Tag Archives: creativity

The Benefits of Brevity

If you follow the Twitterverse, you may know that recently there was a brouhaha over the decision of Twitter client, Tweetdeck, to include native access to so-called “long” tweets. It was exactly the kind of kerfuffle that inspires people to trot out words like “brouhaha” and “kerfuffle,” which is to say, it’s probably not really all that important in the broader scheme of things.

But as a writer, the discussion was more to me than just a fruitless debate about the “essence” of Twitter. It inspired me to start thinking about brevity in general.

For those of you who may not know, Twitter is a chat client that lets you post whatever you want to say as long as you can say it within 144 characters. That means that every letter, every punctuation mark, even every space, matters.

Having that kind of limitation forces you to focus on your writing. You’ll be sitting there looking at a tweet that’s just ten characters over the limit, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Which of these words can I cut out without damaging the overall meaning of the tweet?” And if you’re like me and you refuse to use abbreviations like “ur” for “your,” the challenge becomes even greater.

For some people apparently this limitation is a nuisance, but for me it’s like having a daily reminder to carve out the fat in my writing everywhere. And believe you me, there’s plenty of fat. It’s easy enough to throw words out onto an empty page, and to a point that’s okay. But now I’m in the process of editing, and I’m seeing that I’ve included words, sentences, even entire paragraphs that add absolutely nothing to my story.

Maybe you’re not a tweeter. Maybe you have no desire to become a tweeter. That’s fine and okay. But I believe that it’s a valuable exercise for all writers to participate in some form of limited composition. For instance flash fiction, which is fiction in less than a thousand words, is a great way to learn to limit yourself to the bare essentials of what is needed to tell the story.

It seems to go against the grain of the writer’s “free spirit” we all have within is, but in truth working within restrictions is a fantastic way to stir up our creativity. Because if you were faced with the challenge, “Tell a story about a robot” your mind could go in a million different directions, think of thousands of different scenarios. But what if the challenge became, “Tell a story about a robot in 100 words”, or, “Tell a story about a robot in 144 characters”? (Yes, It does have to be a story about a robot. There will be no argument on this point.) Now you’re forced to look at the problem in a completely different way. Those limitations help to focus the lens of your mind.

This isn’t to say that all stories need to be short. Plenty of stories need a lot of space to tell, and that’s fine. But even in writing those stories you should be cautious not to throw in piles and piles of words, just because you can.

No matter what king of writing you do, always ask yourself, “Is this really necessary to the story I’m trying to tell?” If it’s not, cut it out. It may hurt a little now, but in the long run it will make your writing far more focussed and powerful.

Ignore Everybody (Except Me)

Sounds like a plan to me.

Just before Christmas, I was browsing the remaindered shelves at my local bookstore when I came across a thin little book with a cute cartoon guy on the front called Ignore Everybody.  I took this book home, started reading it, and didn’t stop till I had finished.  When I put it down I was a different person.

Specifically, I was Archibald Seeling Concord III, who is kind of a snob and has a bit of a gambling problem, but his golf swing is tremendous.  Luckily, with a small amount of therapy, I became myself again shortly thereafter.

But reading Ignore Everybody was a revelation.  Generally when I read a book about creativity and the craft of creating, I expect it to fall into one of two attitudes:

Attitude 1: Creating is hard.  You will have to work your fingers to the bone, and even then you can’t be certain of achieving anything.  If you’re not successful yet, it’s probably because you’re a lazy good-for-nothing slob.  You should probably stop reading this book right now.

Attitude 2:  Creating is wonderful.  We’re all just fantastic little bundles of ideas and you should feel good about yourself for even trying.  Immerse yourself in the joy of creation and feel the voice of the universe speak through you.

But somehow Ignore Everybody manages to split itself perfectly between the cynical and the optimistic sides of creating art.  It’s message is this: Yes, you must blaze your own trail, do your own thing, and make your own way.  But do remember that the trail you blaze probably won’t have a Denny’s built next to it, and you’re going to have to eat somewhere.

You have to read this book.  Go and buy it from your bookstore.  Get it out of the library.  Break into my house and steal it if you must, but somehow you have to get your hands on this book.  It will encourage and enlighten you no matter what it is you want to accomplish in life.

Not convinced yet?  Go here to read the first 25% of the book on the author’s website.  The book is thin and has a lot of pictures so it won’t take you all that long.  Even if you don’t pick up the rest of the book I promise you’ll be better off for having read the portion I’ve linked to.

Don’t do it for me.  Do it for yourself.


And now, since Christmas is past and New Year’s is on the way, I feel it only appropriate for me to provide you this link to a lovely little story about completely different holiday altogether.