I learned the same lesson early in my career, well before I had ever heard of Raymond Clapper. I was working as a writer in the health field, and in the course of my fact gathering I would interview researchers about their work. Some knew how to describe complex work in a field like genetic engineering or plant pathology in terms that could be grasped by a listener whose education had emphasized literature (like me). With effort I might follow an explanation of polymer chemistry, for example, but when a scientist told me, "It is as if every higher plant is born with a polyester shirt on," I had a vivid mental picture of the role those polymers play. Clear language helped, but the best interpreters of their work found comparisons and examples that resonated with the listener. In contrast, others researchers stumbled: either they had never bothered to master this learnable skill, or a belief in their own intellectual superiority had made them decide there was no need to.
I try to be like the former group, finding a way to express what I want to say clearly, witout sacrificing content or talking down. I keep my readers in mind every step of the way. I think about what they will know or not know, about what information I need to provide to help them understand the story I am telling. I search for those meaningful comparisons, and I consider the reader even in my awareness of vocabulary and sentence length. These choices are no less restricting because I write for young adults than they would be if I were writing for their parents. I would think this way regardless of my audience. Does it sound tedious? It really isn't; it's all part of good writing.
Or is it? When he was interviewed in February, the British writer Martin Amis remarked that people often ask him if he as ever thought of writing a children's book. Amis said that his answer is always no. He tells these people, "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book."
As I am sure you can imagine, this statement caused a great deal of comment within the children's literature community. Amis had managed to insult not only everyone who writes for children and teens, but also the children and teens themselves. Yet what he said next was also interesting and deserves to be called into question as well. He said, "The idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me." It seems to me that because writing is a form of communication, a writer has to consider his or her audience, that to give no thought to the reader would be an extremely self-indulgent way to write.