In Thomas Merton’s journal, he reflects on hearing a selection from one of his own books in the monastery’s evening worship service. “As usual,” he writes, “after one of my books has been read at me, I am left with the wish that I were simpler.” (Journal II:333).

He isn’t alone. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside some well-known Christian authors as they edited their work, and I’ve noticed that the best are obsessed with simplicity. They are painfully aware of the human tendency to impress others with an artful turn of phrase or an obscure bit of vocabulary. It’s a writer’s own special form of vanity and, as the Preacher of Ecclesiastes says, it’s nothing more than “striving after wind.”

Pointing people toward Jesus Christ doesn’t require artistry so much as it requires clarity. This is why John Wesley strived to use “plain words for plain people.”

Even secular writers know that the first priority of revision is to simplify. As that masterful editor Theodore Cheney says, “Seventy-five percent of all revision is eliminating words already written; the remaining twenty-five percent is improving the words that remain.”

When we spew out an abundance of words, we don’t help our neighbor see the world more clearly. If anything, we cloud his window with the hot breath of our overexertion.