Brevity, it’s true, has never been my strength – not when it comes to writing.
In 1999, while in university studying ecology, I had one particular class that came with very specific instructions regarding the format for our laboratory reports. They were as follows:
- Times New Roman font
- 12 point font size
- 1-inch margins
- 6 complete pages
For most of my classmates, the problem was always managing to fill the entire six pages. They would contrive all sorts of strategies: big, blocky tables; subheadings with spaced-out titles; a blank line above the page numbers.
Me – I had the opposite problem: I always needed just a little more room.
So, I contrived a strategy of my own.
This was in the early years of Windows-based word processing programs (as opposed to DOS-based), and a time when Microsoft Word had started gaining greater market share than its rival, Corel WordPerfect.
I’d been a loyal WordPerfect user since its white-on-blue-screened DOS iteration of 1993 (full disclosure: I still WordPerfect) despite the university being a Microsoft-centric campus. I thus had both WordPerfect and Word on my 1999 computer.
And I chanced upon a discovery: WordPerfect permitted fractional font sizes, while, at that time, Word did not. That meant that using WordPerfect, I could shrink my font size to 11.8 point (which showed little visual difference from 12 point), and subsequently gain about 3 extra lines of text.
I did this on every single lab report.
I’ve mentioned in one of my earliest posts that I possess what I refer to as the “verbosity gene”, which often leads me to write things twice as long as they’re meant to be. Exhibit A: My novel-in-progress is actually a novel in two volumes.
Exhibit B: My blog posts.
It’s no revelation to me that my blog posts are long. They started out shorter, but as I became more comfortable with blogging and the weekly schedule I’d set for myself, I allowed them to creep up in length.
Part of this was because I am only posting once a week; I wanted to give my readers something substantial, for even if they didn’t read it all at once, it would be seven days before I posted again.
Part of it was because I wanted to challenge myself to write an article-length piece a week. I used to occasionally write for some free community newspapers, and would struggle to turn my articles in on time. This blog was meant to train me to write faster.
And another part of it – perhaps the largest part – was because of who I am: a left-brained, methodical, academic type who just likes to pursue the analysis that much further – to leave no stone unturned.
But that’s not blogging – not in it’s the truest sense.
Learning a new language
My sister, who is a talented and successful freelancer and editor, recently reminded me that blog posts are meant to be around 500 words at their longest. So too, incidentally, did the marketing assistant at work. And my department’s social media specialist. Everyone is on my case.
My sister suggested writing shorter might be a new way for me to challenge myself and make my blog more accessible to readers with shorter attention spans.
I like a challenge.
So, I’m going to stop writing essays (or at least all essays) and essayer (French: “to try”) to limit myself to between 500 and 600 words (sorry – I need a bit of an upper buffer; at least for now).
The trick, I believe, will be to indeed think of it as writing in another language – to not just write as usual and translate it shorter, but instead to learn to think shorter thoughts.
On y va!
(A/N: This particular post doesn’t count, though I came close!)