On Short Writing

Arjun Swarup writes in to point me to “Haiku Nation”, a piece on short-format writing that he says made him think of me:

Short is in. Online Americans, fed up with e-mail overload and blogorrhea, are retreating into micro-writing. Six-word memoirs. Four-word film reviews. Twelve-word novels. Mini-lit is thriving.

It’s an interesting piece, but I couldn’t see why it made Arjun think of me. So I asked him. “Because one of your key points about good writing,” he replied, “one that you have frequently commented upon, is to keep it short, simple and concise.”

I clarified: “My point isn’t that good writing is short, but that it is no longer than necessary.”

Small formats have their value, but if a piece of writing is so short that it does not get to the meat of the matter, then it is too long. And while I love the six-word Hemingway story everybody cites (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”), I’d rather read “The Old Man And The Sea” than 100 stories like that.

But that’s just me.

Also read: an old essay of mine on short attention spans, “Beautiful Scatty Minds.”