I’ve learned quite a bit from Dr. Seuss over the years. He’s been a career counselor (Oh, the Places You’ll Go!), a guide to hiring babysitters (The Cat in the Hat), and an advisor when kids get fussy (Green Eggs and Ham). He’s even assured me that I’m not a megalomaniac for the many times I’ve fantasized about what would happen If I Ran the Zoo.
What I didn’t know is that Dr. Seuss was also a writing coach.
When preparing for a business writing workshop, I came across a quote from Dr. Seuss I hadn’t read before. After spending considerable time putting together the one-day event, I realized that the acclaimed American children’s author had summed up everything I had to say in 3 stanzas.
I began some Google digging and I found out that Dr. Seuss had good reason to be committed to clear language and fewer words.
Theodor Seuss Geisel didn’t start out a success. His first book was rejected 27 times before it was published. He worked many years as a cartoonist before he was able to take up up writing full time. Then came his big break. In 1954, a LIFE magazine article wrote about the poor reading levels of American children. In response, Houghton Mifflin and Random House asked Dr. Seuss to write a children’s primer using 220 vocabulary words.
The resulting book, The Cat in the Hat, was published in 1957. So successful, it solidified the author’s place in children’s literature.
Over the next several years, Dr. Seuss would write more books, many of them in his classic, simplified vocabulary style. He was a big believer in “longer is not better”, often discarding ninety-five percent of a book before he was finished. In fact, when he sat down to write Green Eggs and Ham, he did so on a bet from Bennett Cerf at Random House, who wagered he could not write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 simple words. The book became the best-selling English language children’s book of all time (beating out all of the Harry Potter books).
I’m not preaching New Years resolutions, but if you want to make one big difference in 2017, think about easy life could be if we actually communicated clearly and briefly. Not only would we understand more, but we’d also save a lot of time!
And now, for Dr. Seuss on writing:
It has often been said
there’s so much to be read,
you never can cram
all those words in your head.
So the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.
That’s why my belief is
the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh
of the reader’s relief is.