There’s a lot to say about saying things concisely. More than I would have guessed. How To Write Short by Roy Peter Clark explores the art of short writing in a wide variety of forms, many of which have been around for a long, long time (tombstones, for instance). So, while sharpening one’s writing skill for today’s abbreviated attention spans and new digital formats is worthy, it is also interesting to consider the many other applications for good short writing. And the long history of good short writing.
Indeed, Clark’s premise cleverly reverses the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words” by pointing out that some of our best examples of time-tested profound writings – The Hippocratic Oath, The Twenty-Third Psalm, The Lord’s Prayer, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, The Preamble to the Constitution, They Gettysburg Address, and The last paragraph of Dr. Kin’s “I Have a Dream” speech taken together all add up to less than a thousand words. It might take a thousand pictures to convey the ideas and emotions and stories embedded within those works.
Short is powerful.
Clark walks you through his observations about the art of concise writing and encourages you to make your own. He’s very adept at providing insights into the craft, as you might expect from a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute (a prestigious school for journalists). And he ends each chapter with “Grace Notes” that summarize or elaborate on key points, or provide suggested activities for you to explore the ideas further.
At 239 pages, this is a long book on short writing. Its 35 small chapters are open for non-sequential exploration, though, and certainly make for easy reference. If you’re looking to hone your writing skills (or your observation skills), for digital or any other short writing context, this book will inform your craft and your sensibilities.