Get Shorty

August 26, 2013 § 11 Comments

clark_howtowriteshort1In a review of Roy Peter Clark’s How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, Washington Post editor Carlos Lozada admits to editing with social media in mind, even imagining which sentences are tweetable. Now that’s brevity:

…. When I’m editing an essay or opinion piece, I try to make sure the final version includes some memorable lines that I imagine getting posted, shared, tweeted and retweeted. I’ll even slice a smart but lengthy passage for that purpose. “Trust me,” I advise the author, “you’ll get more readers this way.”

Yes, anticipating the social-media response has become part of the editing craft. And it makes me feel dirty. I feel as if I’m betraying generations of wordsmiths who guided each sentence and paragraph to its proper length and voice, based on exacting standards, character limits be damned. …

So thank you, Roy Peter Clark, for easing my guilt and absolving me of my sins. In  How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times,  the veteran writing guru not only praises Twitter’s 140-character limit as a tool for “intelligent cutting” but dismantles the staid lament that writing in the Twitter era has grown shallow, fleeting, anti-literary.

Clark is vice president of the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, and his books, workshops and speeches have trained new scribes since the 1970s.

“In the digital age, short writing is king,” Clark says, without even trace levels of nostalgia. “We need more good short writing — the kind that makes us stop, read, and think — in an accelerating world.”

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§ 11 Responses to Get Shorty

  • I am constantly amazed by the amount of story that can happen in (less than) 140 characters. When I need inspiration, I’ll check the #cnftweet ( and #storythief hashtags on Twitter (Creative Nonfiction and Stealing Time’s microflash nonfiction contest entries). As a wordy writer, I study the elements of these tiny treasures, and I often take away as much from a ten word story as I would from one of a thousand words. It looks like this book would be a good one for me to pick up. Thanks for the link.

  • Angele says:

    This looks like a great book for TV News, Social Media, and other journo students. Think I’ll add it to my “recommended” extra books for my classes. It fits perfectly with the lecture on brevity (not the mag) I made yesterday! (PS-TV news friends, don’t you like that “the world” is now coming over to our ‘side’ and learning the art of concise writing. I’d like to say to them, “Welcome to our world. This is how we’ve been trained to write for decades. I think you’ll enjoy it here. Sure :15 doesn’t *sound* like a lot of time but you’ll be surprised how much info you can pack in.” :0) Thanks for this review DInty!

  • Lincoln Hunter says:

    Does this mean that we have no contol over the pace of our life? That we are subject to the processes of technology?

  • Love this advice. From a former journalist who realizes the benefits of brevity.

  • Stuart Rose says:

    Everyone here, save Lincoln, seems a little too quick to receive Clark’s gospel. The virtue of concision is lost on many aspiring writers of creative nonfiction. Still, longer sentences, asides, and digressions demand their place in certain pieces. Here we have technology and the market acting as literary arbiters.

    By the way, Christopher Johnson, in Microstyle, compellingly about short writing a few years ago.

  • - user says:

    Seems like a very weak attempt to profit from the current social media climate.


  • M. Hatzel says:

    Hmm… I might like twitter more if this means I can keep my darlings.

  • I’m not seeing any benefits of brevity. Shouldn’t writers feel a responsibility to hang on to the words that makes sentences, forming paragraphs, telling stories, revealing voice? What exactly would any text stripped to 140 characters reveal anyway? “How to Write Short” seems a sad commentary to the written communication.

  • rbshea says:

    I agree with NancyChadwick and Stuart Rose. I’d add that the first rule for a writer is having something to say, an interesting story to tell. It seems in a need to appear current and relevant, Mr. Clark equates brevity with concision. Elmore Leonard knew how to tell a story. So did Faulkner. Perhaps instead of cheering Twitterage as some kind of new discipline, there’d be more value in writers studying poetry, particularly haiku. Too old school?

    • Stuart Rose says:

      Good point about the conflation of brevity and concision, RB.

      You know, there’s an interesting conversation to be had about how the pace of everday life in a culture and its technology influence the writing of prose. 20th. Century writers, for example, definitely responded to the challenge of movies.
      But Tweeter culture really has chutzpah. It actually thinks it is so damn immediate and emotive.

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