Writing Inside (The Very Small) Box

According to Joseph Addison, she who hesitates is lost. Or at least gets her ideas trumped in the blogosphere. I had been formulating a post about Twitter limits and their positive effect on my pre-writing thought-process when I came across this post by Jennifer Alvey, a recovering lawyer, writer and editor who loves new technology (gee, that sounds familiar, except for the “recovering” part).

Although Alvey has not yet joined the Twitterati, she praises the 140-character limit that forces unnatural discipline upon lawyers famous for excessively verbose wordiness.  Alvey also comments on Huffington Post’s Rachel Sklar’s love of the medium and her description of the “haiku-like restrictions” as great training for writers.

It is rare that I can slap down a Twitter entry without first paying attention to how best to formulate an idea that initially presents much larger than 140 characters. When writing an article or memorandum or even a blog post, I can casually skip this step because the consequences are not as dire: there is no little “box” that mercilessly cuts off the end of my sentence, often with a cruel mid-word amputation. In traditional writing, I can allow the words to flow free-form, later returning to my written product with the editor’s eye. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this traditional, time-honored process. However, in reality, constraints imposed by deadlines, a heavy workload and the reality that there are only 24 hours in a day may tempt the writer, o.k. ME, to shorten the editing process instead.

Twitter forces a different technique, one that, if properly mastered, will yield a more efficient writing experience. So, I guess I will stick to my Twitter-ing and feel good about all the positive work I am doing to improve my writing. And I will give myself a personal high-five every time I write the perfect thought while staying inside the box.

7 comments on “Writing Inside (The Very Small) Box

  1. I tweeted a bunch of replies to this, but here’s the long form. I had a prof in college who refused to read long papers. He required papers by his students be no longer than one page, double-spaced. The first paper I wrote was a page-and-a-half. I got it back with a note that it was too long. That was where I learned to write concisely.

    I’m addicted to Twitter and its 140 characters, even though I can obviously churn out a lot more without much effort.

  2. Once upon a time, it cost $1.00/_word_ to send copy via the transatlantic telegraph cable. It is said that such constraints taught Hemingway (as a post WWI war correspondent) how to write. Is Twitter an analogue for the 21st Century?

    (Apologies for use of >140)

  3. Did your professor cut off everything past the first page?

    I had an extremely competent high school English teacher who used to cut the words “very” and “thing” out of our papers and then deposit them into appropriately-labeled coffee cans. We would get back our writings looking very much like Swiss cheese.

  4. I do believe it is, Ed. I actually blogged about an article discussing the impact of technology on legal writing a week or so ago, here https://advocatesstudio.wordpress.com/2008/11/06/technology-the-scapegoat-of-the-thinking-lawyer/. The author reached the conclusion that lawyers were better writers when the costs of printed output (mimeograph, typesetting) exceeded the cost of attorney time spent “pre-editing.” Now those costs have reversed. Yet Twitter encourages that same “pre-editing” process. So, yay! for technology.

  5. Martha – My prof didn’t turn my paper into Swiss cheese, thank goodness. I just made sure to keep every paper after that first one the proper one-page length.

    Edward – I, too, was thinking that Twitter was analogous to the telegraph. Stop.

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