the piece and reprinted it. In college, I had a professor who basically tore my writing to pieces for thinking that I could do anything “creative” and told me that writing was merely a means of conveying information.

I have one good friend who writes clearly and concisely. Her writing has been prized for its directness and easy reading ability, and though she understands my writing, she often will literally shake her head at it when she reads it. Sure, my writing tends to be a little heavy on the appositive phrases and I’m perhaps a little more liberal with commas than I need to be, but that’s my style. I’m not completely direct, but I’m no Faulkner either.

This morning I had an interview with a local independent paper. The owner told me to give him some pieces I’d written and a fresh one, written today, about the most interesting person I’ve met. I laughed at the prompt a bit, but he told me he was quite in earnest. I sat down to write about my German grandmother who passed away six months ago, and struggled to write it in the straightforward manner that I know newspapers prize. For newspapers, you’re supposed to write so that a sixth grader can read it. My usual “Flesch Reading Ease” grade equivalent number usually hovers between 12 and 16, so getting down to a sixth grade level sounds a little far fetched. I wrote it once. 11.1. Not too bad, but not what I needed. I edited once, and came up with 7.8. Still not what I need, but I’m going to take it.

If you’re interested, here’s the link to what I wrote. It’s basically a narrative of my grandmother’s life that glosses over the complications in our relationship and that fails to explain why I only saw her three times in her last two years of life. Also, I’m curious – how do you feel about altering your writing style to fit a genre or audience for the sake of publication? Do you welcome it as a challenge, or do you refuse to compromise your natural voice?

I feel like my writing style, like my clothing style, is my own. I can dress it up or tone it down to make it appropriate to the circumstance, but it’s my voice, either way.