It was my sophomore year in college. I visited the professor’s office while struggling with a student newspaper assignment.
Paul, the professor, had been published in The New York Times, served as editor at the Milwaukee Journal, and founded his own quarterly magazine.
Paul read over my work as I sat there nervously. I knew he could help me, but I also didn’t want to look like an idiot.
Sitting there, I noticed a Bible verse tacked up on his wall. Except it showed the verse as if it was originally written by someone who was trying way too hard.
After a while, the sorrowful Jesus, in a startling development, wept quite a bit.
Finally, he spoke.
“I’m not really sure what this means,” he said, reading my first paragraph out loud.
I admitted I didn’t know what it meant either. I was trying to make my writing sound clever. Clearly, it fell flat.
Then he read another section out loud where I wasn’t trying so hard.
“Why don’t you just start here?” he said. “Just say what you mean.”
It was a revelation. My job as a writer wasn’t to try to sound like a writer. It was just to tell a story as simply and clearly as possible.
Sometimes all you need is two words.