On writing less
I feel like I'm an odd choice to write anything "On Writing": I have no formal literary training, and I nearly failed high school English class. My only higher education is in journalism. Stylistically, all that taught me was to never use two words when you can use one, and if you're thinking of using an adverb, make damn sure it's necessary. Brevity, in a word (any more would be counterproductive).
The thing is, I think it's a valuable lesson for my fiction as well, though it has cost me in a lot of ways (concision is not rewarded in an business that often pays by the word or page).
It is an ideal to be striven for. Just as great writers can (and do) spend endless hours chasing le mot juste, it is an equally laudable literary goal to chase le coupe juste (I don't know if that translates -- my French grades were no better than my English ones): It is as important to decide what words to keep out as what ones to put in -- like that jazz cliché about the notes you don't play.
It's an endeavour that has driven me to my latest literary obsession: Twitter. As well as being a medium designed to spread words widely and quickly -- the small pressman's dream -- it is also a demanding taskmaster; its implicit challenge: to express a complete story in 140 characters or less. It forces me to do something that a wide open blank page doesn't ask of me -- to consider every word. Every single one. (Repetition, by the way, is a luxury not afforded by Twitter.) It forces me to treat my audience's attention as a gift, one not to be squandered on words which, like my readers, don't have to be there.
'Audience' is rather strong in my case: I still have only a handful of followers, most of whom are friends who do have to be there (if they want their Christmas presents, anyway). So Twitter is certainly not a vocation for me. What it is a ritual; a philosophy; a reminder of what's important. What's important is what you have to say -- to get in, tell your story, and get out. Before they're tired of you. Before they know what hit them. Before they realize that you nearly failed English class.
Adam Thomlison is a journalist, editor, self-published novelist, and a writer of tiny stories. Some of the latter have appeared in his zine series, The Last Thumbnail Picture Show, and some appear on his Twitter feed, @40wattspotlight, and on his website, 40wattspotlight.com.
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