An Exercise in Conciseness
Dec 31, 2020 • rambling matt • ~ 2 minute read • 437 words
I have a problem. I cannot write concisely.
I think there are a few reasons. I’ve never really been in a situation where I’ve had to write concisely. I’ve always placed more emphasis on speech than prose. When I do write, my tone and style mimics my speech: long, often fluffy, and occasionally wandering. I’m the type of person that always adds on more, dives a little deeper, and wants to explain everything. I have a static tempo: many colons, em-dashes, and tricolon. And in general, I’m a pretty bad writer - this blog is proof of that.
Consider a quote often attributed to Pascal’s Provincial Letters:
I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
This describes my writing process for the blog. I rarely spend time editing or refining sentences or paragraphs, nor do I sketch out the overall structure of the post before writing it. And my writing style itself errs between stream-of-consciousness and word vomit. In other words, the opposite of conciseness.
Unfortunately, writing concisely is a pretty important skill. People don’t like reading things that are too long. This is particularly important in technical writing - a skill I find myself using more often - but also equally relevant for narrative fiction and blog posts. Not every work needs the brevity of Hemingway. But, length needs to be justified. If I’m stringing the reader on, it needs to result in a great payoff.
This blog is a perfect place to start. I have no external restrictions. I pick the topic and the depth. And, it keeps me (slightly) publicly accountable.
So here’s the deal. In 2021, I’ll write a series of posts in the category of On Conciseness. Each post is limited to 500 words. The catch: I’m not going to change the ideas I want to write about. Every post will touch on something that I could easily write 2000, 8000, or even 13418 words on.
Packing my disjoint thoughts into 500 words is already tricky. But furthermore, I need to do the topic justice. I’ve struggled with writing posts like in the past; there’s a plethora of forever-draft posts on social issues, current affairs, or reflections. I plan on reviving a few of these for this special. Nothing like extra restrictions to make you work harder.
Thanks to my friends John, Zach, Aidan, Ellie, and Arjun for pushing me to write more concisely. Wish me luck on this challenge - and I hope I write better posts as a result of it. Here’s to 2021.