Yesterday’s blog post was my shortest yet, a mere 72 words. Being that it was a tribute to my husband, I tried to keep it brief. He always says my best posts are the short ones.
Out of courtesy to readers, I try to keep my daily posts under 400 words in length. Sometimes a story takes more words to tell, while commentary can—and should—take fewer.
Packing more narrative into a smaller package is a challenge. It’s also what makes it fun. Often I begin by laying the raw content out on a slab. Later I go back and tidy things up. Think of a trash compactor – raw materials are deposited and fill up the bin quickly, but later become compacted into a dense package taking up less space. That’s how I look at writing.
Someone once said, “If I’d had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Try looking that one up. Variations have been attributed to Mark Twain, T.S. Eliot, Benjamin Franklin, Blaise Pascal, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Lord Chesterfield, Samuel Johnson, Voltaire, Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre and George Bernard Shaw, among others. If even 10 of these good fellows are posers, it just shows how valid a notion it is.
I’d like to become better at keeping it brief. These writers are correct – it does take more time. Anyone can ramble on. Just tiptoe through the blogosphere and you’ll see for yourself. Writers are ever challenged to scour our text for extraneous words and phrases, and eliminate or replace them with more potent substitutes.
Educators in Virginia recently took heat for having students use Twitter for some of their assignments. I thought it was a novel idea. Having kids keep their writing to fewer than 140 characters is an exercise in brevity. Yes, one day they’ll be writing 10-page term papers, and didn’t we all perfect the art of filling blue books and typing paper with loquacious ramblings and flowery phrases?
The test is the ability to serve up meaty content in as manageable a container as even the most attention-challenged reader will digest and, perhaps more important, to know when to stop.
Yesterday, one of my favorite groups, “Fake AP Stylebook,” suggested: “Running out of space? Just end abruptly with, “Only time will tell if this development resolves the issue.”