On Brevity

April 28, 2016

I start out writing one of these with the idea that it will be two or three short paragraphs. More often than not, they transform into multi-page essays that are proportionally harder to digest.

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.

― Ernest Hemingway

The words above are some to live by. Shorter prose is clear, pleasant to read, and in the age of short Internet attention spans, is more likely to be read. Writing walls of indiscriminate ramblings is easy. Writing succinctly is hard.

But it’s a balancing act; just because text is short has no bearing on whether it’s good writing. You may have noticed from your friends who send a lot of email from their iPhone.

Stephen King has a rule that 10% of words should be cut from the first draft to the second. There’s a lot more to writing succinct text than that, but it’s a good place to start. Here’s an excerpt from his book On Writing:

In the spring of my senior year at Lisbon High—1966, this would have been—I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”

On Brevity was published on April 28, 2016.

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

Did I make a mistake? Please consider sending a pull request.