Friday, April 16, 2010


You have no idea how hard it was to just type "Brevity" and leave it at that. I am not brief. Text messaging does not work well for me. Nor do titles. I always max out my 140 characters on Twitter.

I'm not really worried about my non-brief academic writing, or even my non-brief blogging. I write pagefuls, but it's pretty dense. If I ramble I know I'm doing it. I reread everything I write, and I don't recall returning to papers or posts to delete huge chunks of dead weight.

What I'm really thinking about as far as brevity goes is why I can't write short titles, why I can't skip writing an introduction, and why I can't forgo telling my friends everything I'm thinking (as long as it's appropriate and makes some sense -- I do have a social filter!) in emails or messages.

I read the writing of some other English students, of professors even, and I realize that many of us are not brief. Some of us do leave huge chunks of dead weight hanging on. Cancerous growths of wordiness and rambling. Consistently long emails from one professor made me feel like I had license to ramble -- if he can do it so can I! But mostly these writers just make me want to be briefer than they are.

I took a poetry class. I wrote some exceedingly dense poems. Dense like fruitcake. But they went long sometimes. Long but heavy. Lead pipe poetry. There was one student in my class who wrote short, tight, dense poems, but somehow they were light as air. She was the only really gifted writer in the class, and I continually praised her (and admitted my envy) for her superb brevity. Her final poem had a balloon in it, and in the final line that balloon escaped through a hole in a storm cloud. An unforgettable image perfectly representative of her style.

Prose writing should not take the effort and manipulation that poetry requires. It should come a little more naturally. Mine comes naturally, but in continuous waves. Waves that never quite retreat before another breaks. Some are well formed, with nice swells that form crests, then crash to their foamy conclusions. Some are those silly sideways waves that meet one another and make a V in the water, contradicting themselves, splorting a little when they slap together, canceling out any momentous crash or even splash that might have been their potential. And like the tides, they might ebb and advance through periods of quiet and frenzy, but they never, ever, stop.

I imagine that students of English, especially the writers among us (I don't know what the hell the non-writerly students are doing, but I know they exist), experience similar thought-flow when writing, develop deflecting or delaying mechanisms for irrelevance and tangents, and under the surface are always paddling like hell to stay upright.

I just deleted the last paragraph of this entry. (It begins!) Here's a briefer one.

I must have learned to swim a little. As I mentioned, my long-format writing doesn't bother me. It's these concentrated bursts that I need to learn to manage. I must internalize the Shakespearean claim that brevity can make me witty, abide by my own thought that brevity can leave more to the imagination and is oh-so-stylish, and bank on the thought that other, more brief writers have left me -- that they are confident, and their thoughts are playing hard to get. Brevity can be irresistible.

1 comment:

  1. brevity is the soul of wit. -Shakespeare (Polonius Hamlet)


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