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May 5, 2023

Simplify: A Think Piece

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Simplify. One word. So much power.

Isn’t it peculiar that we all have heard of the quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and yet we still stick to complexity in our daily routines? We keep constructing loose sentences in our essays, hoping this will convince our readers that we are aware of the topic. We keep creating plans, overloaded with tasks, and wonder why we don’t achieve our goals. I could continue this chain of never-ending examples since this approach appears in every sphere of life, yet let’s discuss more broadly the word “simplify.”

If you are a person who truly enjoys engaging with any sort of art, simplicity will become your great companion. Simplifying doesn’t mean making things shallow. On the contrary, it helps build your idea on safer and more stable ground. Take a look at one of the fundamental works of political theory: Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes builds his undoubtedly intellectually challenging concept by introducing and defining terms first, and throughout the whole book he makes sure that everything he writes stays comprehensive and logical to the reader. He compares his writing style to geometry, and emphasizes that you have to make your arguments as if you were creating theorems. Arguments are the start of the thought and the rules of the game.

This is an example of the art of thought. And didn’t Hobbes mention order and being entangled in your own thoughts? He did! That’s how we arrive at the advice of “keep it simple” to avoid losing sight of your argument in creative writing and writing in general.

If you are an artist, and you have encountered an art block, you often worry about the final result, which colors and materials to use or the idea of the piece. In this anxious complexity, the only way out is to force yourself to sketch and draw the first lines. Empty your head, forget about the details, just start, just simplify and you’ll get out of the block eventually. Keep in mind, you can always change, edit and polish your work later. The same cure applies to screenwriters who look for the right words and to cinematographers who cannot start shooting because they’re unsure of the camera angle. We all experience art blocks once we develop the thought that what we are about to do is hard. Even if it’s hard, don’t scare yourself even more. Simplify to overcome hardships. 

We talked about the complexity of starting and connecting thoughts within your new idea, which are linear processes, so you know in which direction you should go. Another pivotal thing you have to do is layering. This is where you put sprinkles, sparkles and fancy bows to make the idea look even nicer. And this is where you can create redundant complexity because there’s no right or defined direction.

If you’re working on a story, you have to think about not only the main message you want to convey to the reader but also about the dynamics. You think of how to describe the imaginary world that your characters see, or what to tell about the character so they stand out in the story. You try to make it as unique as possible, forgetting to ask yourself, “By describing this beautiful building that my mind created in 20 compound sentences, do I create stagnation in the story or develop it further?”

Layering is a great way to create motion in the narrative, for instance, by giving your character an exaggerated personal trait or by creating an interesting family situation. There always has to be a sense that the reader can experience the described situation through, and if it gets too far from the sense, the reader won’t have anything to hold onto in the story. Of course, if your story has to have an immense absurdity to show the idea, this type of layering is an effective tool to do so. Yet we always have to think of the purpose. By putting too much, we can destroy the potential of the story.

Finally, I want to wish us all not to give up on our ideas and give them a chance to come into the real world and be tested by others. Let’s make this process easier for ourselves. Let’s simplify.

Nika Makoviak is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].