Of Bloated Prose and Books That Should Have Been Blogs
February 28, 2020 § 7 Comments
By Cherone Duggan
Books that should have been blogs. Blogs that should have been tweets. Tweets that should have been thoughts. Waffle-fed and fluff-padded, bloated prose waddles around every section of the written world. As does the well-worn writing advice to slim down our copy to skeletal leanness.
“Omit needless words,”
“Show don’t tell,”
“Less is more,”
“Kill your darlings,”
“Brevity is brilliance.”
Excellent advice, in theory. But rarely practiced. Because writers are economic creatures who respond to incentives. Money and attention are our sugar and fat.
From gold stars for effort for longer answers in our single-digit years, to mandatory 10-page minimums for college papers, our education system uses word count as a proxy for intellectual complexity. Length is easier to measure than merit. It’s more objective and it takes less effort to grade. And, the more serious and senior your degree, the longer your papers had to be.
Rewards for wordiness don’t end with formal schooling. As workers, the plumping incentives continue. Most desk jobs involve writing of some sort and few people are ever fired for producing fatter wads of work. Submitting padded reports and sending puffy emails help us show our bosses that we deserve our paychecks for putting in our hours and hitting our keyboards.
Professional writers are also rewarded by the word. Authors get more attention for novels than novellas. Freelancers get more money for long articles than short ones. Professors get tenure for publishing more than their peers. And copywriters get more job security for constantly churning out copy rather than finishing one project a week.
The resulting overwhelm of long-winded emails, hollow books, and deep-blog-buried online recipes isn’t surprising.
We reap what we reward. If writers are rewarded for length, we’re going to continue to ramble. And no amount of sage writing advice to trim our fat is going to change that until we change our incentive systems to match.
Yes, the current incentive system surfaces some beauties; Dickens’ rambling descriptions and thick-bound novels were born from a serialized publication format where he was paid by the word.
But most of the rest of us probably shouldn’t be.
Cherone Duggan is a User Experience Writer who designs micro-content. She’s from the Irish midlands and she lives near San Francisco. Find her on Twitter: @cheroneduggan