Long and Short Letters

This tip is mainly for non-fiction writers—even though fiction writers should also have an eye on this particular point: brevity and clarity. If you write something—anything—that you would like others to read, always have the reader in mind and give some thought to how you say it. Here is why:

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. (Mark Twain)

Indeed, this quote sounds a bit weird at first. How can it take longer to write a short letter than to write a long one? But this is so painfully true.

A skill that many people lack is to explain an idea in few, clear words that people can actually understand. This is particularly true for scholars, as well as politicians and lawyers, although with the latter two I often think it’s intentional.

It requires less thought to just go on and on and on but actually say very little. On the other hand, it requires a lot of thought to extract the most important points and express them shortly and to the point.

Mr. Poncela said it more directly:

“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” (Enrique Jardiel Poncela)

Sorry, guys, but just because someone talks (or writes) a lot doesn’t mean he or she has a lot to say.

This realization is especially important if we bring Winston Churchill into the picture:

“This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.” (Winston Churchill)

I for my part love to read, and I don’t mind long texts if they make many clear valuable points. However, I won’t read longish texts where it is clear to me that the writer has not put any effort into a smooth reading experience. No matter how popular or well-known they are or how important they think they are.

If you have something to say and want people to get it/read it, rewrite it until it is concise and clear and people can easily understand what you mean.

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” (Ernest Hemingway)

People have a tendency to think texts intellectual if they have to read them several times until they get their meaning.

As a literary scholar whose ‘business’ is text, 😉 I often find, however, that these very people confuse vagueness with depth.

A brilliant, deep text is one you got the first time but discover more and more nuances the more often you read it.

A good text is one that makes its points clearly and concisely and without hidden meanings.

A bad text is one I have to read 3-4 times until an understanding dawns of what the guy means. Even if there are some good thoughts hidden in this, it is just a pain to read.

So, unless you are Kant, make sure to put some effort into your writing and always consider these questions: What do I actually want to say? What is important to me and/or the reader? Is this point clear? Am I reapeating myself? Could I say this shorter?

Yes, this will be a whole lot of effort and writing and rewriting and thinking and extracting. And you might end up with a novella rather than with a 5-volume encyclopedia.

But your readers will be very thankful!

This is what I always strive for and why it takes me so long to write my posts. I don’t know if I always succeed. But I don’t think permanent success is the point. The important thing is that you try.

Advertisements
Categories: Creative Writing | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Post navigation

Tell me what you think ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: