No fluff, no nonsense, no speculation or creativity! Facts, please, just the facts. Oh, and put it in about 60 words or less. This is what I do day in and day out – brevity writing. Internet based companies find this essential when competing with the likes of Facebook and Twitter for attention. Customer’s need concise information and it’s my job to deliver the product. I do this from my home office five days a week.
In my pre-writing job, I drafted business emails and reports with more information than a 60-word blip. I thought it necessary to describe, in detail, everything I wanted to get across to the reader – whether they wanted it or not. Detailed, descriptive, persuasive, and fully loaded, that’s how I wrote. I thought that was the best avenue, until I started writing news summaries. New focus – the audience!
What does the audience, the reader, want to know? Do they need all of the fluff stuffed around the main points? No. They’re busy people and I respect that as a writer. I take the time to read through the two to four pages of a news release and break down the idea into a munchable 50-60-word tidbit. Here is what I ask myself: What are most important facts? Or the classic question from my Junior High English teacher – “What is the theme?”
“Put into two sentences everything the author wanted you to know,” our teacher would say. I never thought I would use this skill in “real” life. Do we ever believe what we are learning at 14 will show up at 49 and be useful? But this was a great lesson. What did I, the reader, get out of it? Once that was discovered and turned in, a satisfactory red “A” would be marked at the top of my paper.
I recently celebrated Poetry Day by creating a Haiku to explain why I cried when Greg, my husband, threw out our old space heater. “Haiku”¹, as a refresher, is a traditional form of Japanese poetry. Haiku poems consist of 3 lines: The first and third lines have five syllables. The middle has seven and the words rarely rhyme. I found drafting a Haiku narrows my creative thinking into a concentrated message.
Back to the space heater. It was old, super old, probably 10 years or more. It moved with Greg when we were married five years ago, and followed us from Virginia to Pennsylvania two years later. The heater ended up in my office and it struggled to keep warm air blowing. The oscillating mechanism went out, so the blowing hot hair remained stationary. It had accumulated dust at the intake and, even with my handy-woman skills, I could not find a way to take it apart to clean. It was doomed.
Why did I cry when we replaced it with a new, top of the line, tall slender remote controlled heater that worked? It was our pets. Sandy, the 15-year-old poodle, died last May 19th. Marvin, the 18-year-old black and white Tabby, passed away two days after this past Christmas. And where they slept most of the day? In my office, either at my feet or close by – same as the heater. The three were my constant companions on workdays, the dog, the cat, and the ratty old space heater. To describe those emotions in a Haiku, tough, but here was the result:
Got a new heater.
Greg threw the old one away.
Tears rolled down my face.
And they did, those stinging tears! I cried like the day a piece of my white hair resembled little Sandy strolling by. Like the time I glanced over to see if Marvin was stretched out on his blanket and realized neither were there. I cried for the memories of those sweet little faces that greeted me each day and kept constant, although sleepy, vigil as I worked at my desk. I missed them and still do. The heater was the final loss of our companions and I mourned its departure.
Brevity writing changed me. A simple statement, but truth in a few words. As Pete Boyle over at Have A Word put it, saying more by writing less is vital. He states, “Your content, regardless of use, needs to be as long as necessary, and no longer.” Why? Because you value your reader. The audience becomes the focus, not the idea you want to get across. Brevity takes you out of yourself and sits you squarely next to your reader – it’s not about you, it’s about them.
I will end with this, as I sit squarely by you, the reader – think short, think concise, think condensed. What is the theme? What does the audience want to know? How about 60 words, no – 30 words, ok, let’s get even lower. How can I edit this idea down to a Haiku? Seventeen syllables to get the point across:
Brains hold only so much stuff
Make your writing count