How to Write Short

January 28, 2014 non-fiction 30

how to write shortTitle: How to Write Short
Author: Roy Peter Clark
Source: library
Fun Fact: The term blurb comes from the fictitious character Miss Belinda Blurb whose over-the-top praise was used to sell books.
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary: This guide included a ton of great techniques and ideas for practicing them. Definitely something I’d like to own as a reference.

“In How to Write Short, Roy Peter Clark turns his attention to the art of painting a thousand pictures with just a few words. Short forms of writing have always existed-from ship logs and telegrams to prayers and haikus. But in this ever-changing Internet age, short-form writing has become an essential skill. Clark covers how to write effective and powerful titles, headlines, essays, sales pitches, Tweets, letters, and even self-descriptions for online dating services. With examples from the long tradition of short-form writing in Western culture, How to Write Short guides writers to crafting brilliant prose, even in 140 characters.” (Source)

I think my best reviews are those from which I’ve removed all the excess words. For me, this typically means deleting the word “really” from nearly every sentence. More importantly, it means being more thoughtful about  which words I keep. If I actively try to write short, I’m more likely to take the time to find the perfect word to express a particular sentiment. Having realized that, this guide  about how to write short immediately intrigued me when I read a review by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Obviously, there is still lots of room for me to improve, but I think reading this book has helped me be more thoughtful more often when writing my reviews.

As someone who loves fun facts and wants to write short, I liked that there was a history of writing short as well as instruction on how to write short yourself. That history, plus the author’s own obvious ability to write short and snappy prose, kept this book from becoming too much like a textbook. The advice in this book was very nicely organized. Each chapter addressed a particular technique. The examples of short writing that the author includes made for some great reading. I don’t often collect quotes from books I read, but the beautiful examples of writing in this book made me want to start collecting right away. My favorite part of this book were the practical suggestions for trying each technique. Given how much we write short, from reviews to tweets, I think this would make a fantastic reference book for any blogger.

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30 Responses to “How to Write Short”

  1. Jennine G.

    Nice! I just finished a series of seven lessons with my 11th graders on stylistic elements of writing. A few overlap and have this theme of short and simple. I never give my students a word count or length requirement because then they just add tons of words or repeat themselves and it’s not an improvement on their writing. Instead we look at how to fully answer a question and format an essay, using the stylistic elements of writing.
    Jennine G. recently posted…My BooksMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      You sounds like a fantastic teacher! I hate when trying to reach word limits makes me add fluff to an essay. Sometimes, less really is more 🙂

  2. Andi @ Estella's Revenge

    I’m a huge fan of short, concise writing. I love novellas because I’m impressed when an author can express a ton of emotion and meaning in such a short space. Writing short papers and other short pieces has always been a challenge for me, so this sounds like an amazing reference.
    Andi @ Estella’s Revenge recently posted…Dept. of Speculation by Jenny OffillMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      I actually don’t think I’ve ever read a novella and I’ve read very few short story collections. Perhaps because of the difficulty of writing short and well, I’m often concerned about whether or not I’ll like those kinds of writing. Plus, if I do like it, there won’t be much of it! I think being able to write short is a great skill to have though, especially for us bloggers 🙂

  3. TracyK

    I might have to read this. I wish I could write shorter posts and get across what I want to say. My husband writes brief 2-4 sentence reviews on Goodreads, and although I don’t want to get that brief, I wish I had his ability to say things succinctly. Great review.
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    • DoingDewey

      I’d love to be able to write more succinctly as well! Since I’ve started trying, I’ve found that using more precise language can help a lot. If I can find one word that captures exactly what I want to say about a book, it’s much easier to explain what I mean.

    • DoingDewey

      I’m pretty bad at it too! I strive for short reviews, because many of my favorite reviews are short. I do have to work at it though, since my natural writing style involves a lot of extraneous words 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I often enjoy short reviews better myself which is what made me start trying to keep my reviews short too. This may be a sign of my attention span declining with internet use, but it a review is too long, it has to also be very good to keep my attention. I also think short writing can sometimes correlate with good writing. It’s certainly much harder for me to produce!

    • DoingDewey

      I will also often skip or skim a very long review, unless it manages to catch my attention with humor or fantastic writing. Personally, I don’t think I achieve either of those things in most of my reviews, so I strive for short and to the point instead 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I was very excited to write a review for this one, because I do think it’s something that will be helpful for most bloggers. Not only do I try to keep my reviews short, I always struggle to come up with snappy post titles and tweets. I think this book provides lots of great advice that would help with both of those things 🙂

  4. Isi

    I didn’t know the book, but sounds great! It’s true: nowadays you have to summarize a lot, specially on the internet, and I need some advice too 🙂
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  5. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    I really liked all of the examples in this one too! I’ve started to be more deliberate collecting quotes that are examples of great writing. It’s amazing what the perfect word can do for a sentence. And I have to pull “really” out of just about every review I write… it’s such a crutch word.

    • DoingDewey

      A crutch word is a perfect description! I think I lean on the word “really” when I can’t come up with a word that adequately describes the way a book made me feel. Instead, I settle for a lesser word and add “really” next to it in hopes it will make my point for me. I’m trying to do better about this and find the perfect word to convey my meaning, but it can be very challenging!

      So far I haven’t actually started saving good quotes, but I should. I’ve never paid attention to quotes in books before, so I think I’m going to have to work at it.

    • DoingDewey

      Hahaha, yes! As Kim mentioned above, “really” is a “crutch word” for my writing. I use the word “really” when I’m afraid the word it’s modifying doesn’t adequately convey my feelings on its own. Instead of using really, I’m working on improving my vocabulary, but it’s hard to find the perfect word!

      Five sentences sounds like a great policy! I would agree that in most e-mails, that’s enough.

    • DoingDewey

      It was a very modern book and had lots of advice specifically aimed at people using the internet to communicate. I also was blown away by the parallels between older forms of communication and the internet. It made for some fascinating reading!