Wednesday, March 03, 2010

10,000 Words to Say "Hello"

The best answer I ever heard to the question “Why don’t you write short stories instead of novels?” was, “I can’t write short. It takes me 10,000 words to say hello.”

Some of you out there are laughing—and clicking on another screen to open a blank document and start another short, snappy piece that you’ll complete in a few days, if that long, and prepare to pitch somewhere. The longest time periods you spend in writing are those spent waiting for editors or publishers to say yea or nay.
However, I suspect more of you are laughing…and nodding.

 You’re not alone. You know it. I know it.

Now, to a person, professional freelancers will tell you “short” is key. That people lack time to read long pieces, for one reason…and for another reason, the more “short” pieces you have out at any given time, the more possibilities you have for someone to buy one of those pieces, or several of them, and give you more work…doing more short pieces. Hence, you fatten your bank account in a shorter period of time, you become self-supporting, and all those other wonderful things.

While those of us who write lushly detailed, lovingly crafted novel-length stories…well, we work a lot of other day jobs. Most of us would love to be able to support ourselves with our writing, but without learning how to change hats and write lots of short stuff, we don’t reasonably expect to do so. It’s a shame, but it’s a reality.

Some of us do both kinds of writing and succeed. I think most of us can have modest success with a foot in both camps. But there are also those of us who, when left to our own natural devices, just…write long. As in, write everything long. And I, I have to admit, am a repeat offender in this category…because even my blog posts are longer than the “experts” tell me they’re “supposed” to be.

Did you know an “ideal” blog post is under 600 words?

600 WORDS? How do they expect me to say ANYTHING in 600 FREAKING WORDS???

(Sorry. Got a little bit…er…emotional there for a minute.)

So the question remains: why do some of us naturally “write long”?

In my case, I think that natural tendency has a couple of origins.

First, I love words. I love working with them, tossing them in the air and catching them, finding new ones, learning the meanings of words I’ve seen but never really caught onto, figuring out words form contexts…and word origins? Don’t get me started. There’s a reason dictionaries have the etymology listed next to each word, sometimes in agonizing detail for those of you who only want the definition, thanks, or the correct way to spell or use the thing; the reason for all the Middle English derivations of the Old French adaptation of the original Latin? People like me. :-)

The second reason is connected to my personality, which by nature is both observant and creative, both down-to-earth and contrarian. Meaning?

Someone tells me something they claim is a “fact”—and I say, “How do you know this? Where did you get this information? What do you have to back it up?”

Someone presents a character acting a certain way—and I say, “Why? Why this action, and not another one? What’s brought this on? What motivates this?”

...and so on, and so forth.

Without a doubt, I believe in simple, clear communication. But “simple” and “clear,” by my way of thinking, are not synonyms for “brief.” True communication gives the reader everything he or she needs to know—without skimping, without making unfounded assertions, and without leaving the reader thinking, “But wait. What about—?”

Hence, when I write…I write not only through a subject, but I touch on the fringes of it and the peripherals as well. Because I hate loose ends.

You can see, then, how this style of wanting to cover all bases is, on its face, in conflict with “brief.” For me, the shorter I have to make something, the more convinced I am that Something Important To The Story, Dammit, will be sacrificed…and I’ll have some reader scratching her head saying, “Well, it wasn’t a bad story, but I wish she’d have explained_________ better. I didn’t get that."

Me? I don’t ever want a reader not to “get” my story because I didn’t tell her enough about the details of it.

Just like I don’t want my blog readers not to “get” my point because I don’t explain it completely enough.

Painfully obvious is this, I should think, by now. :-)

So can I write short? Yehhhhs...I can. When I have to.
Is it harder to write short? Yehhhhs…without a doubt. Not so much because when I write short, I have to distill, condense, and narrow my subject matter ‘til it (and I) want to scream...

But because no matter the length of the blog post, the short story, the e-mail, or the novel I write…I will inevitably think of more detail I could have said to make it even better. To make it sing. To make it clear as ice crystals on a pristine lake.
To get it right.

And getting it right is, in the end, what all those words are about. For me, anyway.

Thoughts?

Janny

1 comment:

Judy said...

The hardest thing, IMO, is to leave a piece of writing...even when you don't think it's "right"