Writing Short

Writing short. Consider the significance of the two-word sentence: I do.

Roy Peter Clark, author of How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, in an interview with Katy Steinmetz, defines writing short as “300 words or fewer . . . 300 is about the ClarkBooknumber of words that appears on a single, type-written page.”

Today, for many, short writing is a tweet (140 characters) but Clark reminds us that short writing has played a significant role in “human culture, over history, to say some of the most important and most enduring things.” Clark notes, “[I]f you take the shortest versions of the Hippocratic oath, the 23rd psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, any Shakespeare sonnet, the preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and the last paragraph of Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ and add up the total words, it’s less than 1,000.” The Lord’s Prayer contains 66 words, the Gettysburg Address contains 286, and the preamble to the Constitution was crafted with just 52 words.

When asked by Katy Steinmetz how good writers approach short writing with the same care they would a book, Clark responds:

“The very best practitioners of short writing on blogs, on social networks, are people who are working over their prose. They’re revising it, with the same care they would if they were putting it on paper. . .When I’ve failed to do it, I’ve always regretted it, because it results in something awkward or upside-down or worse, inaccurate. A formula I learned about writing short poetry is that ultimately what you’re looking for is focus, wit and evidence of polish. Focus means that we have a keen understanding of what the message is about, wit meaning there’s a governing intelligence behind the prose, polish meaning there’s that one little grace note, that one little word in a tweet that sounds like us in an authentic way. What I’m pushing back on is the notion that this kind of writing and communication requires less care. . .These two things—speed and care—are not mutually exclusive.”

In a Washington Post review, “Confessions of an editor: A review of How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark,” Carlos Lozada provides an example of Clark’s ability to write short: “ ‘Omit needless words,’ William Strunk admonishes in The Elements of Style, then adds a 65-word, 386-character paragraph explaining why. In four rounds of edits, Clark gets it down to 27 words and 137 characters. It comes at a cost, he admits, but learning to determine that cost is the point. ‘A good short writer must be a disciplined cutter, not just of clutter, but of language that would be useful if she had more space.’ ”

Writing an obituary is a personal example of short writing that many of us will undertake at some point in our lives. By definition, it is a notice of a person’s death usually with a short biographical account. Condensing a life into a few hundred words, or less, is a difficult task. A dear friend recently asked me to help write some words about her Uncle Joe for his obituary. It was an honor to be asked. Two hours, several cups of tea, and three revisions later, the 145-word tribute was complete to “a gentle and compassionate man” who “greeted everyone with a smile.”

Six Word Story Every Day (also on Facebook) offers an interesting look at writing short. A story told in just six words. Last July, on my birthday, I began keeping a six-word-a-day journal. My entries reveal a range of daily events, reflection, contemplation, joy and sadness.

Telephone call from old friend—balance

Connected memories allow softer edged transitions

National Watermelon Day—Dad—miss you

Writers at the table: unlimited possibilities

Seafood soup: Daniel—me, cooking together

Summing up my day in just six words is a challenge. But, I have become a more “disciplined cutter, not just of clutter, but of language that would be useful if she had more space.”

Novelists can write shorter, too. In “To the Quick,” a new online essay on “lowering the word count” by debut novelist Tony Tulathimutte, he recommends the “scalpel edit.” He reduced this sentence in his first draft—

“Up to a certain degree he felt there was nothing wrong with disliking work”—

to five words:

“Still, it beat real work.”

Carlos Lozada notes that “Clark cites the late Pulitzer winner Donald Murray’s dictum about concision: ‘Brevity comes from selection and not compression.’ He also offers his own version: ‘Prune the dead branches before you shake out the dead leaves.’ ”

Keep creating, word by word.—Donna Woods Orazio

Published in: on February 25, 2016 at 12:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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6 Simple Rules Every Writer Needs to Know

tips-for-writerHello writers, this is Adair Heitmann writing to you today. Spring is in the air, it’s a time to refresh, renew, let out the old and bring in the new. We’ve spoken about building your author’s platform in this blog before. I’m going to continue that thread with six basic rules for amazing content marketing.

Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain readers, customers, followers. Traditionally advertising has used content to disseminate information about a brand, and build a brand’s reputation. As a writer that’s still true, you need to develop your brand. It’s also important to build relationships in the digital community. No matter what online platform you use — Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, Instagram, the following guidelines apply to them all.

1.) Be consistent
Choose how often you can realistically post, tweet, or publish. Then do so. For some of us it’s once a month, for others, it’s once a day. Find the rhythm that fits into your schedule.

2.) Be useful
Remember the 80/20 ratio of success. 80% of your posts should be interesting useful content. Making it easily shareable is part of the magic and fun of social media networking. 20% of your content includes call to actions, such as registering for a workshop or buying your newest book.

3.) Be authentic
When we are true to ourselves and others, we build trust. Even vulnerable content can resonate with people.

4.) Tie into your reader’s emotions
Easier said than done, yet it’s achievable. If you are feeling something, it’s more than likely your readers are too. When we can give voice to the whispers, we deepen our relationships.

5.) Be where your audience is
If you’re like me, you don’t have time, resources, or inclination to create and share content equally across every social media network. Pick and choose based on where your audience is.

6. Tell, don’t sell
Nobody wants to be sold something every time they hear from you. They do want to follow you or learn more about you and hear how you view the world, if you give them a good story. Use storytelling to create content that people actually connect with. Find ways to create vignettes in your communications.

As the winter ground breaks open with new buds of springtime growth, let your writer self show fresh colors to your online community.

Until next time, keep on writing.