As writers, we operate in an industry that embraces certain examples of received wisdom. Perhaps the most familiar is: Keep it short.
We appreciate the writers who are masters of brevity. The editing process here almost always removes words and sentences (or whole paragraphs) to a far greater degree than it adds them.
But as with most received wisdom (especially the kind that starts with “always” or “never”), writers can go too far in their devotion to keeping things concise.
In the past year, we were asked to write social media posts that didn’t exceed 25 words. We did so. We were also asked to write a fairly in-depth report about online sports betting that didn’t exceed 600 words. We nailed that too.
Sometimes it’s a matter of space. Sometimes it’s the age-old idea that people don’t like to take the time to read all that much.
But we also wrote a full-length book about an amazing corporate initiative by a client in Colorado. That book needed every word, of which there were well over 50,000. And we are confident people will read the whole thing, because it tells them how to do something complicated but well worth the effort.
We also wrote multifaceted whitepapers on things like economic development and supply chain technology. They were long. They were detailed. And they were really good.
Now of course, there is room for brevity within lengthy pieces. Just because you’re writing a 50,000-word book doesn’t mean a given sentence needs to be 15 words if you can express the same ideas in seven or eight. Unwieldy sentences and paragraphs make the reader work too hard when you’re asking them to get through a whole book.
And yet, we’ve seen very long sentences that were veritable works of art. Some years back Dan produced a single sentence that had 75 words and not a single piece of punctuation. No commas, colons, semicolons or ellipses. Not even an apostrophe. Just 75 beautiful, grammatically impeccable words. We could have looked at that and decided we needed to make it shorter. But we didn’t, because it read well and it expressed the idea clearly.
(Sadly, this was too long ago for us to have it in our files, or we’d be happy to share.)
Here’s the long and short of it, if you’ll pardon the double entendre: We see a lot of advice given to writers, and a lot of opinions expressed about the best ways to write. Some of it’s helpful, but there are really no ironclad rules once you get past the mandatory ones pertaining to grammar and so forth. Trying so hard to fit everything into the “always” and “never” statements you’ve heard from writing coaches tends to quash your creativity. We like experimenting here. We don’t send something to a client if it won’t work for the client – that’s why we have multiple layers of editors – but we also trust our own instincts as much as we trust the Internet rule-makers.
So always write in accordance with both your heart and your head, and then respect your editors whose job it is to make your work better. Maybe you should go with the received wisdom. Maybe you shouldn’t. But if your heart and your head tell you an unconventional approach works best, why should you be so quick to assume they’re wrong?